Left To Right: DJ Virman, J-Spliff, Kev Nish, Prohgress
Far East Movement? The name might not ring a bell, but you've probably heard their songs before. The California rap trio's impressive resume includes spins on premier radio stations (L.A.'s Power 106), and music being featured on prominent television shows (CSI: Miami, Entourage ) and Hollywood blockbusters ("Round Round" in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and "Girls On The Dance Floor" in Get Him to the Greek). Originally formed by Kev Nish, Prohgress, and J-Spliff (DJ Virman joined later on) in Koreatown, Los Angeles, the three high school friends started out performing shows to raise money for a local drug rehab center. As time went on, the clique pushed their careers with an impressive DIY approach that earned them two world tours, a string of music videos, and two full-length albums.
As they became regulars on L.A.'s airwaves, reps at Interscope Records took notice, which led to an introduction to Martin Kierszenbaum, president of Cherrytree Records (Lady Gaga, LMFAO) and a co-sign from Interscope Chairman Jimmy Iovine. Within a year, the three friends from K-Town were officially signed to the same record label they had interned at nearly a decade before. Although busy finishing up their Cherrytree/Interscope debut, which features Snoop Dogg, Bruno Mars, and Lil Jon, and promoting their new single, "Like A G6," Kev Nish, and Prohgress got on the phone with Complex to talk about watching movies with Jimmy Iovine, how the Beastie Boys influenced them, and what it felt like to have their songs played on the big screen.
Interview by Jaeki Cho
Complex: Where's J-Spliff?
Prohgress: He's working on a lot of our merchandise and product development right now.
Complex: Still doing things DIY, huh?
Kev Nish: Definitely. Everything from t-shirts to stickers, we do it ourselves. It's like a sweatshop. [Laughs.]
Complex: Tell us how you guys first started.
Kev Nish: We were all friends in high school who used to freestyle in parking lots. It wasn't until '03 that we actually bought a microphone and hooked it up to one of those big computers and recorded a few songs and started doing shows. We put together the first multicultural hip-hop event in Koreatown. We just printed out 5,000 flyers and went to every single event and passed them out. The show actually sold out and we were like, "Yo, this is kind of serious."
Complex: I heard you guys first started doing shows to raise money for a drug rehab center.
Prohgress: Yeah, we had a close relationship with them because they helped a lot of our friends.
Kev Nish: Back then we didn't really know how to officially do things, so we just gave them a bag of cash. No official checks. It was funny.
Prohgress: They didn't get any tax write-offs.
Complex: [Laughs.] I first heard you guys on "Food Fight," which featured Jin. He referred to you guys as "The Far Easty Boys."
Kev Nish: That was a huge, huge, huge honor. We grew up on the Beastie Boys. I don't want to say that's the reason why we have three members and a DJ, but it's definitely a huge inspiration to our music as far as the way they flow, [their] party lifestyle, and free spirit in [their] lyrics. I can never imagine that we would be close to anything that they are because in my eyes, they're one of the greatest.
Prohgress: They really didn't think inside the box at all. They were just doing whatever they felt like doing, which is really dope. We're trying to emulate...helping non-profits, or doing whatever we can. If you look at some of the steps they took, they went on tour with Madonna and that was one of the first tours they did. I remember reading in Russell Simmons' book that they got booed during the tour, but kept going. I mean, we didn't get booed when we went out with Lady Gaga, but we went out with her. And she's like the Madonna of our time. Seeing those types of things, we feel like we're going in the right direction.
Complex: Speaking of Lady Gaga, how did you guys go on tour with her?
Kev Nish: That was actually our label, Cherrytree Records. They went to check out a couple of our live shows and they set us up with Gaga's management. They specifically told us that they don't usually let too many openers go on, but they checked out our stuff and gave us a shot. The first show was kind of like a test run, and it garnered some good reaction, so they kept us on. Meeting her and seeing her show was a huge inspiration for us. I've never seen anything in such high scale like that.
Prohgress: She's such a perfectionist. Four shows in a row, we didn't see one mistake from her. To see where she's at, and to see what she can do, it was a very inspirational for us.
Complex: Who helped you guys with the deal with Interscope?
Kev Nish: It was our current manager, Ted Chung, and the Stereotypes production crew. I think Interscope started getting wind of us through "Girls on the Dance Floor" since it was doing pretty well out here in L.A. The radio promoters for Interscope, Nino Cuccinello and Brian Gray, brought us to the office for the first meeting, and told us, "We need to hear more music." So we went in with the Stereotypes, who produced pretty much the whole album, brought it back, and they loved it. They took us to Jimmy Iovine's house and we were there watching a movie with Jimmy Iovine, Quincy Jones, and will.i.am. We were flipping out! And afterward, they were like, "Yo, let's do this." From then on they were really interested because we surrounded ourselves with the right producers, and they thought it was cohesive. It also happened to be a sound that we were trying to cultivate.
Complex: Did either Quincy or will.i.am say anything about the music?
Prohgress: It was just movie night. Inglorious Bastards will forever be remembered as the turning point of our careers.
Kev Nish: Yeah, I need to buy a copy.
Complex: That's funny, since you guys interned at the label at one point.
Kev Nish: Yeah, I used to intern at Arista, and then I transferred to Interscope. We actually interned for our publicist now, Greg Miller. [Laughs.] I remember 50 Cent would come in when he was first doing "Wanksta," and we would get lunch for G-Unit. The thing is, I lied and said that I had a high school diploma and I was going to college, but I wasn't. I just wanted to be there and learn whatever we could. When we finally realized we wanted to work on music, everyone was supportive and we always stayed in touch.
Complex: Proh, I know you went to law school. Was it a difficult decision for you to do music as a full-time career?
Prohgress: At first, I told my parents I was going to be anything but a musician because they're both musicians. That's why I went into law. But music was what made me happy. The first time my parents heard it, like any other Asian parents they were hesitant and called it a hobby, and we fought about it. I dropped out of law school at one point, but we eventually found a point of understanding and I finished my schooling. Now they're like our best supporters. To be honest with you, it was hell going through it, but I'm happy that I did now since we can apply what I learned at school on a daily basis.
Complex: "Round Round," "Lowridin," and "You've Got A Friend" did well on local radio, but never went past that. Did you guys ever think, "Maybe it's just not going to work out"?
Kev Nish: Oh, man, totally. When spins stop at a certain market you start to think, "What am I doing wrong?" But what always kept us moving was the fact that just like a doctor, if it's slow, he's still a doctor. We had to re-innovate our own music, so we were like, "Let's just put ourselves on tour." We started learning by meeting different DJs; they're our biggest inspiration. We think about how people react to the music, and that's how we construct a lot of our songs. We try to make it very crowd-friendly. That's when we came back with "Girls on the Dance Floor."
Prohgress: If there's no plan B, there's no plan C. I mean, there's no way that things can't work. We found other creative ways to get ourselves out there. We got our first publishing deal, which got us a bunch of spots on Entourage, MTV, and that kept us going. As long as there's a will, there's a way. Sounds cliché and all, but that's kind of the way we feel about it.