In memory of Wan Joon Kim, the unlikely Korean godfather of gangsta rap
March 15, 2013 9:15 AM   Subscribe

1985 marked a few beginnings for gangsta rap, with Schooly D releasing the influential P.S.K. What Does It Mean? (YT), and a few Korean swap-meet vendors opening the Compton Fashion Center, the first indoor swap meet. It was there and then that Wan Joon Kim got his start as an unlikely godfather of gangsta rap.

Wan Joon Kim was born in North Korea, but he and his family escaped in 1950 on his father's fishing boat. He and his family left South Korea for Los Angeles in 1976, where they started to sell hair clips and barrettes at open-air swap-meets. Kim noticed that there was always a line for the guy selling music. When he heard about the indoor swap-meet, he was third in line to lease a space, and Cycladelic Music Corner opened in Stall Z-7.

Wan Joon Kim, who liked classical music, jumped into the music selling business and catered to the public demand for popular music, contacting distributors as soon as a new song hit the radio, so he'd have the singles on his shelves just a few hours later. In the mid-1980s, gangsta rap was just starting out, and most music retailers shied away from the aggressive music, but not Kim. Mr. Kim was a gangster rap empresario in Compton, selling records, then cassettes, of the rap pioneers from that town when no one else would. He came to be loved by customers and rappers alike. He and and his wife were known as Pops and Mama. He spoke no English and didn't understand the lyrics of the music he sold, so he had one of his daughters translate.
"He'd always ask them, 'What are these guys talking about? Why are these guys so angry?' And they would pretty much interpret certain songs, and it catches to him and he'd be, 'Oh, I like this.' "
Now that the beginning of gangsta rap is almost three decades behind us, people still came by to pay their respects to Pops and Mama, sometimes bringing their own kids. There's even a YouTube channel for the shop, with rappers stopping by and saying their piece.

Wan Joon Kim died Wednesday at the age of 79, after a three-year battle with cancer. But the quiet man's legacy lives on in the many friendships he formed and the hometown music he helped make famous.
posted by filthy light thief (6 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I think it is hard to understate the importance of swap meets on the development of west coast rap. Not only was the Compton swap meet important, but in the late 80s Dre & Easy-E tapes were sold at the Roadium swap meet by Steve Yanos, the Steve mentioned on a lot of early pre NWA Dre tracks. I always wished I knew more about west coast rap so I'll definitely be reading all these links, I went there in 90 or 91 and visited Crenshaw and the Watts Towers because of their connections to rap, but never made it to any swap meets.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:35 AM on March 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Makes Ice Cube look like even more of a jerk for recording 'Black Korea.' I'll play Skankin' Pickle's response, in honor of Mr. Kim.
posted by Hennimore at 10:36 AM on March 15, 2013

One wonders what he thought of "Black Korea"
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:36 AM on March 15, 2013

Dammit– a second too late on the post button!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:37 AM on March 15, 2013

From Wikpedia:

"Korean-Americans in Los Angeles refer to the event as "Sa-E-Gu", meaning "four-two-nine" in the Korean language, in reference to the April 29, 1992, which was the day the riots started."

What terrible time that was. I was too young to really understand what was going on, but looking back...what a sad, sad disaster.

"About 2,300 Korean owned stores in Southern California and Koreatown were looted or burned."

I was totally unaware of the scope. Again, I know very little about the riots, and even less about LA, but jeez. Wow. Sad. Not just for what happened to Koreans...every possible aspect of it is just terrible.
posted by Hennimore at 10:44 AM on March 15, 2013

It's sort of strange how forgotten the massive destruction of Korean-owned businesses part of the L.A. riots. Mostly, I think, because the whole thing scrambles the sympathies of the people who would normally remember it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:59 AM on March 15, 2013

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