Asian Pop Culture Writer and moonROK Editorialist
In July, the boys of BTS visited Los Angeles to learn about hip-hop culture, documenting their adventures along the way in the currently airing reality TV show “American Hustle Life.” One of the hip hop mentors on the show is artist and songwriter Tony Jones, who spent two weeks teaching BTS how to cultivate their hip hop skills and taking them around the city. When asked about his first impression of BTS, Tony replied, “Well, my first meeting with them was waking them up at 6AM. All tired, no glam. I don’t think they even knew what was going on, just thought they came out for a big vacation. It was a rough start, but they were really cooperative. From then on, we had a lot of good times together for 2 weeks.”
moonROK chats with Tony Jones on the core elements of hip-hop, his experience working with BTS, and his thoughts on how the ‘Jony’ bromance ship set sail.
Tony with J-Hope, Jimin, and Jungkook
Tell us a bit about yourself and your musical background.
Hey everybody, I’m Tony Jones. I’m from Texas and now I’ve been in LA for about a year now. I’ve been doing music for a while. I started taking music seriously after basketball, I’d say around 2009-2010. So when I came to LA last year, I signed a minor deal with a group out here and I did a song with the gang. I haven’t been in the studio lately ‘cause I’ve been doing some other stuff lately. Looking to sign with a bigger label someday and I’d love to work with BTS again because they’re so talented. I consider myself more of a songwriter more than a rapper, so hopefully I can own my own studio one day.
How did you get involved with the BTS “American Hustle Life” show?
The Korea team actually reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to do it. I never heard of K-pop or Korean music, so I did my research on BTS. I think the first song I heard was “We are Bulletproof PT2.” I was like “Yeah, definitely!” They’re really talented and they seem like a great group of kids.
What’d you think about their knowledge of hip-hop before you got to teach them? Did you have your work cut out for you?
I think they’re very familiar with rap and hip-hop. They knew of a bunch of rappers like A$AP Rocky, Jay-Z, T.I. and all the new songs out here. They also have heard ‘em all. If you listen to Rap Monster and Suga rap, they rap American. I mean, it’s in Korean, but they have adlibs like Americans. I don’t know who their producers are but they make music to American beats, very modern and urban. They had a good understanding of it.
BTS with American Rapper, Coolio
You mentioned that you first saw them in the “We Are Bulletproof Pt. 2” music video. What’d you think of them after meeting them in person?
After seeing that video, I really loved it. I thought everyone in Korea was doing it like BTS, making songs like that. But, I found out that’s not the case; they’re really one of a kind. If they learned English, they could really come out over here and do music ‘cause somebody has been studying really well. Even the newest video “Danger” is real modern. “I Like It” is one of my favorite songs ‘cause it’s got this Boyz II Men vibe. Somebody’s really studying American culture and getting it right over there. I started researching other bands. Somebody told me to listen to B.A.P and EXO. It’s not the same to me. I just think BTS is better. I don’t think I’m biased just ‘cause I worked with them. They’re just different; they do a lot more.
As a mentor on the show, what would you say are the core elements of hip-hop?
Well, hip-hop has changed so much now. It started out with beat boxing, breakdancing, underground battles and really raw beats. Like Lil Wayne and Kanye West changed the game. And now auto-tune is really hot. There’s not really one definition of hip-hop, but generally just good music and rhyming words. As far as hip-hop artists now, I’d say J.Cole is a great one. He talks about stuff, has good lyrics, not too much auto-tune. Somebody who can stand alone on a beat with their voice is what I’d consider good hip hop.
Did you notice any differences between American and Korean hip-hop culture?
In Korea, it seems to me they like to blend rap and singing together. I haven’t heard a strictly hip-hop artist yet, like no singing, no dancing, just rapping, but that may just be because I haven’t heard enough.
In Korea, there’s a belief that if you are in an idol group – meaning you sing, dance, wear coordinated outfits, and are produced under a company – that you can’t do hip-hop or that it’s fake. What do you think of that?
You have to respect Korea’s mainstream culture because that’s how it is over there. You can’t say that’s not rap or hip-hop or that’s not real if they got makeup on. It’s what the market wants. Rap Monster can rap with the best of them. They might sing, dance and wear makeup over there, but it’s just a different culture.
In regards to the interview with B-Free, I guess Rap Monster was trying to explain that he was torn about doing hip-hop and K-pop because you have to wear makeup and learn how to dance, but I think it’s good that he understands the difference. In the states, it would be unconventional to wear makeup and dance as a hip-hop artist, which I think is what B-Free is getting at. He’s still a clown though [laughs] and I stick to that statement. But, Rap Monster and Suga can really rap and their makeup doesn’t take away any of that.
Coming to America, did the boys have any culture shocks?
I can’t really say too much ‘cause some of it will feature in the upcoming episodes, but they’ve never really talked to girls or approached them. I know the Korean entertainment culture is very strict about relationships. So, when we put them in front of girls, they were so shy; they didn’t know what to do. We teach them how to approach girls and it’s gotta be one of my favorite episodes. I was real proud of them.
More than the boys actually, I think I had culture shock. They are very touchy feely and to them, it’s nothing. I’d walk into the room and Suga’s massaging V’s neck or Jimin’s giving Jungkook an intimate back massage and I just look at the other staff like “What’s going on?” [laughs]. I guess over there, it doesn’t mean anything. But if you’re here and you do stuff like that… you know what people say about that here.
As a mentor, what kind of things did you teach them? How were they as students? What was the most difficult/simple thing to teach them?
One of the most fun things was teaching them some English. We taught them some words like “turn up.” When they went to Warren G’s house, they said, “What’s popping?” which we also taught them.
Oh, we taught them “dope” and there’s a funny story behind that. One day, me and Nate just brought it up and one of the producers nearly lost his mind like “No, not dope!! That’s drugs!!” But you know, it also means “cool,” so that was just funny to us.
On the flipside, did you happen to learn any Korean?
I don’t know if it’s going to air on the show, but V taught me so much. I think he taught me some bad words too [laughs]. I know that “annyeong haseyo” is hello. Then he started teaching me like “bikkyeo yo” like “get out of my face” [laughs]. They taught me like a bunch of random phrases and stuff for 30 min, so hopefully some of it airs.
So, is the show completely real or are parts of it staged?
It’s pretty real. I guess I can talk about other stuff that isn’t on the show ‘cause he no longer is on it. Some people asked me today where Dante went. He’s a really good guy, but he’s gone from the show. I didn’t think anything had happened but if you watched episode 2, he was just mean. I love Dante, but he was just mean to the kids. He had Suga and Jin, but they didn’t get along and they didn’t want to finish the competition. For whatever reason, there was some tension I guess and he threw something at one of the boys. In general, they were really obedient, they listened to everything I had to say and they were really open to anything. Dante is a nice dude, so I don’t know what happened. He isn’t usually like that.
Seems like you’ve got this bromance going on with Jimin. What’s that all about?
There’s a lot of stuff I don’t respond to because fans are pairing us as a couple and that’s not what’s going on. I just came up with this nickname for him “Chimchim” and I don’t even know where I got that from. But with him, he’s just so charming like as a person. And I think he really understands how to get a reaction from the girls. He can really sing and dance. I saw some of me when I was younger in him. I really see him as a little brother. I mean, I love all the other boys too, but I think we just connected a little more. Throughout the show, we’re just around each other all the time.
Actually I think Jungkook is the most talented ‘cause he’s the youngest. He’s 16; he can sing, dance, and rap and he does it all really good. J-hope is a great dancer, a super dancer. Rap Monster and Suga are super rappers. And Jin and Jimin are super singers. But Jungkook can do it all. But back to the question, I just really like him as a person and when he’s performing and winking; he’s got all that fan service down. His attitude is so positive.
Onto the fan questions!
Describe each BTS member with 1 word (@lisaphan)
Let’s start with Rap Monster. I’m gonna say leader.
J-Hope: positive. He’s literally always smiling, on stage, just everywhere. Good attitude all around.
Jungkook: talented. I actually think he’s the most talented ‘cause he’s the youngest. He’s only 16, but he can sing, dance, rap and do it all really good.
Jimin: Jony? [laughs] Nah, I’m playing. I’d say charming. When he’s performing, he’s winking and he just knows how to give the crowd what they want.
V: fun. He is just so much fun. He is a little weird, but he was the main one from day 1, not even Jimin, but he was the one trying to trying to speak English, socialize and play video games with everybody.
Suga: obviously swag! Well, he is really cool. Rap Monster can outrap any rapper, but Suga has the attitude, style… the swag. He’s a laidback guy with the attitude of an American rapper.
Jin: I would say nice, as simple as that may sound. He’s very sweet and just an all around nice guy.
What’s something you learned from BTS? (@pd_nimXI)
I think I learned how to stay positive. They go through a lot that nobody sees. We would get to leave and get some sleep, but I’d hear them stay up until 5 and we had to wake them up at 7 every morning like everyday. One episode you’re going to see they are so tired that they can’t even open their eyes. There are so many kids over in Korea trying to make it. They’re always rehearsing, dancing, singing, rapping and they work so hard. I really appreciate it.
It’s weird ‘cause in America you can just do whatever you want to do. You can just do it underground and you don’t have to sign to a label. Like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis did it all on their own. But in Korea, it’s really hard to do it like that. They go through so much and have a good attitude about it.
What was your favorite moment with BTS? (@kooly721)
My absolute favorite moment with BTS… it’s got to be the show at Troubador. Me and Nate were probably the biggest fans in there. We were yelling and screaming until we lost our voices. It was a really great moment to see all the work they put into the past 2 weeks with us and they just really went all out on stage.
Final message to our moonROK readers?
I had a really good time working with the boys. I consider them like little brothers for life. I’m sure we’ll work together again in the future. They’re #1 to me and they’ll be #1 in Korea soon. And for the record, me and Jimin are not gay [laughs]. It’s brotherly love.
moonROK wold like to sincerely thank Tony Jones for taking the time to sit down and talk with us about his unique experiences working with BTS, and to wish him the best in all of his future endeavors as an artist.
Tags: BTS Exclusive Interview