Meet PKCZ®, Verbal of Ambush's New Super-Crew

Meet PKCZ®, Verbal of Ambush's New Super-Crew

The veteran multi-hyphenate is back with a blinged-out song and vid.

The veteran multi-hyphenate is back with a blinged-out song and vid.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

The recent boon of “K-Pop” and “J-Pop” fandoms, specifically within the Western zeitgeist, is undeniable. But contrary to the suggestion of the qualifying labels applied to East Asian pop-cultural exports—that they are a hybrid of non-Western influences and some overarching “Pop” landscape—they in fact reflect something less like opposing slices of a Venn diagram suddenly colliding and more like a mutual interplay dating back eons.

One modern case study in "East-meets-West" binary-breaking is Verbal, a Tokyo-born MC of Korean descent who’s been slicing and dicing cultural and disciplinary bounds for two decades.

Verbal of PKCZ® wears Ambush ring (courtesy: Dac Biet)

A founding member of pioneering Japanese hip-hop group M-Flo (“The Asian Fugees,” he calls them), Verbal is also a driving force behind cross-cultural touchstones as Teriyaki Boyz, of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift-fame, and Ambush, a rockstar jewelry brand he shares with wife and Dior Men jeweler Yoon Ahn.

Today, Verbal’s latest co-production, PKCZ®, releases its single, “Cut It Up” featuring 2NE1 alum CL and Dutch DJ Afrojack. In a prime example of pop-cultural reverse engineering, the song’s video follows the format of the epically choreographed bloodbath in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. I, and even features some of the original fight sequence’s extras, as we learned in a conversation with Verbal shortly after his Met Gala appearance.

Here, he reflects on his hyphenate-packed CV, spanning music, design and more, from catching a young Kanye West’s eye with a particular piece of jewelry to lessons in marketing learned from Madonna.

On breaking into the music industry as a kid

Before we started M-Flo, Taku, my friend since fifth grade, and I would send demo tapes to TV shows, which got us pretty far. We won competitions and got offers from record companies, but we never took them; rapping as a career wasn't realistic for an asian kid in the 90s. And neither of our parents approved, so we just went off to college. Long story short, we got back together [after school], and that's when we [met our vocalist Lisa] and made our first record as M-Flo, Planet Shining.

On the J-Pop industry back in the day

When I started my career with M-Flo, in 1999, we were very independent even though we were signed to management. I think my marketing degree came into play, in the sense that we were able to design our way of being viewed. The first thing they taught us in the marketing major was Madonna, and the whole art of evolution.

In Japan at the time, it was very rare for a bilingual group to exist. We were people of all backgrounds—I’m of Korean descent, Taku is Japanese, and Lisa is half-Colombian, half-Japanese. Now it’s kind of the norm, even in Japan, but back then they didn’t know what to make of us. We were rapping and singing in Japanese and in English. It was new.

PKCZ® with CL (courtesy: Dac Biet)

On landing on the Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift soundtrack

[Teriyaki Boyz] was a totally different group [from M-Flo]—a bunch of friends from high school, and from clubs and parties, including [A Bathing Ape founder] Nigo. Nigo had a track from DJ Shadow, so he was like, you guys wanna do something with it? So we laid our vocals down, and the rest is history. Universal wanted us to make a whole album. So we got Daft Punk, Kanye, Pharrell, and all these people to write for us.

[It was based on] a sort of American rendition of the Japanese Bosozoku culture—Bosozoku is a bike gang. I think back then, that was a good enough image of what Japan and Asia was like [to translate to a U.S. audience]. We just thought it was cool because it was something so foreign to us, [too].

On meeting and designing for Kanye West 

This was way before Yeezy, in 2005 or 2006—back in the day when he wanted to become an intern at Fendi. We met at a dinner with Silvia Fendi—he was in Japan with [her]. He came into the restaurant, and I had on this chain, my rendition of a [cross] but it was like Michael Jackson. Immediately he came in and he goes “What is that?” I said, I just made it for fun. He goes “Make me one but bigger.” So that’s when we started [collaborating].

He still approaches us for our design work. We are always talking about design, so we'll send him Ambush stuff, or my wife [Yoon Ahn] will send him her jewelry for Dior Men.

PKCZ® with CL (courtesy: Dac Biet)

On "Cut It Up" and the Tarantino effect

Of course, we’re big fans [of Tarantino]. The song is called “Cut It Up,” so I thought, why not have people swinging swords around, like in the Kill Bill scene? It was just an idea. But to reproduce a Tarantino-esque sequence can come off as tacky, if it's not done right. So we found actual Kill Bill [stunt performers]—master swordsmen, who taught the people in the movie, to be part of the video. We tried to get [access to] the actual set, where Uma Thurman fought all those [assassins], but they wouldn't rent it out to us. So we created a set to look just like it.

On meeting wife and Ambush collaborator Yoon Ahn

[We both went to] school in Boston, and I met her in church. Korean people go to church! My friend, in the hallway one day, was like “You gotta come to church.” I was like, okay. I just tagged along. And that’s where I met her, and then I had asked her to come to Japan. She didn't want to come without knowing what she would do. And that’s when I started the company, Ambush—so that we could work on it together. She thought it was a good deal, so that's how [it all] started. We didn't intend for the brand to become what it is today!

Stream "Cut It Up" here

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