Get familiar with J. Lee, one of the most promising artists of his generation, who just recently dropped his new single “Mask On My Heart.” He talked to us about the inspiration behind his latest song and his creative process.
Please tell us more about your latest single “Mask On My Heart’ and what it represents for you?
“Mask On My Heart” was inspired by a lot of the experiences I’ve been through. As an artist, I’ve walked into situations where people will say one thing but really mean another. Something all too common to me is when people use my music as a way to get close to me, but really, they have hidden intentions. It’s like they wanna use me for my image, work ethics, or even my connects. I’ve come across shady deals like those. Something else that irks me is when people say they know me, but nah, they really don’t. It’s like they see my potential and want to hop on a bandwagon before I make it big so they can use my name like a flex.
How different was your creative process for “Make Her Mine” or “Down” in comparison with “Mask On My Heart”?
“Make Her Mine” and “Mask On My Heart” are songs I wrote, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered all in my private studio. For the most part, I enjoy making songs on my own — even though I’m fine with working on songs with others. For me, it helps in keeping my vision as authentic as possible without having too many cooks in the kitchen.
“Down” was a collaborative effort. We had hit up Ted Park one day, and next thing you know, we’re in his NY studio and we’re vibing to different beats that DJ Pain 1 gave us. Ted laid a hook down and all of us in the room were adding bits and pieces to it. Definitely a good time.
How did growing up in the U.S impact the music you create today?
My love for R&B and hip-hop would most definitely not have been cultured growing up in Seoul. But more than that, if I didn’t go through all the bullshit of the Asian American immigrant experience, I wouldn’t have such a passion to continue my music and make it into the mainstream doing what I love. All the pain, anger, and frustrations have been the most inspiring motivators I could have.
How would you describe your music?
I am a chameleon of sound. Whatever I’m vibing, I blend in with. If that means I want to spit bars, I’ll make a rap track. If it means I want to make a more emotive and explicit song, I’ll drop an R&B hit.
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
I’d love to work with the Migos or with Korean-American icon Jay Park. I think the Migos paved a strong path for those in melodic trap and it’d be so dope to work with them. Jay Park has always been an influence and inspiration for me growing up, and it’d be crazy if I could land on a track with him, too.
Who are the artists that you look up to, past and present?
One of the most influential artists for me is Juice WRLD (RIP). His death hit me hard because I consider Juice WRLD to be a lyrical genius. Not only did he have insane bars and freestyles, but his songs were so powerfully real that I was drawn into every masterpiece he put out. Chris Brown and Jay Park are other artists that I’ve definitely been inspired from. I think their entire artist vibe of R&B and hip-hop have really pushed me to make tracks similar to their styles.
What motivates and inspires you to make music?
I had a tough time growing up. On top of all the racist attacks, I was bullied and we didn’t have much money. There was a lot of anger growing up, and music wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to use as an outlet for that. I really just wanted to make it in the world with something in my control, with something that I could say I put the work and effort in.
What is one experience in life that, without it, you wouldn’t be the artist you are today?
I moved to the east coast from 2016-2020 to learn more about audio engineering in a private university. I wanted to take my ambitions more seriously and wanted more experience learning about studio environments. Although I’m of the mindset that schooling can’t help you build a commercial record, I definitely think it can help you focus on your craft.
Please tell us more about your difficult childhood and how it impacted your art?
There’s been a lot of the anger and frustrations growing up. One of the stereotypes Asian people face is that we’re supposed to be computer nerds or just passive people who are supposed to fit the model minority trope. Fuck that. I want to be a trailblazer in that regard and prove to all people that we can do whatever we want to do. A lot of us Asian Americans grew up thinking we had to fit certain roles in society. But I want to change all that and show that it’s okay to be yourself. And for me, that means I want to be one of the first to hit the R&B and hip-hop scene as a Korean-American artist.
Are you currently working on new projects?
I got a new song coming up on Feb. 12 — “These Nights.” It’s another song I made all by myself — recording, producing, mixing, mastering, etc. I just recently moved to LA county last year and I experienced a confusing relationship with a new girl. I put my story into that song because I’m sure a ton of people can relate to being in back-and-forth relationships.