After he got his drivers license suspended as a teenager for drag racing, rapper Jason Park had a tough decision to make. Born in Hawaii and spending a chunk of his childhood in Columbus, Ga. with his mother, the avid video gamer knew his budding basketball career was done, and now, even though he could still race without a license, it wasn't a viable option.
Thankfully, Park had another hobby: writing and recording music.
A self-described R&B head who was influenced by the likes of Next and Boyz II Men, he made his first song as a sophomore in high school at a friend's house and was instantly hooked. With his basketball and driving aspirations in the rearview mirror, music provided him a much-needed creative outlet and Park put together a small studio in his room where he could record songs for fun.
"I never thought I'd make music, but I noticed when I recorded my first song, I couldn't stop," he says looking back at those early days.
At the insistence of his mother, Park auditioned for acting school on a whim. Not only did he pass the audition, but he was flown out West where he ended up booking an agent. Before long, Park was landing commercials for McDonalds and Paul Mitchell, along acting spots in films like 96 Minutes and Heist, which is how he still makes a living.
"My mom forced me go to something at the time; I thought was stupid," Park recalls. "But it ended up being a blessing in disguise."
His acting career allows Park to do what he loves most -- making music, which he did for years under the name J Park. But after recently changing his name to XYZ (so as not to be confused with the Kpop star), Park finally found hit his stride making music for gamers and the gaming community. An avid gamer since his days in Georgia, he decided he wanted to do something for the gaming community, especially because gamers hadn't been well represented in music, especially in hip-hop.
On his latest album, October's XMinute Gaming, XYZ dedicated the lyrical content of his record entirely to the gamer community, referencing popular characters and rapping about all-night video game tournaments among friends. The album cover is a photo of the young Park playing a Playstation.
"I wanted to show people that even if you're a dork and like video games, it's cool and okay you can be yourself and that's cool in itself," the emcee says. "I really wanted to represent all of the gamers out there that love video games and love everything about entertainment."
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With the rapid expansion of the gaming community -- Park notes that it's now a billion dollar business -- the album represents the greater acceptance of geek-dom. His colorful songs include references to Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Lara Croft, but in a way that doesn't mock gamers, but instead praises them.
"I feel like this is my niche," he says. "Before I made music for what someone else would want to hear, but, this is what I enjoy doing," he says. "As a gamer, I can't think of an artist that I'm going to go listen to while I'm playing a game and pump this music and get me in the zone. We're all not hustlers and doing drugs. Some of us like going home and playing video games, and I speak to them."