By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Let’s cut to the chase: Far East Movement, an Asian-American hip-hop outfit hailing from Los Angeles, rightfully get tagged as an inspiration to other Asian-Americans who want to make it big musically. After all, there aren’t too many groups with the same heritage who have experienced the stateside rise they have. And while a certain amount of cultural pride pulses through the group, their success isn’t based on just appealing to other Asians.
The group—featuring rhyme-slangers Kev Nish, Prohgress, J-Splif and DJ Virman—have slowly been building buzz on dance floors and mixtapes across the country, swelling to the brink of pop stardom in the eyes and ears of the broad populace.
And why not? Since forming in 2003, FM, as they are known to fans, have done all they can to be heard. From organizing live multicultural music events in LA’s Koreatown, playing small sweaty clubs in front of fewer than 50 people, to eventually landing an opening slot for the likes of Robyn, Kelis and Lady Gaga (who handpicked the band), the group have earned every inch of their budding success.
“We’re in the moment, so at times, it’s hard to see all that is going on. But when I step back and reflect for a while, it blows my mind,” Nish says. “We just feel like we want to keep going with it.”
FM just wrapped recording their upcoming release, Free Wired, which will hit the streets in the fall. The first single, “Go Ape” (featuring Lil Jon), is a well-received testament to the group’s growing cache with established artists. Getting Lil Jon to sprinkle his special sauce all over the track took no more than a few hours. “We were listening to a raw mix in the studio, and it honestly just didn’t sound ape enough for a track called ‘Go Ape,’” Nish says. “It just had the vibe and groove where we knew Lil Jon could make it really hot. We hit him up online, and he knew who we were and asked us to send the track over. Two hours later, we had the final version.”
Also featured on the new album are Snoop Dogg, One Republic and Roger Sanchez. The trappings of pop stardom and appealing to the masses have certainly been a part of FM over the past two years, but with Free Wired, Nish and company chose to eschew pleasing their audience in favor of challenging them. Rather than issue a pop-by-numbers effort guaranteed to get multiple spins on radio, the group decided to experiment.
“We’ve reached the point where we really want to push ourselves creatively. On Free Wired, that’s what we did,” Nish says. “No idea was turned away. . . . We really made an effort to do things we hadn’t done before, to create something new, and we’re pretty pleased with the way it turned out.”
As with their previous efforts, the songwriting process was highly collaborative. Each member offered up different beats, melodies and rhymes. FM go back a long way as friends, so niceties and politeness are easily sacrificed in the name of making the song as strong as possible. “We all just kind of sit together in a room and bounce different things off of one another to see what sticks. . . . If someone comes to the table with something the rest of us don’t like, we are not afraid to let them know,” Nish says. “No one’s ideas are untouchable.”
They plan to tour heavily over the next year, including a stint with new pop hero Mike Posner. Still, while hobnobbing with A-listers and up-and-comers has become a part of their daily life, FM are not beyond the excitement of fandom. “Being right there next to Snoop, someone I’ve been listening to since I was in diapers, was really a trip,” Nish says. “We couldn’t just play it cool. . . . We had to take our picture with him and let him know what a big deal it was for us.”
Journeying out of the small clubs and onto the big stages has taken some getting used to. The energy and connection with the audience in a small sweaty club are not as apparent to the band under the bright lights and five-piece stage hauled to the arena in multiple semis. Even so, FM have learned to connect with fans in the new setting.
“You can’t really see anyone, and you can’t hear the crowd as clearly, but you know they are there getting into it,” Nish says. “You have to play the way you always do and hope the connection translates from farther away.”
That sentiment seems to have worked for Lady Gaga—so why not for these guys?
Far East Movement perform with Hyper Crush, the Cataracs, Dev and Ursa Minor at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $15. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "West Coast Sound: Asian-American hip-hop gets a boost from Far East Movement—and Lady Gaga."