Hot off the heels of the ‘Tiny Tour II’ with his crew Balming Tiger, Alternative K-Pop star and K Hip-Hop rapper Omega Sapien caught up with The Basement to talk about his come-up, new EP and breaking down boundaries and stereotypes about Korean music.
Debuting in 2018 with his crew Balming Tiger, Omega Sapien started his journey as a solo artist later that same year. Having since released two albums, banger singles like ‘POP THE TAG’, and seeing his work with Balming Tiger on tracks ‘JUST FUN!’, ‘Armadillo’ and ‘Kolo Kolo’ blow up, his genre-eclectic style has attracted fans in South Korea and far beyond. Omega’s music is as authentic as it gets; there’s no filters, you get what you see and you see what you get…and what you get is hyper-energetic and compelling rap, from an artist with drive to be the GOAT.
Everyone knows what K-Pop is now; if you haven’t heard of it, get out from under your rock and hop on Twitter. It’ll come up in your feed whether you want it to or not. Despite this boom, the rest of the Korean music industry and artists within it are often overshadowed by the giants that are G-Dragon, BTS and BLACKPINK. Omega Sapien aims to bring the other side of Korean pop-music and rap into the limelight, showcasing what him and Balming Tiger have to offer the world.
One thing Omega prides himself on is his ability to unite artists and genres that would otherwise be unthought of. His newly-dropped EP, ‘WUGA’, is a prime example of this, seeing collaborations with Scottish artist Sega Bodega, producer of the ‘Harlem Shake’, Baauer, and K-Pop superstar VERNON from the boy group SEVENTEEN. The EP is uncompromising, with heavy hitting instrumentals and catchy beats, accented with the above collaborations and brought together by Omega Sapien’s unique flow.
JS: How you doing, man?
OS: Yeah, man. I feel well rested now finally. I was on like, three hours sleep on for like, two days.
JS: That’s crazy. In Berlin, right?
OS: Yes. And finally got some sleep. I’m going to Poland tomorrow. I’m performing with this rapper in Poland called Quebonafide. He’s like a top star in Poland bro, I met him last year and he does, like, stadiums, man. He gave me opportunity to do a song. I think it’s super fun. I feel like for UK, America, or even Korea, it’s like, if you’re famous in your country, you’re famous in other countries, too. Especially in America or UK. But a lot of other countries are have like rockstar superstars, but you have no idea who they are outside of their country. It’s interesting – there are no Korean artists who go to Poland and do shows. It’s gonna be a new experience, so I’m super excited for that as well.
JS: Good luck man! So when did you begin making music? Did you always want to be a rapper?
OS: Yeah, man. I remember in like fourth grade, third grade, I was asking my mom, “I have to buy an audio interface, I have to buy these SM58 microphones so I can record stuff.”
JS: Were your family musical at all?
OS: No, actually. Well, to be fair, my grandpa on my dad’s side loves singing. And whenever I go to his house for Chinese New Year, he will always pull out a guitar and sing a song when he’s drunk.
JS: That’s amazing man. Where does the name Omega Sapien come from out of interest?
OS: I lived in New Jersey from 2012 to 2017 so, my adolescence — middle school, high school — was there, and I was working too. I was young, but I would go to New York, and I would go find people, text people, and basically be like “I’m this rapper,” you know, like “just give me a slot, I want to perform,” and stuff. Back then, my rap name was Ape, because I had some anger issues and my friend was like, “yo, dude, you should do Ape, ’cause you go fucking apeshit sometimes. And I kind of liked that too, because I’m built like a gorilla as well. So I was in New York, and you know Keith Ape obviously. His ‘It G Ma’ song was, like, the shit back then. It had just come out and everybody was listening to it. So I’m a Korean guy, who does hip-hop music, in New York, and my rap name is Ape. So it was always like “ahh dude, just like Keith Ape, right?” And I hated that, you know? I’m young too, I’m in, like, 10th grade. So I’m, like, “okay, I gotta change my name.” I wanted to do an upgraded version of Ape, so I was thinking about the evolution theory and homosapiens. But everybody’s a homosapien, so I didn’t want to do just that. So I’m like, “okay, let’s do omega which is the last letter of the biblical alphabet, and represents, like, the ultimate. And, you know, it’s usually Sapiens, but I dropped the ‘s’ because I’m the one and only. [laughs]. So yeah, that’s how the name came about. I think I did pretty well as a 10th grader, you know!
JS: I mean, I would have probably thought of something really stupid at that age. So you’re Korean, you’ve lived in China, you go back and forth between the USA and Korea – how has your travelling and where you’ve lived influenced your sound and your art?
OS: I think my love for music started in China, but it was nothing serious for me. Asian people love going to karaoke, so our friends would go together. Now, I’m a short guy, but I have big ego; I want to be famous and I want to be popular amongst girls, but my singing is shit! So I was like, ok, I have to develop my own skill. It was elementary school, and I was just like, I want to be super good at rap, and impress these girls when we go to karaoke together, you know? [laughs] I think that’s when the love for music started. Back then I only listened to Korean rap. I couldn’t really grasp the greatness of, like, Lil Wayne. I listened to Wu Tang Clan, Biggie, Tupac, but I feel like I never understood like the greatness. I just listened to them because people say they’re the GOATs. But I think when I went to America, that’s when I really understood.
JS: What was it about America do you think that changed the way you see music?
OS: It’s very hard to say that this is good music and this is bad music, but I think I built my taste in America. It’s one of the biggest music markets in the world. Friends I met would listen to some bomb underground New York music, like Flatbush Zombies, and so on. So my taste was building a lot, and as my taste got better, I really worked on my craft. I think when I was in America, it gave me the skills, like actual musical abilities, and I was crafting on that. And then when I went to Japan, that’s when I started to think about the business aspect of music: marketing, branding, you know. That’s when I really became an independent artist. I would talk to music video directors, I would find engineers, and just make my own thing. Take it seriously. So Japan was when I started taking it seriously as a career.
JS: So I actually first discovered you in 2018 through your ‘Rich & Clear’ video on DingoFreestyle, and through your verse on COLDE’s ‘Yayaya’.
OS: Really? No way man, that’s dope.
JS: Yeah man! But anyway, I was wondering what would you like new fans of Omega Sapien to hear/watch from you first?
OS: I think Balming Tiger would be a good start. Yeah. I’ll say ‘Kolo Kolo’ – I think that’s my favorite music video that we’ve made so far. It just represents what I want to show and what Balming Tiger want to show so well. It’s like, it’s Asia. But it’s not like “oh, this is Japanese or this is Korean, this is Chinese.” We build our own world, you know, it’s like, this is Asia. We showed a different spectrum of Asian music, and I’m proud of that, you know? Even when I was in America, Kpop wasn’t that big. There was no Parasite. There was no Squid Game, no BTS, obviously. So as an Asian dude, I don’t think I got as much appeal as I have now. And it’s kind of dumb to think about that. But , you know, I was in middle school bro. It was important for me.
JS: Yeah, totally. We value different things at different ages, you know?
OS: Yeah, yeah. And in the media it’s limited. I was in America, and it’s like, Asian guy. Eats sushi. Does Kung Fu. I wore glasses. We weren’t seen as the sexiest people… we weren’t well represented. So it’s like, you know, with BTS and everything. Asian boys are getting hotter now! [laughs] And I’m not the best looking guy like BTS so it’s like, alright, I’m gonna show the parts that I can represent better. The savagery, this violent, tough unity. The ‘Kola Kola’ music video was 20, 30 guys, all wearing the same thing and doing the same thing in a very violent, aggressive manner. I think it’s cool man, like different spectrum.
JS: That’s dope. Tell me a bit about Balming Tiger, you debuted with them in 2018 – how did that come about?
OS: I was making my own thing in Japan, and I’m not generally a team player. I love doing stuff on my own, so joining a group would be the last thing that I thought I would do at that time. I had this very strange thinking at the time that Korean music was not good. Like I said, I built my taste in America, so I was kind of in this fantasy that American music was the best, and Korean music was not good. But I’m a Korean person, you know? So I don’t know if that was healthy. But anyways, I was searching on YouTube digging for good music, and I came across Balming Tiger’s first mixtape, Homie 304. And I was fucking blown away, bro. It was so amazing. And it was like, they’re Korean too? Wow. I want to do something with them.
JS: How did you get in touch with them?
OS: First I approached the producer, who linked me with the director of Balming Tiger. By that time, I had already finished music video for ‘Rich and Clear’. We were talking on DM, and I was just like, I love you, let’s make a song. Also, it was a bigger platform for me; they watched my video, and suggested I put it out on their channel. Then we kept talking and talking, and I started to feel like it really matched my vision. I was supposed to go to Korea to meet up with him, and I got the vibe that he was going to ask me to join them, but I’m a very cautious guy – even though I don’t seem like it. I really value my career, and I’m really passionate about it. I didn’t want to just join some group and risk ruining anything.
JS: You want to know what you’re putting yourself up for.
OS: Exactly. So I prepare some questions, like, ‘what’s your guys’ goal? Do you have big ambition?’ Those types of things, because even back then, I always aim for the best. Like, ‘yeah dude, I’m gonna win the Grammy.’ I’m gonna be the first Asian musical icon. I’m gonna be like Bruce Lee. [laughs] I wasn’t gonna settle for pop charts in Korea. I wanted be a worldwide famous superstar type deal. I mean, of course I still have that dream. It’s like, why not? Not many people have that vision I think. They say that, but I don’t think that many believe they’re gonna be a worldwide fucking superstar. Those are the questions that I wanted to ask. I go to Korea and we meet up at some pancake joint, right? And the first question he asked me: ‘do you have big ambition?’ He asked me the question that I was trying to ask him.
JS: That’s mad, like it was meant to be?
OS: Exactly. So I knew we have a matching vision. And I was telling him all this stuff, you know, “I want to win a Grammy, I want to be an artist that has never existed before, worldwide superstar, icon etc. And dude, when I want to tell this to my family or my friends, they look at me like lunatics because I have this vision but at the moment I didn’t have anything. I’m just a college student.” I think I was one of the first people who actually listened to him, and who believed that too. Like, I think that’s possible. All right. That’s it. We’re Balming Tiger now. And that’s how we joined.
JSL That’s so dope man. So what does Balming Tiger mean to you?
OS: They’re just my family, you know? When I look around, I don’t see many groups that have the bond that we have now. It’s like, we’re making money together, we’re touring together. But we’re also best friends. I love what I have right now. We just want to keep this going.
JS: That’s amazing. It’s like, now, Kpop is really big worldwide, and everybody loves it. But I know the Korean industry is way bigger than that. So like, what does it mean for you, as Omega Sapien and also as Balming Tiger, to represent Korean music while you’re touring across the world?
OS: Well, when I was in LA even six, seven years ago, it wasn’t like this. When I see BTS perform at the Grammys or Squid Game winning awards and breaking records all the movie awards, now it’s not even surprising anymore, which is crazy. But I feel like, when we talk about Kpop, usually, people think about just one spectrum of Kpop. I love that stuff, and I respect them, but I think there’s other side of Kpop music as well. There’s a phrase that we use on every tour, like “welcome to the dark side of Kpop.” So it’s just about touring and showing the different sides of Korean music. Because it’s not only the idols, you know? There’s really cool shit going on here, there’s a subculture growing, and there are artists like us as well. We’re just representing the other spectrum, I guess, and I’m proud of that.
JS: Your new EP ‘Wuga’ is out now. What are some of the themes and messages that run through it?
OS: So I think with my first album, Garlic [and the Mugwort], I wanted to experiment and see how far I could push this Kpop stuff. It was the experimental thing that I could do at that moment. I just wanted to push, push, push, push, new boundary, new boundary, new boundary. It was quite an experimental album for me. So for this one, I just kind of wanted to go back to the basics. The music that I always loved, that made me start a music career. I’m infinitely grateful for hip-hop music, bro. It gave me this career; it gave me an outlet when I was a child to express myself. I would look at all those rappers and be like, wow, like a role model, you know? I didn’t live with my dad in my childhood – I always live with my mom and my sister. So I didn’t have a male figure to look up to. And I think back now, and look at those rappers and think I wanted to be like them, like male role models you know? Sorry. What was the question? I got sidetracked a bit
JS: You were talking about ‘Wuga’…
OS: Oh yeah. So I wanted to go to the basics. And [producer] Bauuer has such an abrasive sound. It’s like so…so violent bro, but also comes with a very rhythmic vibe, like dance music. So I wanted to go back to basics, and match his music. I wanted it to be super fun. Like primitive music. Yeah. So that’s why the caveman sound is the title. Fun. Simple. That was the goal for this EP, I think.
JS: Your latest single has features from VERNON from Seventeen, as well as Sega Bodega and, as you say, Bauuer. What was it about these guys that made you want to work with them?
OS: Yeah, man. I think having Sega Bodega and VERNON on the same EP is just so interesting for me. I feel like, I don’t know , I’m the only artist who can bring those two guys into one album, bro. Sega Bodega is like a prince of left-field pop in the UK. I love his music. I enjoyed his album a lot. And VERNON is one of the biggest names in the Kpop scene. Both of them have a very different crowd, you know what I mean?
JS: Yeah, totally.
OS: The people who enjoy their stuff are very different, but I just wanted to bring it all together. My dream is when I do a show where 50% of the audience are, like, adoring Kpop fans. And 50% are like the…I don’t know. The left-field Pitchfork crowd?[laughs] Right now, I don’t think they assimilate together much, but I think with Balming Tiger, we can really make that happen. Just like this album. We have Sega Bodega and VERNON on one album. I’m so proud of that.
JS: That’s crazy. Your music videos are always crazy good. There’s mad energy in them, and you really express yourself, is being authentic something that’s really important to you in your music?
OS: I mean, that’s art. That’s the core of art, man: expressing, giving the message. I think this connects to what I was saying earlier. You know how I said I started music to impress girls, right? And even when I was in America, the music was so driven by my ego? I think you could tell. My main motivation for my art was getting a bigger following, more money.
JS: What do you think changed that for you?
OS: I think with COVID everything crashed. Because I was driven by ego, my motivation for music disappeared at that time. It was a dark time, actually. I explain this situation on the song “Gone”, which is on the EP. It was a very dark time for me, man. I always loved music, and I always loved art, but I was so ego-driven I didn’t even know it. I came to a point where I started to think, you know, maybe music isn’t even my thing. But I was really just meditating, man. I had some time to reinvest the value in myself, and through the process I feel like I finally found my true mission with music, which is just giving a message to the people. A positive message. Helping people and healing whatever they’re going through. Not just more money, more money. That’s some investment banker-type shit! Art is not numbers. It was a very meaningful time. In a way I’m glad COVID happened for me musically, because if I feel like, if I ‘made it’ without thinking about these things; if I became big without having gone through this process… I don’t know. I’m grateful that happened, and I feel like now I’m actually ready.
JS: What do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?
OS: I think we all have our inner Goddess, or God, on the inside. I’m a guy who believes that. And that comes from focusing on yourself. Not other people. I’m not saying I don’t do that – you know? Who never does that? I compare myself, the views and so on. When I see artists who I feel are not as good as me get more recognition, you know, I get upset, bro. But that’s just all just a false imagery. Stop judging, and really focus on yourself. I think that’s where the real energy or real power comes from. It’s love matter.
JS: Absolutely. Thank you for your time, bro.
OS: Thank you guys!
Francesco Loy Bell