ChoPD(Junghun Cho), the founder of ChoCo Entertainment, had an interview with Maeil Business Newspaper, where he talks about his recent activities and future endeavors. You can check the original interview here and the full translation of the said interview below.
It was during the generation of PC Communication (communication through dial-up internet access), October 1998. The music industry was turned upside down when a song with unconventional lyrics and rap, ‘Break Free’ was uploaded on the PC communication library. The moment it was uploaded, ‘Break Free’ became boomingly popular among those in their 20s and 30s, especially men, that it made a breakthrough, surpassing 100,000 downloads in just one week. This was the first time that a digital track was released through PC Communication. The person who made this unconventional step was ChoPD (whose real name is Junghun Cho), who was 22 years old then.
Record producers started trying to find out who ChoPD exactly was. Unlike ordinary singers who would debut through the stage, ChoPD debuted through PC Communication, so his face was not revealed. Several Korean record producers offered ChoPD to release an album together. Instead of suddenly releasing an album, in that same year, ChoPD established his entertainment company “Stardom”. It was a strategy to have better negotiating power with record producers.
After, he established a 50-50 venture company with the former Yedang Sound, and released his first 3 albums. ChoPD drew attention for his unique music style that features lyrics and rap that criticizes the society, and groundbreaking music video with excellent visual effects by combining cutting-edge graphics.
However, ChoPD was more interested in being a producer that plans and makes music, rather than being on stage, so even after he released his album, he did not show himself much to the public. In 2004, he released the B-side track of his 5th album, ‘My Friend’, which he sang with the singer Insooni, and the song became a huge hit and widely known by the public.
ChoPD is considered a genius producer who discovered and raised many artists including Block B, PSY, Lee JungHyun, Dok2, and Topp Dogg. How is he, who represented the 1st generation of Hip-Hop in Korea and popularized the genre, doing these days? ChoPD talked about his current activities and future plans.
First, let’s talk about the past. How did you come up with the idea of uploading a digital track through PC Communication in October 1998?
At that time, I was planning to release 8 songs that I composed myself. In the songs, there was a lot of rap and profanity, so chances were, record labels wouldn’t release my album. That was the case those days. I had no option but to approach the public directly, and the method was to upload my self-written songs through PC Communication. Back then, the internet speed was really slow, and downloading one song would already take half a day. I had a friend who liked playing games, and the internet speed in his house was fast. I uploaded the track at that friend’s house. The official album was released in January 1999.
It was said that you were in a rock band since middle school. How was it like?
I really love music so much that I started in middle school by being in a rock band. At that time, I had no idea I would become a musician.
It is known that you graduated from the Berkeley College of Music in the US, one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Tell us more about it.
When I was in 3rd grade middle school, I went to the US alone to study. It was of my own will. After graduating high school in New York, in 1995 I entered Parsons School of Design in New York. At that time, being the eldest son of my parents who had a clothing business, I thought it was only natural to study clothing design.
In 1997, during my third year of college, I wanted to focus on making music. While studying abroad, when the exchange rate rose sharply due to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis (IMF), I seriously contemplated about what I really want and what I should do to make a living. I realized that doing something related to music, which I have been consistently doing since middle school, was fun but at the same time, is a way to earn money. That’s why I left Parsons School of Design and entered Berkeley School of Music.
The singer Lee JungHyun featured in the song ‘Fever’ from your 2nd album, which was released in 1999. Lee JungHyun was not known that time, and she hasn’t even released a solo album then. How did you know about Lee JungHyun and how did you get her to feature for the song?
At that time, I received Lee JungHyun’s demo tape. When I heard her demo, I found out that she has a talent for music. Back then, she was an actress but she wanted to become a singer. Her passion for music and talent led us to working together.
In the same year, when Lee JungHyun released her first album, I received a lot of request to write songs. I only composed ‘I Love X’, a B-side track in Lee JungHyun’s first album.
What was your first impression of PSY?
The first time I met PSY was when I was in high school when I was studying in the US. PSY was also studying in the US. The day I met PSY, I went to a karaoke room with my acquaintances, and PSY. When he sang a song, I was so surprised. I don’t know if you’ve been to PSY’s “The Water Show” but you can think that the performance he showed at “The Water Show” was the same with what he did in the karaoke room. It was a shock.
Do you have any interesting anecdotes with PSY?
PSY, who, then, was an aspiring singer and composer, eagerly wanted to become a singer. If there was even a small opportunity to make himself known, he surely tried to seize it.
In May 1995, the MBC entertainment program “Section TV” started and the first broadcast’s highlight was “Finding ChoPD”. The reporter came to meet me in person in Boston and interviewed me. At that time, PSY wanted to make an impression on reporters and camera directors who came to do the coverage. PSY followed the filming and acted as a helper. At that time, I was frantically travelling between Korea and the US, but PSY wanted to use my car, so he also drove my car.
In 2004, you released your 5th album, which included the track ‘My Friend’ which you sang with the singer Insooni. The track was so popular that people of all ages could sing along to it. It was said that you only took less than an hour to write the lyrics of this song. Please share with us how you came to write the said song.
After releasing my 3rd album, I parted ways with my partner company and established my own company to expand business. Up to my 1st and 2nd album, I was a topic of discussion, so I was invited to appear in various places like broadcast stations, but the situation was changed and I had to go directly to have myself get casted. I thought I should I have the broadcast station cast me again. The weapon I have is music, so I thought that if I achieved 1st place with a song, the strong popularity would lead to being casted. So I wrote the lyrics for ‘My Friend’ and did the rap for it too. The composer of the song was Park GeunTae.
In 2006, you featured as a rapper and also wrote the lyrics for the girl group Brown Eyed Girls’ song ‘Hold The Line’. And as the song was released, it climbed up popular music charts and gained great popularity. How did you get to collaborate?
The Brown Eyed Girls was signed under the composer Yoon IlSang’s company. Compared to Brown Eyed Girls’ singing skills, their music rankings were low, so composer Yoon felt it was a pity. Composer Yoon bought me steak and asked me a favor to write a dance track for Brown Eyed Girls. That was how I got to participate in the songwriting of the song.
After serving the military in 2009, you established a company called “Brand New Stardom”, where you raised Block B. How did you discover Block B?
I picked ZICO first. Block B was a group formed by recruiting other members, with ZICO as the head.
How was ZICO during his trainee days?
Before I met ZICO, he sent me a demo file so I listened to his music first. ZICO was really good at rapping. I became interested in ZICO, so I met with him. At that time, ZICO was too young to have a presence in the company.
One day, I asked an employee in charge to take profile picture of our company’s artists, but only ZICO had a sloppy picture at the meeting room. So I asked the employee, “What is this?” And the employee answered, “What will this kid be, that we have to spend money?” I was out of words.
Do you have interesting or memorable anecdotes related to ZICO?
I have a lot but these are personal stories, so I can’t share them.
It is said that you are working on a huge project. Tell us about your current activities.
In 2019, I founded the entertainment agency “ChoCo Entertainment”, and I am working as a businessman. ChoCo Entertainment is not simply an entertainment agency. It is also completely different from my previous company. While finding people who can become stars, raising them, and debuting them as celebrities is a basic part, the company is also an intellectual property (IP) company that produces and develops various cultural content. The acquisition of “Space elvis”, a company specializing in special effects (VFX) earlier this year was a strategy to leap forward as an IP company.
It takes a while for Korean idols to make their debut abroad. It takes more than 6 years, at most. I think, if from the start, the idol’s debut was made at the center of the world, the US, the chance to become the idol to become a global star is high. We are preparing to debut idols who will lead a new era of music, but the debut will be made in the US, not in Korea. The album is expected to to be released March year, at the earliest.
What is ChoCo Entertainment’s goal?
In the human world, there are stars, but in the digital world itself, there are no stars born. There are only famous people in the human world who go to the digital world and become famous there. I want to make an IP, born in a digital world, that creates various added values, while being the best star in the digital world.
What is music to ChoPD?
Music is like water.
Do you have any plans to release an album or be active as a singer or rapper again?
I have no plans to release an album under my own name nor perform on stage again. It is only just not releasing an album under my own name, as the activities in the music field has expanded. This whole series of process of discovering and nurturing musician with potential, making them debut and marketing them, is similar to making an album for me.
I don’t want to be a rapper actively. If a musical motif comes to mind, I just write it down. Sometimes, I think of musical motif suddenly in the morning.
If you could go back to being young, what kind of life would you want to lead?
If I can live the same way, I would live the same. Had I chosen a field other than music, I would not have been able to immerse myself into it as much as I am now. Also, I think I would’ve have tried different fields.