Meet Good Fruit Co.: The Asian American Christian Hip-Hop Label
After GOON TRAX, a Japanese label that imports music, discovered Ock on YouTube, it helped him release an album called Stages on the island last March. Stages charted No. 1 on iTunes’ top-selling hip-hop charts there. Korea soon discovered AMP as a result, and the group has a three-stop tour scheduled in South Korea from Jan. 16-19.
Good Fruit wants to make the most of this voice. Members broke down several issues that need addressed in the Asian context.
“In history, Asians have been very influenced by Confucianism,” Ock, 24, said. “There’s a big culture of honoring your elders and of representing family and your nation. ‘Do well so you can bring honor to your family and country and, if you don’t do well, you bring shame to your family and country.’”
This collectivism, lived out by first-generation immigrants, conflicts with the individualism taught to the second generation in America.
“Because we’re American, we have that the whole other background of what they tell us in school: ‘You can be whatever you want to be as long as you put your mind to it. This life is about you. It’s about your success and story. Don’t listen to what all these other people say,’” Ock said. “There is this conflict of real core values of what am I doing and how should I think about myself?”
CL, 33, said he experienced this generational conflict first-hand.
“The cultural barriers cause a lot of pain due to misunderstanding,” he said, “and, because of that, I rebelled a lot in my life. I looked to other things for satisfaction, turned to other things for acceptance. I definitely have a heavy burden in trying to bring an understanding between the cultures.”
J. Han, 24, said he’s witnessed Korean culture clash with biblical teaching, especially in the form of authority figures lacking accountability.
“I want to do whatever scripture says, and I want to abide by biblical principles, but sometimes when things happen in the church, I’m like ‘Is that biblical?’” he said. “In the minds of a Korean pastor possibly or someone who’s grown up in a Korean culture, they don’t realize that this idea of submitting to them without any questions is allowing their own culture and upbringing to influence the way they act and apply things at church.”
Cultural Christianity sure wouldn’t help a church overcome prioritizing culture over scripture, and that’s what Gowe, a 28-year-old hip-hop artist from Seattle and newest member of Good Fruit, has seen in Korean churches.
“You have a lot of Korean folks that, after immigration, they had the church as almost like a community center,” Gowe said. “Naturally, their kids would grow up in the Korean church more out of a cultural Christianity setting, so we have a lot of people now that have been in the church for maybe 10-plus years, but as far as their spiritual maturity goes or even a personal walk with the Lord, it’s very shallow to non-existent — not all, but a lot.”
“Seeing that, I really wanted to make art that can resonate my love for the Lord and what the Lord has done in my life in a culturally relevant way as a means to share and reach out to that community.”
Love is a need. South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. CL blames in part an obsession over image among top reasons.
“In Korean culture, there is an obsession to look good, that looking good will get you ahead, and the emphasis of this by parents starts at a very young age with their children,” he said. “They show them these magazines of beautiful women, ‘You have to look like this to be successful in the world,’ and that’s how they raise their kids, encouraging them and even forcing them to get plastic surgery, double eyelid surgery at very young ages … Because of that, there’s a lot of depression and suicide. There’s a lot of issues with acceptance and rejection. What we stand for completely goes against that.”
Leading up to Good Fruit’s latest release, Grey, Ock admitted to experiencing these insecurities.
“Will I really be able to make it with music?” he said. “Will I be able to provide for a family in the future with something like this? What if I fail? What if people turned off to Jesus by my failure?”
Ock fell in and out of depression in 2014, partly because of personal brokenness and partly because of brokenness in the world, which inspired the concept of the album.
“The album Grey is centered around the idea of someone who has truth that is unshakable and undeniable, something that’s very pure and white,” he said, “but then reconciling that truth with what they feel and their personal experience, which many times feels dark, black and hopeless. It’s what results when this pure truth and undeniable emotion collide, and that feeling is grey.
“It’s not that the truth and the black become one together, but when they meet, the person who they meet inside feels grey. They feel like they don’t know what to think.”
The relatability of this gloomy theme isn’t limited to the Korean American community. Luckily, Ock has the answers for Christians, which Ock told himself when he fought depression — answers that Good Fruit aims to spread for years to come.
“With this constant reminder from the truth of God’s word, there is hope,” Ock said. “God loves you. Christ died for you and is redeeming you now by the Holy Spirit. He’s making you into a new creation. You are a new creation. You are saved.”