Interview with Far East Movement

April 21, 2008

Last week I had an interview with the members of the Far East Movement (FM), whose songs have gotten radio play on the West Coast, and in movies like 'Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift', and 'Finishing the Game'.  They have a great sound and are starting to get some mainstream attention from TV channels like MTV.

Please introduce yourselves (names, ages, roles)?

The Far East Movement -- FM on your dial.
Kev Nish, MC
Prohgress, MC
J-Splif, MC
DJ Virman, DJ
We're all mid twenties.

How did you all meet, how did you come up with your initial name?

We were friends in high school, freestyling in parking lots and recording on home computers with downloaded instrumentals. Back in 2001 we had the name Emcee's Anonymous because during those times we were unaware of Asian Americans in hip-hop and we had the thought in our mind that maybe people wouldn't like our music because we're not the 'norm' in hip-hop. One of the first songs we recorded was called "The Far-east Movement," talking about what we want in music and mainstream media -- a Far East Movement. As we were recording the song, the name Far East Movement felt so strong it kicked us in the head and made us realize we can't and shouldn't hide the fact we're Asian, especially during a time when there were few to no Asian American hip-hop artists... we had to make a statement with our name and change the way people view Asian American music by allowing ourselves freedom to sound however we feel -- as fun as we want, as sexy as we want or as hip-hop as we want our music to sound. We met our manager Carl Choi in 2003 while putting at charity show called "Movementality" raising money for a drug rehab house in Koreatown and through working with him in this event we felt we found someone who shared the same vision and goals, someone who had faith in us and someone we could build with. We've been riding this crazy ride as a team ever since, which lead us to find DJ Virman from L.A. radio station Power106 who has helped to take this team even further.

Who or what are your major influences, and what are you trying to be?

Our major musical influences are as scattered as an ipod playlist. We grew up listening to Tupac, the Dogg Pound, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Biggie, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, Outkast and even the artists we hear on the radio today to keep our tastes relevant. Outside of music, the L.A. lifestyle and our journeys on the road from the cities we visit, the cultures we experience, and the people that bless us along the way are huge influences and inspirations to us. A motto we have is "We moving east, one city at a time until the whole world is folks and family to us," and thats exactly what we're tryin to be through our music.

How do you come up with your songs or make your music? Are there any main themes or messages you want to express?

When creating a song ... our goal is to make music that people in every city we visit can relate to while staying true to our character as Asian American dudes growing up in Los Angeles, and as rappers, song writers, producers, and fans of music, our main theme and message is to bring out an emotion from the listener through our beats and experiences... creating music that every listener no matter the race can relate to personally. When we get in the studio, our goals are the same as a platinum recording artist or a young rapper at home recording for the first time, to make a song that people want to listen to more than once! Hahaha.

How was your experience making your first album, 'Folk Music'?

It was a learning experience. Recording this album let us experiment with all types of music we were fans of, different rap styles, and touch a wide array of topics that held true to us. This album helped mold a sound we're all comfortable with and take us to the next level in our careers. We always say "No One's Home for the Holidays", "Beautified" and "The Good Stuff" helped get us in the mindframe to make "You've Got A Friend" which was our first song on major radio. Writing, recording, producing and marketing this album really taught us how to work together as FM... showing where each of our strengths and weakness as artists and businessmen lie.

What is it like being an Asian American band trying to make it?

More than a band.. we're striving to be an Asian American Brand... and walking down this road of working to break this brand into mainstream pop culture is like walking through a mine field in the middle of war trying to make it to an embassy that will take us in. No matter how hard we push we're always walking on eggshells surprised by the next opportunity that finds us. We constantly run into the same roadblock as companies being unsure on how or who to market us to. We live by a 'HOMELESS' mentality... overseas in Asia we're considered "Americans" and foreigners, and in our home country of the beautiful United States of America we're categorized as Asian first over American.. so we're forced to create our own culture and lifestyle inspired by both sides and we're happy to do so and embrace any one that's down to live this lifestyle with us. We've done shows in Korea or China where English is sometimes frowned upon, especially coming from an Asian face, and thru the energy and performance we're able change their perspective. We've also had shows with all Latino crowds or an all African American or Caucasian crowd and at first they wouldn't know what to think, but after the show those people would come up to us with positivity wanting to learn more. Through our songs, sometimes people are shocked to find out we're Asian.. they think we're Latino or anything but Asian when they hear us on the radio hahaha.

How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?

Our music and performance now is much more focused and confident. With every song we write and show we perform we're learning more and more.. and we can never stop learning. We've learned how to say much more with less words, and how to move a crowd with much less movement. Through our newer songs we're able bring much more out of a song topic and structure our story better.

What has been your biggest challenge as a band, and what do you do about it?

The biggest challenge we face is time... there's not enough time in a day or week or month for all the things we want to do in building this brand... lack of time forces us to organize better, since we have a large team we learn to trust each other and delegate different tasks to each member to make this business run. 

[…and made us realize we can't and shouldn't hide the fact we're Asian]  I really respect that. What has the reception been like within the hip hop entertainment community?

SURPRISE. hahah. We've had other artists and djs from radio stations say "I've been hearing your songs on the radio and always thought yall might be latino or white maybe... but when i looked yall up on the internet and saw FAR EAST MOVEMENT and yall were Asian i was really surprised." To us, thats a compliment. it means they felt we sounded authentic to how they hear hip hop music. Hopefully the next time they hear or see an Asian artist it wont be as much of a shock.

[…we're striving to be an Asian American Brand]  How has the support been like from the Asian American community so far, how are you trying to reach out or accomplish this?

The support has been amazing. Just within the growing Asian American entertainment community we've been lucky enough meet and become family with some of the most amazing people breaking down doors like Justin Lin, Suchin Pak, Sung Kang, Jin, Brian Tee, Roger Fan, Se7en, DJ Shine (Drunken Tiger), DJ Eman (Power106) and countless other musicians, djs, comedians, actors, directors, journalists, tv personalities, dancers, promoters and executives who have all helped us to the path that we're on today. And our fans, friends and family are the inspiration and support who have driven us to never give up when doors don't seem to open as fast as we'd like them to. Our first event ever was MOVEMENTALITY, the charity show we talked about earlier. We pride ourselves in doing as many charity shows, high school, college and community shows as we can, especially with the youth, so that we may reach out to the next generation and give back the love the community has shown us. We've started working with an assistant superintendant named Diann from a high school district in Sacramento to reach out to students and inspire them in the arts. Definitely be on the look out for FM working much more closely with schools in the near future.

Some of your songs are getting radio play across the country.  How did this happen, and what has it done for your visibility?

Working with DJ Virman, who has been in radio for over 10 years, has definitely opened our ears to what sound may work for a larger audience like radio.  The first song we got on major radio was "You've Got A Friend" featuring Baby Bash and Lil Rob, both legendary Latino artists. We made the track purely off of feeling and one day in rehearsal we decided to play it on the loud speakers. DJ Virman heard it and was like "let me get a copy of that track." We didn't think much of it and as a few weeks had passed Virman gets a call from DJ Eman from Power 106 asking what we would think if Baby Bash got on this song. Of coarse we flipped out and said YES. Then a few weeks later Eman calls again and asks if its cool if Lil Rob got on the song. Knowing that he's one of the most requested artists in LA we said YES. After recording the song we gave the final mix to DJ Eman at Power 106, a few more weeks pass and we get a call telling us to turn on the radio for the New @ 2 Show with Yesi Ortiz and DJ Felli Fel and we hear the instrumental for "You've Got A Friend" drop in. It had to be one of the craziest moments in our careers as musicians since we grew up our whole lives listening to Power 106.

That song did wonders for our visibility and credibility as new artists with record labels and execs in the industry, and with new fans... the song made it to #3 on LA's Top 4 @4 Countdown, was on the Top 8 @ 8 Countdown for over 2 months, was added to main rotation getting spins on other stations nationally, and was one of the top requested songs in Phoenix and LA. 

Having that song allowed us to come in to the Power 106 and hand them our new single "LOWRIDIN" at their DJ Mixer meeting. A few days passed after presenting the song, then one day Felli Fel took us aside and told us he actually liked the song. We couldn't believe it, but for a whole 2 weeks he started off the New @ 2 Show with the song and has consistantly been dropping it in the mix ever since. As "LOWRIDIN" continues to spread with plays on over 14 stations and rising, it has opened many new doors for us than with the previous song, as more and more new people of different races and faces are hitting us up with opportunities to build or to just tell us they dig the track. Some of our older fans say they heard the track on the radio for a week and didn't even realize it was us until looking it up on the internet. Thank you to everyone requesting it, playing it on your myspaces and websites and helping it to spread further.

How did you get on the Tokyo Drift and Finishing the Game soundtrack (what's your relationship with Justin Lin)?

As we were experimenting with new sounds and vibes, we came up with an uptempo/fun song called "Round Round"... purely as an experiment for us to see where we can take our sound. After finishing the song the singer on the track named Storm loved the song and brought it over to the head of Soundtracks and Music Placements at EMI named Oscar. We went to his office and played the song for him and he loved it. Right away he said he wanted to send it to a Wayans Brothers film and the upcoming Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift. Just like the radio placements, we waited over a month for any news and we got a call saying that the song was tested in one of the scenes for FF3 and the director liked it. We then found out the director was Justin Lin who happened to know our manager Carl and our good friend and video director Evan Leong. Both Carl and Evan pressed to make sure the song made the movie, and Carl even took it a step further locking down placement of the song in the official soundtrack and promotion of an official music video for the movie directed by Evan Leong and Justin Lin. After this experience our relationship with Justin Lin grew and lead to him and Evan Leong asking us to do the title song for his independent feature "Finishing The Game" which was an amazing opportunity...and I dont think he knows this but we still get a little nervous being around him just because who he is hahaha. With all that he has done and continues to do he's one of the most real and supportive people we've met in the industry, always fighting to help and put Asian Amercians in the spotlight and as he says "level the playing field".

Thanks for your time, guys. Looking forward to the new album.
[Update] You can now check out their album "Animal" on



Alvin Lin


Alvin Lin was born in Taipei, Taiwan and hails from New England. He blogs about Asian American pop culture, film, music, literature and politics, as well as relevant news around the world. He also writes for Imprint Talk. Alvin has degrees from Cornell and MIT.