Full Interview: Zico Talks Idol World vs. Hip-Hop World, Being Compared to GD, and More

On February 17, Korean media outlet 10asia sat down with Block B member Zico for an in-depth interview. Below is the transcription of that interview.


Q: Looking at you close up, you’re tall. You’re chiseled.

Zico: I strangely look small on screen.


Q: You look a bit tired. It’s still morning, is it because you came at an early hour to shoot the pictorial?

Zico: It’s not that. After working on a song yesterday, I drank three cans of beer so that I could fall asleep early. I’m not the type who can’t fall asleep very quickly.


Q: The magazine is highlighting a different side of you than usual. Wasn’t it hard?

Zico: When I do pictorials, there are a lot of cases in which I conflict my image. I’m saying it’s a “twinkle twinkle” feeling.


Q: Don’t you dislike that you look like an idol in these pictures?

Zico: It’s not like that. I am an idol. Also it seems like the fans will like it.


Q: I know that you’re in the midst of overseas performances.

Zico: We traveled to China, Hong Kong, and Japan to make our official debuts there. The reaction was good but I wasn’t 100% satisfied. The way I see it, like a stage that couldn’t be completed there’s something that feels regrettably left behind. In order to appeal to foreign fans on stage, we should be able to approach them in their own local language, but to that point we seemed to be a bit lacking. Now that we’re ahead of our official debut, I should really study foreign languages harder.


Q: Your joint stage with Seo Taiji at the ‘2014 Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA)’ in Hong Kong became a hot topic. Was “Come Back Home” a song you always liked?

Zico: Out of all of Seo Taiji sunbaenim’s songs, my favorites are “Come Back Home,” “I Am Ultraman,” and “Classroom Idea,” so I really wanted to do one of those. Performing with Seo Taiji sunbaenim was an honor to the point that I still can’t believe that it happened.


Q: It seems like you really learned a lot.

Zico: It was my first time ever seeing someone put together a stage like that. On stage, I could trust him as he would take the lead with each ad lib. In the midst of the concert I got really excited and did some adlibs, and he gave me a lot of feedback. I thought that I was particular in Block B practices, but after seeing Seo Taiji sunbaenim it’s clear that I’m not even close to him. I think that I have to become more rigid.


Q: Don’t you want to do a rap that sends a message to the public the way “Come Back Home” does?

Zico: When I’m with Block B I try to write raps that the masses can easily accept. When I made my mixtape, I did it in my own style. However, as a part of Block B I have to stick with the public consensus.


Q: You’ve gone number one on the charts from “HER” to “Tough Cookie.” You’ve gotten #1 with songs that have a totally different character.

Zico: To be honest, “Tough Cookie” isn’t a song that I released in order to make money. It’s not a song that I made to release, but a song that I made because it seemed like a good song to perform as a solo at our concert. However, after making the song it seemed like if I didn’t release it, it would be unpleasant because it’s a song that contains the content that I want to talk to people about right now. I thought if I didn’t release it, I would forget all of the current emotions that went into it.


Q: The lyrics of “Tough Cookie” are really aggressive. It was like reading an autobiography of angry Zico.

Zico: Rather than an autobiography, it’s a song that is outspoken about a tough part of my life.


Q: In your lyrics, Tablo and Gaeko make an appearance when you say, “I got commended by Tablo and Gaeko, but I didn’t admit it.”

Zico: After writing a rap with no featuring [artists], we discussed using real names. There are no lies in my lyrics. Tablo and Gaeko both proposed collaborations, but I said I wouldn’t do it. It’s because I didn’t want to admit that they had recognized my skills. I wrote that story into the rap.


Q: Why didn’t you admit it?

Zico: Because I still lack so much compared to those two. I don’t think that I’m at the level where I can rap with them yet.


Q: So modest…

Zico: But if you look at the part right after that the lyrics say, “The absence of my sense of accomplishment is invisible just like the blemishes on my skin,” and I naturally brag about my skin (laughs).


Q: Zico is often pointed out as the best rapper in the idol world. The lyrics say, “Idol rapper Top? Fuck I ain’t no snake’s head, my competition is elsewhere, nothing in this broadcast station.” If this is so, then where is your competition?

Zico: When you just look at rapping, I think competing amongst the idol group market is meaningless. I don’t want to like or be arrogant about being the school’s best when I need to go nation-wide. In rap, there is a league of the very best. I think I need to be in competition with those who are in the underground hip-hop world.  I don’t want to be satisfied with the head of the snake. Just like the lyrics suggest, the person I must catch is not in broadcasting, but somewhere else.


Q: Who is the person you want to catch at this moment?

Zico: Everyone who is a better rapper than I am (laughs). There is no specific target.


Q: It seems like you are very competitive.

Zico: I want to be recognized as a rapper, but I don’t want to rise by stepping on someone else. There are those rappers who try to win only by their competitiveness, but these rappers don’t have their own. Rap is not a tournament. If you only try to win a competition, you’re bound to waste your energy. Before, I used to rap with just my strength, because I wanted to be recognized by people. However, now, I am learning to let go of my strength.


Q: Is there a rising rapper that you especially like?

Zico: The rapper I like these days is Black Nut. I’m not really close with him, but I really like his rap, and I have much to learn from him. There is no line that just goes over in his rap lyrics. He produces homonym infused punch-lines (phrases that are so shocking as to give a punch) well in his own style.


Q: Is there any other rapper that you like?

Zico: Gaeko, Tablo, and Verbal Jint. There’s too many. I really like The Quiett these days. Amongst the juniors, I frequently talk with Bobby about music.


Q: In an interview, Bobby chose Zico as a mountain to overcome.

Zico: Bobby is a really talented kid, and I’m thankful that he appraised me as such. I met Bobby after “Show Me The Money” and we exchanged contact information. Right after, I received a Kakao Talk message from him that said, “Hyung, you are the mountain that I need to overcome.” So I replied, “This mountain has no resting place nor a spring of water. You absolutely must reach the top, which is why it will be very difficult” (laughs). Bobby has amazing talent, and will do even better in the future. He motivates me too.


Q: The members who have worked with Zico in the past are gaining popularity one by one. Song Minho is active as a member of WINNER and Hanhae is planning on releasing a solo album. How do you feel when looking at their career?

Zico: I always knew Mino would do great. I would always tell Mino, “You are going to succeed no matter what. Just hold on for a little while longer.” I’m very happy that Mino came to wear the clothes that fit him. I hope that Mino will take care of me now (laughs). But Mino keeps trying to depend on me just because I am older. Recently, Mino was sullen because I adored Bobby. Mino was the one who received all the love during the days of Block B. Mino was always my number one younger brother.


Q: People often compare G-Dragon and Zico. I think this is because both are rappers, the leaders of their group, and write songs.

Zico: I really don’t understand why people compare. G-Dragon sunbaenim is someone so big that can’t be compared to me. He has surpassed being a mere musician to being an icon. I think people compare because we both are in charge of producing and rapping, but it’s too much to regard G-Dragon and me on the same level. I think our direction is clearly different. G-Dragon sunbaenim is not only a rapper, but is someone who is able to create a bigger picture with music, style, fashion and such. I, on the other hand, am someone who just continuously rapped. I could be rising in status because I am compared to G-Dragon, but I don’t want that. I would like it if people viewed me in a different light. 

Q: As stated in the lyrics of “Tough Cookie,” you are a part of JTong’s Buckwilds crew. How did you come to join them?

Zico: Before my debut, and before joining Buckwilds, I started my underground rapper life with do’main, a crew of rappers in their early 20s. I was 19 back then. After that, when I was active as a member of Block B, JTong didn’t really like me, because I was not even hip-hop but cocky (laughs). But when he heard the mix tape I released, “ZICO on the BLOCK 1.5,” JTong personally contacted me and asked me to “join the crew”. That’s how I began working with Buckwilds.


Q: What are some differences between Buckwilds and Block B?

Zico: A crew is like an assembly without being burdensome. A comfortable place where we gather to play, talk about music, and pull pranks on each other. Of course, we do concerts as well. Through the “Hip Hop Playa Show” this past Halloween, all 27 members who are usually difficult to gather together in one place came together. The heat was incredible.


Q: I understand that Block B fans went to see Zico’s hip hop concert. Could this be why? Some say that girl fans have come to like hip hop because of Jay Park and Zico.

Zico: I would love to be of help even in that way. I think that there is definitely meaning to spreading hip-hop to those who don’t know it very well.


Q: Recently,  the public’s interest in hip hop has grown due to “Show Me The Money.”

Zico: That is a very welcome and delightful thing. I hope that this excitement does not end as a passing interest for the public, but will steadily carry on.


Q: Zico writes most of Block B’s songs. Who is the song-writing partner “Pop Time?”

Zico: Pop Time (Park Ji-yong) is the perfect partner for me, just as Chad Hugo was for Pharrell Williams. When I roughly gush out a melody and lyrics, Pop Time would meticulously organize and smooth it out. When I make trouble because I approach music very emotionally, he would rationally manage it.


Q: Don’t you think that your skills are undervalued because you are a part of an idol group?

Zico: But that actually becomes my motivation to excel even more. When people say, “He’s an idol, so he’s not that great,” I, too, feel like I’m not that good. Which is why I try harder, and diligently write and practice even while being active as a member. I don’t want to lose those emotions I get. In this way, I don’t think being underappreciated is all that bad.


Q: Don’t you want to show off more of your music as a solo that differs from your Block B days?

Zico: I don’t especially have such an ambition. Even during my Block B days, I think the fans were able to grasp the unique charm and personality of each member. Which is why I don’t have the desire to gain separate popularity or appeal as a solo artist. As to the solo activities such as “Tough Cookie,” I would be grateful if people viewed it as just “these are things he thinks about.”


Q. Let’s talk about Block B. You are quite young even within the group; it must have been difficult leading the team. Has it become easier now?

Zico: It is just as difficult now as it was four years ago. I think now, I learned how to reduce my stress. Four years ago, whenever anyone didn’t listen to me or behaved differently from what I thought, I would be extremely stressed out. However, now, I am able to understand the members better because I know their tendencies. I make an effort to accept the members’ actions, whether they are rational or irrational, full heartedly. The members have all been living a certain way and it’s unreasonable to change them according to my standards. Even if my standards are rational.


Q: Do you have more flexibility now?

Zico: I think I still don’t have flexibility. I guess I could say that I’ve learned to compromise? Before, there wasn’t even the slightest compromise. When there was something that I did not like, I would try to sort it out compulsively.


Q. When do you feel the pressure of having to take responsibility of the members?

Zico: I always bear that pressure. I think that a leader should take the responsibility from 1 to 10. Behind this kind of responsibility lies emptiness and despondency, but I am trying to overcome these things as well.


Q: Is there a member that recently “dissed” you?

Zico: There is always dissing. Now, the diss isn’t even a diss anymore. We’ve dissed each other so much, it’s not fun anymore. Instead, I think compliments and praise will be more fresh and fun (laughs). There isn’t even anything left to expose.


Q: Then let’s give compliments. Who is the member that grew the most?

Zico: P.O.‘s live singing skills have gotten better. I think Taeil hyung’s singing got better too. As for the rest of the members…I think they need to work harder.


Q: It’s often said that Block B’s different appeal from the other idol groups is “madness.”

Zico: We don’t pretend to be someone else, and we don’t easily fit into a box. I think that is why we literally go crazy on stage. I think they say it’s madness because we faithfully present that kind of energy.


Q: If you had to pick a touching moment with fans from this year?

Zico: Every moment is a succession of impressions. Whether or not there’s something special going on, I’m thankful to have fans who consistently support us. I’m always thankful for the fans who we make memories and share beautiful moments with. I’m also very thankful that I can make memories for the fans along with Block B. It’s because of the fans that I can become special to someone. That’s why the fans are so precious. To be honest I have a cynical personality. But because of the fans who are there for me whether I do well or do poorly I am able to become a warmer person. I’m doing everything carefully so as never to forget the fans.


Q: For Block B and Zico, 2014 was a very eventful year. Last May you even had your first concert. You probably made a lot of memories.

Zico: The thing I remember most is my solo stage. I did a new arrangement of my solo song “I’m So Fly.” I talked about the fans. The lyrics were: “In the midst of endless accidents without a shield, naked, I endured. Winning awards is nothing. The medals and trophies that I have received for three years with you at my side, even though my shoulders are heavy with them I will never let go of that baggage.” That was also right after the Sewol Ferry tragedy. At that time I relayed a message to the fans who were sacrificed in and encountered that tragedy, I remember be extremely committed to that. I was relieved to hear that so many people were touched by that moment. They also said that it was interesting that someone as cruel as me could write lyrics like that. It’s all because of the fans.


Q: Do you think that you have a cruel personality?

Zico: I don’t think that it is not. But I’ve become really nice lately (laughs) really!


Q: Lately Korean rappers are doing collaborations with international artists. If you could work with anyone who would it be?

Zico: I want to work with Outkast’s Andre 3000. He’s an artist that has influenced me a lot. Even if we can’t rap together I just want to make music with him. He’s such an impressive artist.


Q: Out of Korea’s rappers who has influenced you the most?

Zico: I listed to E-Sens’ mixtape “New Blood Rapper” and Verbal Jint’s album “Framed” and started rapping. I started rapping in my first year of high school, which is late compared to most. As I started rapping, I felt the extent of the Korean language. At the beginning, as I listened to E-Sens and others I became fascinated with making up cool words in Korean. That’s why I even got a tattoo of King Sejong (laughs). But of course I also listened diligently to international hip-hop. In elementary school I liked Eminem. Then in middle school I liked Dr. Dre, 50 cent, Warren G, etc, and in high school I listened a lot to Jay-Z and Nas. These days I’m enjoying listening to Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Bobby Shmurda.


Q: Plans for 2015?

Zico: In 2015 we’re making our official Japanese debut. And of course we’ll also be active in Korea. Block B is releasing a new album. There’s no plan yet for a solo album. However I will continue to do my independent work as well.


Q: Try saying your last words in a rap.

Zico: (after thinking for 10 seconds) always be careful words words words, but more than that the thing you have to be careful of is the end of the year…. ah this is too hard.


Source: 10 asia

All images courtesy of 10 asia
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1 Comment
  1. TiraMisu 8 years ago
    Thanks for translating and sharing !!
    I got this issue last month in Incheon Airport on a transfer flight , my Korean is not well enough to read , I am so happy ,now! Great translating !
    Thank you so much !!!!
    Love n Respect !!

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