SXSW 2018: Jay Park’s K-Pop to hip-hop crossover is going to be massive

The Parish wasn’t at capacity for Jay Park’s 10:15 p.m. set at the Parish Friday night, but the club felt full, especially up by the stage where a flock of predominantly female fans crowded in, phones at the ready. They screamed madly every time they caught a glimpse of the 30-year-old former K-Pop star, who signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label last summer, near the back of the stage.

Jay Park performs at The Parish during SXSW on Friday. March 16th 2018. Dave Creaney for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Park’s unorthodox international career trajectory began in Seattle. The child of Korean immigrants, he was obsessed with hip-hop. As a teenager he joined the B-Boy crew Art of Movement and spent most of his time “skipping school and going breakdancing,” he told CNN last fall.

When a Korean entertainment company held an audition in his hometown, his mother suggested he try out, and at 17 he was selected to travel to Korea where he became the leader of 2PM, one of the biggest K-Pop boy bands of the era. He became a huge star in Asia, but frustrated by the rigor and the lack of creative input, he left the band in 2009 and returned to Seattle and to hip-hop. A few viral hits, helped him fund his own label and eventually he caught the attention of Roc Nation. He remains a star in Asia, where he began hosting the second season of the popular talent show “Asia’s Got Talent,” which airs in 27 countries across the region, last fall.

As he took the stage on Friday, the crowd was seized by an eruption of heartthrob screams. Park was quick to set expectations. “I’m not going to sing or dance tonight,” he said, noting that this show would be focused on rap. The ladies were unfazed.

This is the career Park has been preparing for all along and he’s seizing the day. He’s a skillful lyricist with a rhymestyle that alternates between a furious rapid-fire verses over an electro grinder and more lyrical story raps set to moody production. He addresses his position, both as an Asian American outsider in the traditional hip-hop world and as part of the global massive, the international movement that hip-hop has become.

The crowd was 100 percent there for Park’s entire set, which mostly featured tracks from the upcoming Roc Nation release, but when he dropped his 2015 hit “Mommae,” in which he raps in English and Korean, the entire room went insane.

Park’s rise underlines the dominance of hip-hop as the most popular music form worldwide, but also the growing fascination with K-Pop in America. Expect to see much more of him very soon.