Year of the Ox: The New Old School


 Names: Richard & John Lee

Alias: YEAR OF THE OX (Lyricks & JL)

Age: 31

Location: New York, NY

Affiliated Acts: Dumbfoundead, Manifest, DJ Zo

Biggest Song: Seven Rings

It takes a lot of determination to pursue your passion.

So much, in fact, that the odds say that you will most likely end up settling for what’s comfortable for your entire life instead of chasing your dreams, because you are paralyzed by a series of fears.

Fear of being judged.

Fear of not fitting in.

Fear of failure.

This is unfortunate, because the most common regret by the dying is that they wished they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, instead of the life others expected of them.

The true creatives, the innovators who leave their mark on the world, are the ones with the confidence to stray from the pack and break out of the box that society tries to cram them in.

Richard and John Lee, the two rappers who make up the rap group, YEAR OF THE OX, grinded away at their passion for well over ten years before finally catching anything resembling a break. As Asians in a black-dominated field, the road to success was always going to be a gauntlet filled with ridicule and disbelief. How could it not be when the world expected them to be math tutors and liquor store owners?

They were this close to giving up and settling for normal lives, but the universe had other plans. And to think, two of their biggest breaks were the result of pure luck.

The first big break (March 2013):

Rick’s (Lyricks) first big break came when his friend, a tour promoter, called him up and asked him, “Do you want to go on tour with the Wu-Tang?”

Imagine the feeling of being hit up, as a no-name rapper, to go on a 24-city tour with one of the most influential and famous rap groups of all time.

…but as the bus driver.  The original driver had somehow gotten hit, and the promoter desperately needed someone to drive the necessary 12 to 15 hours every day.  Rick had a suspended license at the time, but how could you pass up the opportunity of a lifetime? He agreed, and the arrangements included letting him open for 10 minutes before each show.

But at the opening show of the tour in Tennessee, Lyricks had been performing for five minutes when Masta Killa of the Wu Tang came out and said, “This is one of the nicest Asian niggas I’ve ever heard in my life.  I’m gonna give him 30 minutes!”

Lyricks then proceeded to go on to open for 30 minutes on each leg of the tour.

A co-sign from boom bap royalty is an elusive label for even the most established rappers, let alone a random Korean one without any buzz.  But for this mic murderer, it was well deserved.

The second big break (February 2016):

Dev Tejwani, one of the founders of TeamBackPack, which is one of the premier platforms for showcasing classic hip hop, happened to meet the YEAR OF THE OX duo at the Fat Buddha, a bar in lower Manhattan.

The now semi-famous ‘Seven Rings’ music video had been out for four months at the time and had racked up a negligible 3,300 views. Dev agreed to post it on TeamBackPack in an attempt to get some free tickets to an Anderson .Paak show at SOB’s from Rick, who worked there.

Today, the video is approaching 12 million views on Facebook, has broken a million views on YouTube, and has been the career-changing launching pad for the escalating trajectory of the YOX.

That encounter was some serious divine intervention, because John (JL) was going home to celebrate his father’s birthday the next day. He was ready to finally put his rapping career aside and take over the family clothing stores so his dad could step back and rest.

However, when ‘Seven Rings’ hit over a million views in under a day, there was no way JL could walk away.

Now the duo are touring all over the country with Dumbfoundead, the legendary Los Angeles battle rapper, and they just recently dropped their debut project, the YOX EP.

All of their hard word, the years of mastering of their craft, is finally culminating into tangible vindication.

After all of the years of playing shows in front of less than 10 people. The years of living in the studio, barely able to afford rent. The years of skeptics constantly throwing shade all over their dreams. The years of watching their peers secure steady incomes in the corporate world. The years of disappointing their patient, supportive parents.

The YEAR OF THE OX is finally here, straight out of the 90’s to keep the boom bap torch alive. These two are every hip hop purist’s dream, they just needed the chance to prove it. They glide over beats in true emcee fashion, armed with killer flows, crisp deliveries, and captivating storytelling. And like true emcees, they are out for blood in battle.

America might have gotten its first big taste of Asian music with ‘Gangnam Style‘, but that was more of a catchy joke that only further perpetuated the stigma of foreign weirdness.

But then came along Keith Ape, flashing grills and lean cups in his certified Banger ‘It G Ma‘ (which was remixed by A$AP Ferg, Father, Dumbfoundead, & Waka Flocka Flame) that fused Southern trap flavor with the Orient.  Now with the preppy, puppy-faced Rich Chigga’s rise to cult-figure status with ‘Dat $tick‘, we are witnesses to the cultural cross-pollination that is happening. Hip hop now manifests in all walks of life, transcending race, language, and socioeconomic status.

Lyricks and JL are bringing back the old school, while blending Korean culture into their raps without coming off as either too fobby or nationalistic. A creative concoction that is bringing some originality into a genre that has become a little diluted.

Asians are barely an afterthought in the American music industry, let alone hip hop,

where the defining qualities of disenfranchisement, expression, and confrontation clash with the shy and nerdy model minority image.

But the YEAR OF THE OX is here to be the battering ram to break down these stereotypes. Lyrical powerhouses with polished flows and no gimmicks, just bars. Like Rick once said, “you have to be the best to bubble up to the top tier.”

It looks like that is exactly what’s happening.

Interesting Facts
  • Originally hail from Virginia
  • Met at a house party in 2007
  • JL’s parents owned urban clothing stores, so the culture was embedded into him at an early age
  • Lyricks lived in NY for almost two years without his own place, before finally getting one this past fall 2016

Author: Dawool Huh

Let me know when A$AP Rocky and La Flame drop something

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