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Photo by Matt OttoBetween burrito bites and horchata slurps on a cold Wednesday night, the hip-hoppers of Jupitersciples mull over the success of their recently released maxi-single.
"We're really not giving the release any publicity, and we're stocking it only in indie stores," explains Brian Kim, who raps by the moniker Oddsequence. "And yet the single is selling so well we're going to do a second printing." He takes an especially satisfying gulp from his drink and beams. "It can't be just us; it has to be something divine."
It has to be. After all, virtually everything else in the Jupitersciples solar system revolves around the sacrosanct. All devout Christians (though Kim says they don't get too preachy about it because "we have no right to do that"), the quartet—Kim, Jimmy "Cyclopean-eye" Rhee and Mike "Besoul" Park alternate between lead vocals while Karl "Brother Damyu" Pacho lets his ever-scratching turntable do the talking—is the salvation SoCal hip-hop needs after a decade of gangstas, bitches and Shaquille O'Neal. Political, positive and proselytizing, the Jupitersciples find themselves saints in a sinful world, but they nevertheless trudge through the hip-hop valley of darkness, picking up hordes of converts much like the man from Nazareth—or "G-Zeus," as his posse called him—did two millennia ago.
Jupitersciples do this through a sound that must have been what passed for groovin' in the Garden. Kim, Park and Rhee rap so fast it's as if the Holy Spirit enters their mics to lay down a furious dose of glossolalia ("speaking in tongues," for you heathens). Their subject matter is similarly reverential, referencing Thelonious Monk, praising the storming of the Bastille, and retelling the pain of Korean comfort women for the world to know. Pacho ensures that such gravitas receives the proper aural ambiance, sampling keyboard rhythms ranging from stately Steinways to epic Theremins. Even some humor, too; grandiose voices appear sometimes only to make such ridiculous statements as "I'm fat. . . . I've always been fat." Humor with the holy? If you think God didn't say some howlers in his day, try reading the entirety of Leviticus with a straight face.
Jupitersciples' genesis dates back to a Korean-American youth camp Rhee and Park attended in their early teens. Their meeting "happened like destiny in the hand of God," Rhee remembers (again with the transcendent!) because he already knew Kim while Park and Pacho were chums from La Crescenta. At the camp, Rhee and Park discovered a shared obsession with hip-hop, and they quickly brought Kim and Pacho into the mix. "All of us individually had a knack for hip-hop, even when we were small," Rhee adds. "But it was always hard to get together because of the distance involved."
It still is. Ten years later, each must still journey from distant environs—Rhee dorms in Westwood, Park and Pacho live in Glendale, and Kim splits his time between Cal State Fullerton and Tustin—to get together maybe twice a month, if that. "We don't even kick it that much, which is important so we can vibe off one another," Park admits. "In the meantime, we try to write songs and think of new things individually so that when we do meet up, we have something new to share. Whenever we perform, that's almost like a practice for us."
Jupitersciples' practices/performances are thankfully increasing in frequency because of the impending End Times. The group's saving rhymes get them invited to many political events as one of the few non-punk acts, even though Jupitersciples don't pigeonhole themselves as political, says Kim. "But from our experience, non-hip-hop people receive us pretty well. They can just feel our energy. Besides, it's somewhat hard not to be political nowadays. We live in a unique climate that forces people to speak louder in order to be heard."
With that said, Jupitersciples stress that the misery and pain of earthly existence should not lead musicians to despair. Take solace in knowing that the good always trumps the bad, Mr. Frodo! "It's easier for an artist to be pessimistic than to have a positive outlook," Kim says. "We're living on shaky ground, and no one knows what's going to happen. But people shouldn't get angry; they should write. Writing is sanctity. Everything's beautiful. It's all in God's hands."
Jupitersciples perform with Cuauhtémoc, Over the Counter Intelligence, Yaoh and Branchless Tree at the Unitarian Church, 511 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 758-1050. Sat., 7 p.m. $5-$10. All ages.