DPR: ‘We Did this Ourselves From the Ground Up’
From a hit debut album to an upcoming world tour, producer DPR REM and artist DPR LIVE talk about their hip-hop crew’s ambitions and expansion plans
Talking to the members of DPR is almost always like a productive frisson that leaves you breathless and excited for the things to come. On the day we chat, the voices of producer Scott Kim—better known as DPR REM—and Hong Dabin, aka DPR LIVE, crackle through the phone on a fine Seoul evening, merging together in waves of introspection and quiet, focused ambition. They’re gearing up for their first world tour, but also trying to wrap their heads around the fact that it’s finally happening.
“Everything is just still so surreal for us. It’s not like we’ve done this in a past life or we had experiences in other entertainment companies. This is all ‘Do It Yourself’, like DIY,” says DPR REM. “Every day is a new experience and a new journey, and I think this world tour is one of the biggest steps we’ve taken in that direction.”
On the off chance that you’re a stranger to DPR, short for Dream Perfect Regime, it’s worth noting that ‘Do It Yourself’ is the cornerstone of the septet’s philosophy. The crew, which has morphed into one of the most prominent and creative voices to emerge from the Korean hip-hop scene, is a completely organic and independent effort–a rare feat in South Korea’s label-saturated music industry. They first gained prominence through their captivating and cinematic visual output which included music videos for K-pop acts such as Big Bang and MOBB, courtesy of in-house director and free-spirit extraordinaire, Christian Yu (known as IAN within the collective.)
Rapper DPR LIVE, essentially the face of the collective, is both a founding member and their first formal artist. LIVE started out by uploading his music on YouTube and eventually commanded people’s attention through his tightly packed, spitfire rap on the viral collaborative 2016 hit “Eung Freestyle.” Then in 2017 came Coming To You Live, his debut EP featuring an impressive roster of collaborations and an even bolder declaration—DPR had arrived in full swing. This, however, was followed by the comparatively mellowed out HER the same year. While Coming To You Live was a grand display of confidence, HER was more focused and convergent in its themes, essentially a one-man act that took DPR LIVE to No. 8 on the Billboard World Albums Chart. “I think going off of CTYL, it was hard to just really stick with one theme because there was just so many people involved. We wanted to keep it open-ended for the artists to translate and interpret the way they wanted to,” says DPR REM, who’s produced both albums. “On the cover album for CTYL, we have a change of seasons going on in the background.” DPR used that as a metaphor of how they wanted to offer different varieties of songs and themes, so it not only introduces DPR LIVE as a rookie artist but also incorporates a lot of the other artists that featured on this project to display their thematic lyricism.
However, REM goes on to explain that when it comes to HER, it became a very solo project for LIVE. “It was solo for being not only for his own experimental purposes, but also in that he really wanted to zone in on his artistry and portray his story, and really give the fans like, ‘Okay, this is me, really like raw, without anybody around. This is the music I want to do right now, the vibes I want to put out.’ I think that’s the distinction.”
At just 26, LIVE is succinct but assertive, prefers to channel his words through music and is always aware of his values and goals thanks to his time in the army, which he says brought focus to his music. “I went to school in Guam. I knew how to speak Korean, because that was the only language my mom and my dad can speak, but I definitely wasn’t good at it.” When his family came to Korea, he had to enlist in the army within a year of arriving. “You have to stay in this military camp for two years, being told what to do, when to eat, when to sleep, and stuff like that. I actually really just honed in on myself, my goals, what I wanted in life, my values, and I learned patience and focus there. I think it was a very good thing to do though, because I don’t think I would have learned another way,” he says.
With millions of online views on their videos and the label of an underground collective left in the past, the members of DPR are gearing up to perform at sold out shows in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. Here are excerpts from our conversation with REM and LIVE, where they discuss their success, music, and plans for expanding in the future.
On their collaborations with other artists and Coming To You Live:
LIVE: I think for collaborations, it’s always important to meet the person you’re working with, to get a vibe of their energy, their lifestyle, their beliefs. Just getting to know someone as a human is so helpful in understanding them as an artist. Through various talks and meet-ups, I think that’s where the music just naturally comes about. At least in my experience, that’s how you can be versatile. Meeting with various individuals and just communicating – it really opens you up to new thoughts and experiences.
REM: We were actually very lucky with that, because it just all timed perfectly. Usually, you hear a lot of stories where schedules don’t match up or you’re waiting for some other person and they get back to you, which is very often in the entertainment industry, but just—I don’t know what it is. I like to think it’s a lot of luck, to be honest, there’s a lot of great timing and luck that happened.
On music videos and DPR’s visual output:
LIVE: Not just my input, but everyone’s input goes into our visuals. It’s a collective effort, and that’s exactly the reason as to why I think we are able to deliver top notch quality works. We each present a different piece to the puzzle.
REM: I dedicate a lot of that to Christian. He’s a genius when it comes to that. I really think he’s just a crazy gifted kid that you just can’t put into words at times. It just happens for him.
On being independent artists in South Korea:
LIVE: We really did this ourselves from the ground up. Countless mistakes were made, but through just pure diligence, we were able to get to a point where now we can constantly create and make what we want to. That freedom is priceless.
On their Billboard charting and online success:
LIVE: Although I’m super grateful and humbled, I try my best not to focus on stuff like that. The more you start thinking about certain stats and whatnot, I just believe it tends to really limit and almost negatively impact your career. Constantly being burdened and stressed with thoughts like that seem to do way more bad than good. I think these days I’ve just been working on trying to create constantly and explore myself as an artist more and more.
REM: We’re still young kids if you really think about it. Beyond the fame, beyond the success, it’s the fact that we have influence, and that’s what drives us, right? I think we’ve gone various letters in the email and handwritten letters from our fans all across the world, saying ‘Your music has shifted me in this direction and it’s for the better’ and ‘Your music has really inspired to go and pursue my dream, my passions.’ When we get things like this, it’s a very surreal experience. I’m sure a lot of artists feel the same way, but for us, really coming from the ground up, really not knowing anything that we were doing, going through countless mistakes, countless failures, it’s a really rewarding experience, more than anything.
On getting more people to hop on board:
REM: The short answer is: of course, we’d love to build this movement. I think the betterment of the team is just getting more people on board. The bigger your movement becomes, the bigger impact you get. The long answer to that, now, is that because we’re so family oriented, it does get a bit tricky. You have seven kids that grew up together making this DPR dream a reality. At this point, and we’ve said it before, we know each other so well. If we had disagreements and communication problems, it’s exactly how a family would handle it. This is not a company vibe at all, and I feel like, going off of that, we want to conserve that culture as much as can. That’s where it gets difficult, because you have somebody from the outside coming in, and it’s just like… can they really adapt to this environment? Can they adapt to this culture that we’ve set up before it already? I think that’s the hard question for us.
On the upcoming tour and possible new locations:
LIVE: Besides the fact that I’ll be able to finally see my fans face to face, I’m most looking forward to just being in a space filled with people who really support our movement and resonate with us. I don’t want our tour to just be your typical ‘show’ or ‘performance.’ I want fans to gear up for an actual party–a family reunion. Anybody that supports DPR knows up front that our culture goes hand in hand with family. So for us, this tour is similar to like seeing your long lost relatives, or getting together with family members you haven’t seen in years. That’s the level of excitement the team and I have.
REM: We really tried to include as many cities as we could in this tour. It is a world tour and we wanted to hit as many cities as we could, even despite our physical health or whatever. We really wanted to make the time and effort to get to any place that really knows of us or wants us. Even other Spanish-speaking countries or places like India or South Africa… we have tons of fans hitting us up saying we have fans here and there, and we want to cater to those markets much as we can, but at the same time just thinking about the whole bigger picture of the scheduling and the logistics it just couldn’t work out.
That’s what we told our fans, that ‘Hey, just because we’re doing this first world tour doesn’t mean it’s the last world tour. We’re just getting started here, right?’ This is just the beginning, so it builds momentum for the next few cities that we have yet to hit. We’re like, ‘Hey, we see you guys. We know you’re there. Just wait for us.’
Watch DPR LIVE’s latest release “Playlist” below: