By: Shirley Ju (@shirju)
Joseph Kahn is a legend in his own right.
Having done music videos for 30 years in the hip-hop scene, which including gangster rap videos for Rap-A-Lot Records in Houston in the 90’s, the Korean-American filmmaker is now taking battle rap to the big screen.
AllHipHop caught up with Joseph to talk about what it was like bringing back real hip-hop in today’s age.
AllHipHop: Can you talk about the difference moving into the film world? What’s been the best or hardest part?
Joseph Kahn: I always considered myself a filmmaker. But instead of making one film over 2 hours, I made a bunch of films over 30 years. Cumulatively, I make films 4 minutes at a time over 600 times. By the time I stepped on and did this… if you normally make a movie, what are you really doing? You are shooting maybe 30 to 60 days, and you make a movie right? Well I have shot 2000 days of music videos and commercials, so I have been making movies for the last 30 years.
AllHipHop: In this new age of 2018 hip-hop, it’s more trap and melodic rap. Do you feel like battle rap has faded or are you trying to bring that back?
Joseph Kahn: I’m putting some speed back into it. I’m putting the hop back into the hip.
AllHipHop: Do you feel like substance in lyrics is deteriorating in this new generation?
Joseph Kahn: Look, every generation has their own style. You should never slam a particular style because they are exploring and style is fluid. Right now with mumble rap, that’s just a style people are exploring, but maybe mumble rap will turn into something else. The one thing I know over 30 years of being in the music industry is that it never stays static, and the minute you complain about something — at the time you complain — it’s already turned into something else.
AllHipHop: What are you most excited about as this film hits theaters?
Joseph Kahn: I think it’s going to shed a light into modern battle rap today, in a way that people weren't expecting. Because last time, most people have really seen battle rap was like through "8 Mile," and then they have things like roast battles on Comedy Central, but people don’t understand roast battling is not battle rapping. Battle rapping is from the streets. Battle rapping is painful. It’s like saying slap bites is boxing. No one hurts. In battle rap, the reason why the film is called "Bodied," is because you’re trying to put the other person in a body bag by any means necessary. That is a completely different experience. When you watch "Bodied," you'll see a level of intensity that you’ll simply not see on television.
AllHipHop: Dumbfoundead is one of my favorites, can you talk about bringing him in?
Joseph Kahn: I’ve known Dumb for many years and I put him in my movie "Detention." I remember seeing a battle between him and Tantrum back in the 2000’s, which blew my mind. It was Asian on Asian battle and it was so hilarious, so cool. It really inspired me. I felt like that was such an interesting way for an Asian person to get in hip-hop. The cleverness of his bars and his self-deprecation, but also attack at the same time. He was so unique. He is an original. There’s something about Dumbfoundead, he’s different than a lot of Asian actors. He’s truly gritty. He’s got a grit to him and at the same time a charm, and that’s a very hard combo to find. Unfortunately, it doesn't come to a lot of Asian actors naturally, but he’s got it.
AllHipHop: In music, Asians are the minority. How are you feeling on that topic? Do you still feel like that?
Joseph Kahn: Of course they are the minority, are you kidding me? Here’s the thing, we are 3% of the population, and it depends on how you define it. If you consider all Asians one lump group, including Southeast Asians and Indians, yeah, it seems like there are a lot of us. But even if you separate it from Korean to Japanese… cause remember, it’s not cohesive. Asians are a bunch of different cultures that we lump into together in one word.
But the reality is for many, many years, I basically avoided identifying myself as Asian through the work ‘cause I could get away with it. They just saw my name and it was all whether or not they liked my work and if I walked on set they would just be shocked it was an Asian dude walking through. ‘Cause all they had before that was a phone call, and it was to my advantage.
Now it’s very different ‘cause I’m OG, where I spent all my life just trying to get them to look at the work without paying attention to the Asian-ness. Now, I think every Asian filmmaker goes “I’m Asian, hire me because I’m Asian,” where I was more like, “Hire me, don’t pay attention that I am Asian.”