YOX stands for YEAR OF THE OX, and this rap duo is here to put on for all the Asians in the music industry. Now amidst the tragic Asian American attacks across the country, their voice resonates more than ever, touching the masses of all those who hear it.
YOX is composed of JL and Lyricks, two Korean American rappers originally from Virginia, but now residing in Los Angeles.
Last year, they released their socially-conscious record called “Viral” right after COVID-19 hit, addressing the rise in hate crimes towards Asians stemming from the national pandemic.
Arriving during a time when political figures began unveiling their xenophobic thoughts while addressing the disease,” Viral” is paired with an equally powerful visual containing viral footage of attacks on Asian Americans.”
This was the result of then President Donald Trump calling Coronavirus the “China virus.”
Now in 2021, the record has resurfaced, speaking volumes to this new spike in Asian American hate crimes. The video was posted to YOX’s socials with the caption: “STOPASIANHATE.” Additionally the duo recently dropped their self-titled album, YEAR OF THE OX.
AllHipHop: You drove to Los Angeles from Virginia two years ago. How was that?
Rick: We drove out here, across the country. We took our time, we didn’t rush it.
JL: We didn’t drive too much. We switched off driving duties and apart from a minor vehicular breakdown everything went smoothly.
Rick: The personal bubble was definitely popped the third or fourth day, so we went to shoot guns. In New Mexico or Nevada, just to blow off some steam. The Korean saying: you can’t be in a long-term relationship unless you survive a trip across country. It was good.
AllHipHop: How did you guys come together?
JL: We were already in a group/trio. We’re friends met through our mutual friend Manifest. We started doing our own thing. He moved to New York, I followed him there. We decided to become a duo when one of our songs we put out together went viral on Facebook. It’s called “SEVEN RINGS.”
Rick: There was a platform called TeamBackPack on Facebook. It’s super bar heavy, lyrical. The video got over 17 million views. We were such a boom bap heavy group, that was a different sound. It was trappy, we’re trying something new.
JL: It was good timing, TeamBackPack did a good post with a nice caption.
Rick: The caption was, “These two Korean rappers can take on Kim Jong-un in North Korea,” something wild. People click because they see two Asian faces, they’re like, “How nice are they?” Just the curiosity. Once they hear it, they share it. It was a good move.
AllHipHop: Talk about your guys’ roots in hip-hop.
Rick: Coming from Virginia demographically, it’s right between East Coast Hip Hop. We also have some bounce to it because it’s considered Southern. We have the combination of super lyrical boom bap, New York hip-hop, then we have the Southern bounce. He’s from Virginia Beach so he listened to a lot of Missy, Pharrell, Timbaland, that trifecta.
JL: I didn’t listen to them a lot, but I was around their music because they’d play it a lot on the radio. My parents own a hip-hop clothing store, I heard it everyday because I’d have to work there.
AllHipHop: Biggest influences coming up?
Rick: My favorite rapper of all-time is Black Thought from The Roots. That explains a lot, my name is Lyricks. [laughs] I like the substance in the lyrics. Listen to a lot of Nas and Eminem. Being that it’s predominantly black music, seeing him be victorious was encouraging for us too like, “Damn, we could do it too.” Seeing the Ruff Ryder chain during the battles was epic.
JL: My biggest influences as far as the way I rap are Wu-Tang, Bone thugs, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas and also Lyricks and Manifest in my early stages. I would try to mimic all of their styles until eventually I found my own.
AllHipHop: Talk about your love for Wu-Tang Clan and being able to open for them.
Rick: That was crazy. Wu-Tang was almost like a religion to people. We were all drawing the W’s, it was bigger than hip-hop. A few years ago, my friend was managing a tour for them. It was Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa. They were departing for their 24-city tour from D.C. That same day, their driver got hit by a car. My friend was scrambling, he said, “Yo Rick, do you wanna go on tour with Wu.” I said, “F### yeah.” He said, “Okay well you’re driving everyday for 12 hours.” The fine print was after, “Do I wanna go on tour?” I went and it was legendary. Being in the van with them, rolling up and smoking. Having them playing their music, they’re silent. They’re masters of their craft. They didn’t need to practice or anything. I said, “Yo I’m driving, f### it.”
AllHipHop: Were you nervous? That’s wild.
Rick: I was nervous, but it was more, “Yo, I’m here right now.” My main mission was, “I want to be remembered by them. I want this to resonate somehow.” While I’m driving, they don’t like listening to loud music too much. They’re doing their own s###, on their phones. I’d write an acapella verse, a freestyle about something that happened that day that only they’d know at every venue. Just to flex, to let them know I could do that. We’re good friends till this day. They invited me back for another tour. It was good, I felt like I was paying my dues.
JL: I was in Korea that year, it was 2011. He hit me up, I said, “I can’t leave Korea.” [laughs] I was out there for a year with our other homie, we’re out there rapping. I was out there teaching English.
Rick: He said he was going for a couple months.
JL: I was supposed to only be there for 3 weeks, ended up staying 11 months. It’s really fun out there. I ran out of money, that’s why I started teaching English.
AllHipHop: Being Asian American, is a lot of your fanbase Asian?
Rick: It used to be when we were separate. As YEAR OF THE OX popped off, we’re garnering a more diverse crowd. A large chunk of our fans are predominantly Asian for sure.
AllHipHop: Do you feel any struggles or pushback being a minority in hip-hop?
Rick: I don’t let that s### get to me to be honest. The only thing that irks me really is I remember asking my friend who his favorite rapper was, he’s like, “You mean like a real rapper or an Asian rapper?” I’ma punch you in the face, what’re you talking about? That prefix, I get it because it explains who we are — we’re Asian rappers — but I don’t want to be in the loser bracket. “Oh yeah, the Asian rappers.”
JL: It’s always a couple comments, culture appropriation talk. We get a lot of our supporters that say, “These guys are nice, it shouldn’t matter.” That’s a good thing to say.
Rick: We always pay our respects. We aren’t out here doing wild s###, we still pay our respects, give our thanks to the OGs of course. Touring with Wu, I’ve toured with Kool Keith as well. A lot of the underground legends. Humbly take over, you’ve got to know your role but also know your worth. We let our music speak for ourselves. Especially now, you have to tip toe what to say and how you say it. I’d rather let our work resonate.
AllHipHop: YEAR OF THE OX album out now! How are you feeling?
Rick: S### it is the Year of the Ox, there’s some pressure. It’s YEAR OF THE OX, dropping AllHipHop: YEAR OF THE OX, during Year of the Ox. The managers are like, “Wassup? Let’s juice it.” We have to wait another 12 years. People ask us, “Yo, did you plan this?” We’re like of course! [laughs]
JL: It’s also the fifth anniversary of us forming our group. It all came together nicely, we’re making the most of it.
Rick: It works well too because even coming up with the name and our approach, we wanted to let people know we’re Asian but we didn’t want to turn it into a gimmick. That’s the hardest thing, finding that balance of not neglecting your upbringing, your culture, but also not turning it into a gimmick. We’re definitely ready to make a lot of new music, put out a lot of merch. I started livestreaming on Twitch.
AllHipHop: “Quarantine” has quite an angry and aggressive sound to it. What‘s been the most frustrating part of the pandemic for you?
JL: Like everyone else as a performing artist, not being able to perform on stage is a bit frustrating. As far as making music, we live together so not a lot has changed in that aspect. I picked up producing so I’m learning how to make beats. I’m trying to work on that.
Rick: There’s a lot of uncertainty when it comes to performing live. Where’s this going? We still don’t know. The hardest thing for me honestly was the inability to see our family when we want to. My parents are older, so being worried about their physical health.
JL: We still haven’t been back to see them. Hopefully soon, we’ll be able to head back to Virginia.
AllHipHop: This album has been two years in the making. What ‘s been the most difficult aspect of bringing this body of work into fruition?
Rick: S### we wanted to talk about what’s going on, but so much happened. When Donald Trump said it was a “Chinese virus,” there were these assaults happening on Asian people. We’re like, “Okay, let’s stand up for them. Let’s stand up for our people.” Then George Floyd got killed, the world went on fire. What do we do? Do we take a backseat? It’s funny, you put something out and the comments can be very incendiary. They could be fighting hatred with hatred. We didn’t want to pick a side. We’re on the brotherly love side, we want to help everyone out.
JL: The biggest issue with this album is we wanted to address what was going on in a way where it wasn’t offending or going on someone’s bad side. This whole album is therapeutic for us. There’s anger in it, we’re frustrated but there are light moments where there’s love. It’s definitely mood music for the claustrophobia we’re all feeling right now.
AllHipHop: Talk about “Love Bites” being about relationships.
Rick: It is what it is. [laughs] Relationships are hard right?
JL: That song we made a while before the pandemic hit. It’s relevant because we live in a loft together where we don’t have rooms. We always have those boundary situations happening. That song had to do with our girlfriends at the time. It came together that we’re fighting with each other, also fighting with our girls.
Rick: The whole thing is if you care for something, there will be emotions to it. True lack of love is a difference, when you don’t give a s###. “Love Bites” is we’ll have good moments, we’ll have our highs and lows but that’s what it is. It’s about working through it, finding the middle and compromising with each other. If you guys have the same finish line which is we want to be together, this is what we want to do and have the same outlook, that’s the only way the relationship works. It’s cliché, they’re not really used to hearing YOX talk about love on a track. We wanted to let them know that we have a heart.
JL: I never sang like that before.
Rick: It’s liberating. This guy got a perm once we got to Cali. [laughs] Once the curlers got into his head, he definitely graduated. He leveled up.
AllHipHop: “Viral” and “Captain America” are about attacks on Asian Americans and Black Lives Matter. How do you feel about the uptick in reports of violence against the POC community?
JL: We made that song “Viral” a year ago, obviously it’s still happening now. It might be even worse now. It’s pretty discouraging.
Rick: Our manager came to our house and showed us 4 back to back videos of people being assaulted. If people look at my catalog, I’ve always touched base on injustice. Especially when Eric Garner passed away, the “I Can’t Breathe.” I made a song about that. I enjoy taking things happening such as current events, putting my twist and putting it out. When he showed as these clips back to back, what the f###. We’re not going to stay silent, we have to say something. We wrote that song that day, it was an overflow of the heart. Then “Captain America” is wow. We understand this is going on, but it’s deep-rooted. It’s a systemic situation. We wanted to let people know we aren’t Korean pride only, that’s not 100%.
JL: Now we’re right back to where “Viral” started.
Rick: We didn’t want to be the social justice warriors, vocalizing it and talking about it. What happens is people tend to fall in love with their own voice, that becomes their mission statement. We went to the protests, we went to the march to walk the walk.
AllHipHop: What is it you want fans to get from this project?
Rick: Because it’s our full-length LP, our first album, it’s an introduction. Let them know who we are, what we stand for, let them know we’re nice. There are rappers out there that’s not doing what everyone’s trying to do. We’re trying to stay in our own lane, keep the integrity, and also let people know our versatility.
AllHipHop: JL, you’ve been on the producing grind. How does that flow into your synergy as a duo?
JL: I’ve always put it aside. Finally I decided to watch some tutorial videos and talk to my producer homies to get insight on it. It’s very fun to do. It feels like I’m making music now. It did before, but writing verses and making the beat is a whole different thing.
Rick: I can’t wait till he’s in an arena and we are just rocking to his joint. It’s a different feel when we’re riding his beat. It’s crazy, you can tell when someone’s really into it because they do it everyday. It started off with him doing it a couple of days then once he got the tools. This guy’s been leveling up every day.
JL: We’re hoping to use some of my beats on the next upcoming project. We’ll see what happens from there. It’s been definitely fun learning how to do it.
AllHipHop: 3 things you need in the studio?
JL: Definitely weed obviously. I don’t necessarily need drinks there, but it depends on what kind of song, the mood or what the vibe is. Some drinks could bring energy for our verses.
Rick: I need honesty in the studio. We can’t have any yes men in the studio. That’s one thing J and I are really good at, we critique each other. Because we represent each other. Anytime I come off weak or could do better, we have that little passive aggressiveness. I love that.
AllHipHop: What’s next for YEAR OF THE OX?
Rick: We’re definitely going to drop another project this year. We want to do as much music as possible, whether that’s new tracks, performing online, whatever it is. However we can connect with our fans again during these separated times.
JL: We‘re going to be dropping a lot of merch, this is our first hoodie. These are the logos, we’ll have graphics stuff coming out soon.
Rick: I know getting to the bag, we always talk about artistic integrity, but it’s the Year of the Ox. We’re trying to get this bag. I want to give my mom a fat envelope at the end of this year and say, “This is how we did.”
AllHipHop: How are parents responding?
Rick: When you give them that stack, they’re silent. Even at our age, I know a lot of people that can’t live their own life because they’re thinking about their parents’ expectations.
JL: They’re more worried than anything at this point. They don’t really get the industry, they just know what they’ve heard and seen on TV.
Rick: I told my dad I’d dropped an album he’s like, “Yes, but what does that mean?” [laughs] It’s cool, doing interviews authenticates things. We have a movie on Netflix called Bad Rap too so having my mom be able say, “Yeah, my son’s on Netflix.” To them, you know the Asian newspaper? That publisation that’s so important to them. It’s balancing out, we know what’s required for them to feel comfortable and happy with our decision. We meet in the middle, that’s what we have to do.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let the people know?
JL: Go listen to the album, get some merch.
Rick: Check out my Twitch: @oxgang.