The much-publicized gap between the Korean-American and African-American communities narrowed a notch or two last week when a group of South Bay African-American youths spent some time with an entertainer variously known as "the Korean Michael Jackson," "the Korean Bobby Brown" and "the Korean LL Cool J."
Although initially skeptical, by the end of the day the local youths had to admit that, yeah, the Korean guy can dance.
"He's cool," C. J. Hubine, 16, of Westchester, said of Korean rap star Hyun Jin Young, who was in Los Angeles to shoot footage for a Korean music video and TV documentary, with the local youths as background dancers. "He can dance pretty good."
"He's got the steps, and the props," said Sean Lewis, 16, of Gardena, adding for the benefit of a puzzled middle-aged reporter that "props" means the proper attitude toward hip-hop dancing. "The only thing is, you can't understand what he's saying, 'cause he's singing in Korean."
Hyun, an affable, modest 23-year-old who speaks broken English, was eager to return the compliments.
"They are very wonderful kids," he said. "And very wonderful dancers."
The name Hyun Jin Young won't turn any heads in most parts of Los Angeles, but it is instantly recognizable throughout Korea and among many Korean-Americans here. Hyun is credited with introducing rap music and hip-hop culture to Korea, an accomplishment that may have brought more consternation than joy to Korean parents but has endeared him to thousands of Korean teen-agers. (In the United States, rap has become the theme music of a youth culture called hip-hop.)
Hyun's first two albums, featuring hits such as "Sexy Lady" and "Vanishing Memories"--the titles are rough translations from the Korean--have each sold more than half a million copies in Korea, his manager said. The lyrics are sung in Korean.
Hyun said he learned rap from his "black guy friends," the children of U.S. military personnel who lived in his neighborhood in Korea. He was "discovered" four years ago by Lee Soo Man, a 41-year-old Korean promoter and star-maker who saw Hyun dancing in a club in Seoul and decided to make him a teen idol.
"He's very popular," says Sung Eun Kim, a Los Angeles-based reporter for the Korea Times. "He's like the Korean Bobby Brown"--a reference to a well-known American hip-hop singer. Others compare him to rapper LL Cool J and to Michael Jackson--in popularity rather than in style.
Hyun's video session with the local youths was set up by Drop Dat Beat Productions, a Hawthorne-based music production company that operates out of a combination neighborhood ministry-recording studio in a Crenshaw Boulevard industrial and office park. Founded by Bobby "Big Daddy" Brown, 51, a former professional musician, the Fallen Sparrow Ministry mixes soul-saving with music production.
The music production company is helping to arrange and record songs for Hyun's third album, which will be released in Korea later this year. Brown, his brother Chas Taylor, and record producer David Foreman, lined up 20 youths to appear in the video. All are amateur dancers.
The day began with a chartered bus ride from Hawthorne to the corner of Florence and Normandie avenues in South-Central, where a Korean film crew shot footage of Hyun standing with the black youths at the now-famous intersection that was one of the flash points of last year's riots. The appearance drew some baffled looks from passersby.
"You're kidding me," a 21-year-old man named Gary said when a reporter explained that the Korean guy in baggy, low-slung red pants, gold earrings and a black Nike Air cap was a famous hip-hop singer. Gary walked away shaking his head at the concept.
Hyun said the intersection is well known among Koreans.
"It is sad place," he said, "but it happen a long time ago. We must now forget and shake hands."
Later Hyun and the young dancers did some dance steps together in front of the Crenshaw Wall, a block-long wall covered with murals depicting African-American themes. The filming sessions ended at Venice Beach, where Hyun posed for the video cameras with Harry Perry, a turban-wearing roller-skating guitar player, and did some dance steps with the youths by the beach.
Once again, some passersby seemed amused at the spectacle.
"That guy's a rapper?" 17-year-old Rosanna O'Guynn, a Carson High School student who was visiting Venice with two friends, said incredulously.
A few people, however, recognized Hyun immediately.
"Oh yes, he's that guy who does the boom boom boom music," a Korean-American shop owner said as Hyun and his entourage walked by. The 54-year-old woman, who identified herself only as Song, said she has seen him often on Korean-language TV.
"But I am old-fashioned," she said. "I don't like the music."
Lee, the promoter and manager, said he wanted Hyun to make the music video here and in New York City--some footage has already been shot in that city--to "get more of the American style." Although he has been singing American-style songs and doing American-style dances for years, Hyun had never visited this country.
"Hip-hop originated here, and that is why we wanted to make the third album and the music video here," Lee said. "Also, we want to help make a good relationship between black guys and the Korean community." Lee added that if the teaming of Hyun with the local dancers is successful, he may try to bring them to Korea for live performances.
Brown said no one should feel resentment about a Korean entertainer using American youths and inner-city neighborhoods as backdrops for a hip-hop music video.
"When we see something we invented spread into the world, how can we be angry about that?" Brown said. "We all know who the originators were."