How A Godfather Of Gangsta Rap Improved Cultural Ties With Japan

A grandfather of gangsta rap, who helped spread the art form throughout Japan, passed away last month. He wasn’t African American — he was North Korean, and he hardly spoke English.

Wan Joon Kim moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s and opened a 100-square-foot stall named Cycadelic Records. His stall became a location where rappers could get their music heard when no one else would give them a chance.

“We have so many regulars that have been coming in over the years,” Kirk Kim, Wan Joon Kim’s son, told GOOD. “My father knew these guys and looked out for them. After the riots, there was a lot of bashing we’d read about, but my parents never felt that. I don’t know if my parents were blessed, but there are a lot of good people in the neighborhood and so many great stories of people coming back to say hi to my Dad and thank him for giving them a chance.”

Tensions between African Americans and Asian Americans escalated following the Los Angeles riots of 1992, in which riots broke out following the brutal police beating of Rodney King following a high-speed chase. Stores owned by Korean immigrants were widely targeted. Yet this did not affect Wan Joon Kim’s relationship with African Americans in the community. He loved the rappers, his son says.

Ice Cube and Eazy-E, also called a godfather of gangsta rap, sold music through Wan Joon Kim’s stall. The two rappers would later form N.W.A., a rap group whose album Straight Outta Comptonbrought global attention to both the region and the genre.

Wan Joon Kim didn’t speak much English, but he spoke fluent Japanese. At the time, Japanese youth were obsessed with Americana, including gangsta rap.

“Japanese people are obsessed with gangster rap,” Kirk said. “They would hear about my Dad and they liked that familiarity for them so they would come out to Compton to the swap meet to buy as much music as they could. They’d take it back to Japan where they were able to mark it up 1000 percent!”

Kirk Kim continues to operate his father’s stall. GOOD reports that a steady flow of 50 to 100 people pass through a day, with over two-thirds buying or selling CDs and used DVDs.

The North Korean godfather of gangsta rap died last month at the age of 79.

[Image via ShutterStock]