Asian Hip-Hop Group Finds Fans Among L.A. Latinos

The members of Far East Movement began rapping in the parking lots and nightclubs of L.A.'s Koreatown. And in an L.A. twist, Latinos were one of the first communities to support the all-Asian hip-hop group in big numbers.

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The members of the band Far East Movement began performing in the parking lots and nightclubs of L.A.'s Koreatown. And in an L.A. twist, Latinos were one of the first communities to support the all-Asian American group.

Corey Takahashi reports on the blueprint for this new kind of crossover.

COREY TAKAHASHI: Far East Movement is a group that had to come from Southern California, but not in a Beach Boys sort of way.

(Soundbite of song, "Like A G6")

FAR EAST MOVEMENT (Band): (Singing) Poppin bottles in the ice.

TAKAHASHI: Their turf is less about sand and surf than the dizzying mix of a new urban America.

(Soundbite of song, "Like A G6")

FAR EAST MOVEMENT: (Singing) Like a G6. Like a G6. Like a G6. Now, I'm feeling so fly like a G6.

TAKAHASHI: James Roh, whose rapper name is Prohgress, grew up in an international L.A.

Mr. JAMES ROH (Rapper): I mean, Koreatown is pretty much an ethnic enclave with, like, you know, a lot of Korean people. But at the same time, it's mostly Latino.

TAKAHASHI: In Koreatown, different ethnic communities are often parallel worlds, even when they're on the same block. But Far East Movement has as much of a Latino influence as an Asian one.

(Soundbite of song, "You've Got A Friend")

Mr. LIL ROB (Rapper): (Singing) What you expect? You got my palabra.

TAKAHASHI: They got their first local radio hit in collaboration with Latino performers.

Mr. ROB: One of our first songs that we actually had on the radio was featuring, like, two of the top Latin rappers out there.

(Soundbite of song, "You've Got A Friend")

FAR EAST MOVEMENT: (Singing) All you need to know is you got a friend.

TAKAHASHI: Member J-Splif, whose real name is Jae Choung, says they built a fan base at lowrider car shows.

J-SPLIF (Musician): We were doing a lot of lowrider shows, so they kind of embraced us with open arms. So we said, hey, we love you all right back.

TAKAHASHI: This is a big change from the L.A. music scene in the 1990s, when Koreatown was literally on fire during the riots, and hip-hop was heavy with racial polemics. But Far East Movement's Los Angeles has always been a mix. And they've been parlaying their remixed subculture far beyond L.A.

Here's Far East Movement at a club in the agricultural town of Bakersfield, California.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. ROH: Bakersfield, who knew? Because we were here three years ago, and there was nobody in the crowd. And today, they're rocking out, singing our song. It's great.

TAKAHASHI: Prohgress says their popularity owes a lot to a high-energy sound that fuses hip-hop with clubby and electronic styles of music. And J-Splif says grassroots interaction has been as important as the music itself. They've made social networking - online and in person - an ethos of their upcoming, major-label debut. The title is "Free Wired."

J-SPLIF: We always stay wired, you know what I mean? Whether it be staying up all night, and after the clubs, at 3:00 a.m., we'll go onto an Internet chat and we'll keep in touch.

TAKAHASHI: A fan named Dara Gholston says she's enjoyed those chats.

Ms. DARA GHOLSTON: Social media-wise, there's so many things that they're involved with, it's crazy.

TAKAHASHI: Prohgress says social media has erased potential barriers for this rare, all-Asian American music act.

Mr. ROH: Kids these days, they know you more by your Facebook name more than they know about you. I don't think like there's really like crossing ethnic barriers anymore. The kids don't care. It's all about a lifestyle that comes up together, and that's kind of what we want to show.

TAKAHASHI: Far East Movement has started taking that mindset and the party that goes with it from L.A. to the world.

For NPR News, I'm Corey Takahashi.

(Soundbite of song, "Dance Like Michael Jackson")

FAR EAST MOVEMENT: (Singing) Yep, you can't do it like me. Break it down to the A, B, Cs. Bad to the bone grab the phone. I'm a smooth criminal you are not alone. It don't matter if you're black or white. Everybody get down when I'm on the mic. And the party don't stop till you get enough because the Far East Movement is dangerous. Dance like Michael Jackson. Dance like Michael Jackson. Dance like Michael Jackson. Dance like Michael Jackson.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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