How a North Korean Shopkeeper in Compton Helped Bring Gangster Rap to Japan

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How a North Korean Shopkeeper in Compton Helped Bring Gangster Rap to Japan How a North Korean Shopkeeper in Compton Helped Bring Gangster Rap to Japan
Culture

How a North Korean Shopkeeper in Compton Helped Bring Gangster Rap to Japan

by Shira Levine

April 22, 2013

Kirk Kim, a Korean American business owner in the heart of Compton, California is frequently asked by journalists to make some societal-defining comment on race relations between Korean shop owners and African-American consumers. The infamous 1992 LA riots are undoubtedly responsible. For Kirk, the reality is less violent and more poetic. His father, Wan Joon, who passed away last month at age 79, was known as the unofficial Godfather of Gangster Rap. After immigrating from North Korea with his wife Boo Ja in the early 80s, he opened a 100-square-foot stall named Cycadelic Records in the Compton Fashion Center swap meet. Cycadelic became an institution for burgeoning and legendary gangster rappers— giving them a chance for their music to be heard when other distributors and shops wouldn’t. 

“We have so many regulars that have been coming in over the years,” says Kirk. “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.”

“He and my mom always talked about Eazy E and Snoop Dogg who came in back in the day, but he didn’t really like rap, he loved the [rappers],” says Kirk. “There were certain songs he kind of ended up liking, because he’d play music really loud. Cypress Hill’s Dr. Greenthumb a lot and Club Nouveau’s Rumors.”

Image of Wan Joon and Boo Ja with DJ Quik courtesy of Kirk Kim

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