May/June 2022

by Kat Parsons

Hans: Playing With Names

by Kat Parsons

Hans: Playing With Names

With the release of single Be Grateful followed by his 2022 EP ‘Kimyuntak’, March was a busy month for Hans., aka Han Ju Kim. The determinedly idiosyncratic Kiwi-Korean rapper talked with Kat Parsons about his writing process, foot fetish music video, and coming to terms with personal acceptance. Made with support from NZ On Air Music.

His earliest memory of music is learning piano from his mother, but it was a teenage Kim Han Ju who discovered ’90s hip hop and started releasing his own early tracks in 2013, adopting the full stop-included alias Hans. With his breakthrough single Froyo feat. Clairo, released back in 2017, and other Spotify hits like 2018 single Honeysea, Hans. was thrown into a world of opportunity, supporting the likes of Billie Eilish and performing at the 2019 SXSW in Austin, USA.

“For me it’s quite cool, but also weird, because my best streaming songs were all made when I was like 20-21. I feel I’m a very different person and I have such a different perspective on things,” Hans reflects.

“The last few years were pretty rocky for me in my personal life as well, but I guess that going through all of that gives me a greater sense of freedom.”

“At the moment I don’t think I’ve artistically felt this free! I can do absolutely whatever I want. I just wanna be as diverse in what I offer in terms of my creations. I wanna push myself to do the weirdest [stuff] I can, just for the sake of doing it. I think that shows more character than anything.”

The Auckland-based artist released his latest EP, ‘Kimyuntak’, last month and the pure, raw-feeling project is a real shift from what we’ve heard from him previously.

“Pretty much every song on the project was very stream of consciousness, almost freestyle,” explains the 25-year-old rapper.

“I definitely didn’t spend a lot of time re-writing or anything. It was very on the spot. I don’t think I changed a single lyric in the entire thing. Even on TT, there were a couple of lines that I didn’t really like so I tried to re-record – but I couldn’t get that same feeling so I just left the original. Literally, the project is untouched! The writing process for every song was very condensed and short, very spur of the moment.”

Working with good friend Owen Lee (aka Oblivion), Hans didn’t waste any of the 2021 lockdown, utilising the time in creating his follow-up to 2020’s ‘Tango Hue’ EP. Almost like voice notes on a phone, or thoughts being quickly jotted down on paper, ‘Kimyuntak’ is a unique collection of songs.

“The whole EP was made in a really short, three week period, where we just tracked like 30 demos,” Hans recalls. “That was in the August lockdown last year. Owen’s been producing for a while but he never did it that seriously. Lockdown was kind of that catalyst. We had nothing else to do. So he brought a MIDI keyboard just on a whim, and started churning out these beats and sending them to me.

“The funnier thing is that we were in lockdown, but he actually lives like 200 meters away! So it was very surreal that we were that close together but still working remotely,” he notes chuckling.

“He stays up real late, so he would send things to me at like 4am, and then I wake up at like 7am. So it was kind of like this diurnal cycle. It was like yin and yang almost,” he smiles.

Dashes of weird mixed with the wonderful are evident in this diverse yet cohesive EP. A mix of hard trap songs like Cappin feat. American-Korean singer Michelle, and the lo-fi CLV feat. Crystal Choi of Phoebe Rings, has been woven together with interludes like East Tamaki to create an engaging experience for the listener. Be Grateful, the initial single off the EP, dropped at the beginning of March, just a few weeks ahead of the EP release.

“Owen would send me a bunch of beats, but I would also send him references as well. Like vibes that I would want,” Hans describes.

“There’s a Korean house artist called Park Hye Jin who I’m really into, so I sent him a reference of one of her lesser-known songs, Where Are You Think. It is the main reference track that Be Grateful is inspired by. They don’t sound very similar, but I guess it’s that house tempo that the Be Grateful drums have. He made that, sent it to me, I laid the vocals and I got my friend Terry [Shin – producer moniker Tez] to play a bass line on it.

The track has a video produced by Owen Rivers, depicting the farcical theme of foot-fetishes. Typical of Hans, the comedic absurdity highlights his sense of humour, and results in something that’s hard to forget. Filmed and edited by Luke Park, the visual design was by Chris Antonio.

“I’ve had that concept for a while but I just didn’t have the right song,” Hans explains.

“I had a friend who sold pictures of their feet online and that was the main inspiration for it. They were telling me how much money they were making and I thought it was very cool, but also kind of funny that there are these people out there in the world that are willing to pay that much for certain things.

“The video has the banana and the kimchi and stuff. That’s based on truth cos the things that they were telling me that they were selling was literally stuff like that. They’d squash a banana with their feet and people would pay like US$400 for the video…”

Another focus point for the EP is Nelele, Hans’ first song fully performed in Korean. As the first track it seems to establish the overall theme – personal acceptance.

Nelele was crazy. The reason it’s the first song is because of the sample,” he explains. “If you listen at the very start there is that sample; they call it Niliria [늴리리야], which is traditional Korean folk music. That sample is what Korean wives would sing way back when their husbands died – it’s like a funeral song.

“A lot of the concept of the whole project itself is the idea of accepting who you are,” Hans expands.

“Which is why the artwork is also what it is. Owen is actually the one that I’m hugging in the artwork. We both shaved our heads so that it looks as if I’m hugging myself. The title ‘Kimyuntak’; my name is Kim Hanju, but when I was born, apparently I was nearly called Kim Yuntak instead. So it’s kind’a playing on the idea of who you are versus who you could’ve been. I think that fits the funeral song too because it’s kind of like farewelling the idea of who you could’ve been.

“Throughout the whole project, there is this tension between those two ideas; of me vs Kim Yuntak. Who I might have been. So that’s kinda the reasoning behind Nelele being the first song on the EP, it sets the scene. If I had grown up in Korea rather than here, I’d probably only speak Korean. We wanted the project to play on that idea.

“Music’s so saturated these days,” he finishes.

“Everyone is trying to do the same thing; just trans-dictate everything on platforms like TikTok. I’d rather just be in my own lane. I’d rather be the weird guy on the side just doing whatever than what’s already out there.”