Month: October 2016

Four Years After Last Album, Far East Movement Finds Their True ‘Identity’

fm-identity-press-shotMonica Luhar for NBC Asian America, October 20, 2016 

After they released their last album, “Dirty Bass,” in 2012, LA-based hip-hop group Far East Movement took some time off to focus on their identity.

“There were a lot of things we were seeing in the industry that we were going through that kind of got us a little discouraged,” Kevin “Kev Nish” Nishimura, one of the group’s members, told NBC News from Seoul, South Korea. “I could say maybe there was an identity crisis where we really didn’t want to make music anymore.”

It was at times difficult to ignore some of the racially charged comments on social media, Nishimura said, and at times, Far East Movement — which consists of James “Prohgress” Roh, Virman “DJ Virman” Coquia, and Nishimura and initially topped the Billboard charts in 2010 with “Like a G6” — were also asked to consider abbreviating or changing their name or putting on glasses for marketing purposes.

“There was an identity crisis in the sense that you’re from the U.S., and you’re 100 percent American, but you don’t necessarily feel that way, and you don’t feel that people see you that way,” Nishimura said. “You get execs that say, ‘you’re too Asian,’ how do we make this less Asian?'”

Somewhat disenchanted by the industry, Far East Movement decided to take a break and travel to Asia, where they began conceptualizing “Identity,” an album that bridges the gap between Asia and the United States. The album was a four-year process and is scheduled to release worldwide on Friday, Oct. 21.

The album art for “Identity,” Far East Movement’s first album since 2012. Courtesy of Transparent Agency

While in Asia, Far East Movement — which initially formed in Koreatown, Los Angeles, in 2003 — started producing for Japanese, Chinese, and Korean artists and began learning more about the region’s music scene.

Producing for artists in Asia helped Far East Movement gain a deeper appreciation, respect, and understanding of the scene and the culture, Nishimura said. It was vital in helping them reconnect with their identity and focus on a collaborative, global effort to include unifying sounds on their new record.

“Talent is global,” Nishimura said. “There’s no fear. The top artists here [in Asia] are amazing just like the top artists in the U.S. There’s no borders on talent.”

Much of that talent from Asia, as well as from the United States, is featured on “Identity,” which features collaboration with American rapper Soulja Boy, South Korean rapper Loco, singer-songwriter Macy Gray, Jay Park, Tiffany from K-Pop group Girls’ Generation, and others.

“Freal Luv” — the first single expected to be released from the 11-track album — features collaborations with producer Marshmello, rapper Chanyeol from K-Pop group EXO, and singer-songwriter Tinashe Kachingwe.

“When we made the record, to us it felt like something different,” Nishimura said. “It felt like something like Far East Movement, and it was also really positive and we wanted to make sure the first record we put out felt positive and a concept that no matter what city they’re in [they] can relate to themselves, which is love, for real love.”

For “Freal Luv,” the group first conceptualized Marshmello and then worked with EXO’s Chanyeol, furthering developing it before flying to Los Angeles and working with Kachingwe, Nishimura said.

“I think that overall it really represented the identity of what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “Overall it’s a lot of different cultures wrapped in one — a lot of different personalities.”

Art for “Freal Luv,” the first single off of Far East Movement’s “Identity” Courtesy of Transparent Agency

“Identity” is the first album released by Far East Movement’s own company, Transparent Agency, which also manages eight other artists.

“We really appreciate the support…this is a new step in our lives,” Nishimura said. “We’ve always been artists, but having our own music company and bringing the next generation of artists is really what we want to do professionally.”

“Umbrella” — one of the tracks off the new album — features K-Pop group Sistar’s Hyolyn and Gill Chang, and its music video was shot in Alhambra, California, not far from where the group played one of its very first local gigs in Koreatown’s Cafe Bleu, Nishimura said.

“Koreatown has definitely been our backbone … every time we would poster and do events, Koreatown has always been supportive … It’s cool because everybody is one phone call away,” Nishimura said.

Nishimura said the collaboration for “Identity” was a slow and challenging process that involved building and nurturing relationships with artists.

“It was a challenge because it’s not a passive process,” Nishimura said. “It’s not like you send an email and get a collab. It takes cultural awareness in a sense of respect and understanding that these artists are big, not treating it passively.”

Nishimura said there were times when tFM - Identity press shot.jpghey would fly back and forth for a few one-hour sessions and fly back to LA to ensure that the sounds didn’t seem forced, but instead, natural.

“We wanted the artists to be proud of it and not just feel like they were getting another Western artist getting [them] on a track,” Nishimura said. “We really wanted them to vibe.”

Nishimura said the group believes that the tracks on “Identity” are songs that anyone can relate to independent of their race or place of birth.

“If we can put artists from Asia and artists from the U.S. and just make a song that anyone in the world can vibe to, and that’s I think all for us — that truly defines the Far East Movement identity,” said Nishimura said.

“We’re going to keep going and bridging that gap and doing what we’re doing with our name: Far East Movement,” Nishimura continued. “It starts from the West but our heritage is East and hopefully it won’t be a talking point — it will be regular music.”


Seventy Years Old and Homeless in Hollywood

August 31, 2016 – Monica Luhar for NBC News Asian America

Seventy-year-old Josefino “Phinoy” Perez wears polished shoes, black pants, and a tie as he walks over to the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Hollywood, California, to give thanks to God. Perez says he dresses in such a way that you would not able to tell he had been homeless for nearly a year.

“When I go to church I dress up very good, nicely combed…and I dress very smart,” Perez told NBC News. “Most of my friends told me, ‘You look very smart.'”

Perez immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines 20 years ago and settled in Los Angeles County to take care of his late father.

But six years ago, things began to take a turn for the worse. Perez lost his job as a caretaker and was struggling to make ends meet, moving often from one temporary job to another.

Josefino "Phinoy" Perez
Josefino “Phinoy” Perez, 70, was recently matched with housing with help from The Center at Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood, California, and various other organizations. Peter Casas / Courtesy of The Center at Blessed Sacrament

“Whenever I think ‘America,’ I was thinking I would have a good life here. At the beginning I had a good life, but when I lost my job six years … then I started struggling,” he said.

During his periods of job hunting, Perez would spend most of his time at the local library searching for work on Craigslist. Last year, he found himself unable to make rent payments after exhausting all other options.

Today, Perez is one of the millions of elderly Americans struggling to find a job while also attempting to transition from homelessness which, according to a new census released in May, has risen in Los Angeles County by nearly 6 percent over the past year. Regions like the San Fernando Valley, where Perez currently resides, has seen an even more significant spike — at 35 percent.

Megan Hustings, director for the National Coalition for the Homeless, told NBC News that affordable housing can be difficult to navigate not just in large cities, but rural and suburban areas as well.

“Specifically with older folks we are seeing there is just a higher number of people … getting to that age where they are retiring, they’re having health issues, and having a harder time finding affordable housing,” Hustings said.

According to the Homelessness Research Institute, homelessness among elderly adults is projected to increase 33 percent by 2020. The number of elderly adults facing homelessness is expected to double between 2010 and 2050.

Perez says that after he was evicted from his his rent-controlled apartment in August 2015, he spent one night on the street and five days at a motel until a social worker put him in contact with four different shelters in the San Fernando Valley, including a shelter formerly operated by the Filipino American Service Group Inc., in Echo Park, California. (The group recently closed its shelter due to funding and security issues, executive director Yey Coronel confirmed to NBC News.)

“I had no steady income for the past six years,” Perez said. “Forty years ago, apartments wasn’t too expensive. I paid maybe $199. Now it’s expensive.”

Over the past year, Perez often spent time at the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Hollywood, where he would line up at the food pantry early morning for breakfast and then take the bus to get to his next destination. During the time he moved from one shelter to the next, he recalls constantly praying and hoping for an end to his homelessness. There were nights when he couldn’t sleep.

“I’m so afraid because it was my first time to be homeless and I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t have any place so I asked the Lord: ‘Please help me because I don’t know where to go.’ I cried and said, ‘God, please would you please end homelessness of mine?'” Perez said.

The friends he made at church recommended he connect with The Center at Blessed Sacrament, a non-profit organization aimed at ending homelessness in the Hollywood area. Nathan Sheets, director of operations and programs at The Center, told NBC News there’s been a collective effort to focus on the “housing first” approach to address homelessness, but says it’s just as important to retain and help people transition into permanent housing.

The Center at Blessed Sacrament, a non-profit organization aimed at ending homelessness in the Hollywood area
The Center at Blessed Sacrament, a non-profit organization aimed at ending homelessness in the Hollywood area, encourages group interaction and engagement, which includes an interactive music group that Josefino “Phinoy” Perez (center) regularly attends.Nathan Sheets / Courtesy of The Center at Blessed Sacrament

“In conjunction with ‘housing first’ you have to have community services for people so that they don’t fall out of housing, and we’ve seen it increasingly. It’s not important to get people to housing unless you can actually keep them there,” Sheets said.

This July, Perez was eventually matched with permanent housing in Winnetka, Los Angeles, in a low-income subsidized building for seniors.

“I don’t have any more fear. I go to the shelter and the Blessed Sacrament to ask for food,” he said, but adds that despite being matched with housing, he is still struggling: “I still consider myself homeless.”