Music producer Code Kunst may be working with the top names in Korean hip hop and appearing on popular shows like Running Man and Hang Out With Yoo, but he started off as a college student who wasn’t sure of what he wanted to do in life.
But within a few years of his debut, he was catching the attention of hip hop artists and making lasting connections with collaborators who would add colour to his beats.
From his humble but daring beginnings in 2013 as a self-taught beat maker to his commercial success as a producer, this article chronicles Code Kunst’s illustrious career that seems only to be just unfolding in 2020.
Before the Albums
Born and raised in Korea as Jo Sung Woo (조성우), Code Kunst didn’t have an obvious path to a career in music production.
As a teenager he liked listening to music, particularly rock and hiphop, but hadn’t thought about going into music professionally. In college, he was a design major who was merely learning by observing some of his seniors make music during extracurricular activities.
The turning point came in his early twenties when he went on to serve in the military conscription mandatory for all South Korean men. Being stripped of the ability to listen to music during this two-year service made him realize the significance of it in his life and propelled him to try and create his own music.
Not only that, the thought of being a late starter in the industry at the age of 23 fuelled him to spend the first 2 years completely immersed in developing his craft.
EP ‘Hear Things’ (2013)
Within a year of aggressive self-studying and experimentation, Code Kunst debuted in 2013 with the EP ‘Hear Things.’ In a 2014 interview with Rhythmer, he mentions that he had just enough money to print his CDs from working part-time jobs but that was all he could do to promote his release. The lack of promotion could explain why the mini-album flopped on the surface. But it became his name card into the music world, just as he envisioned it could be.
Two rappers who featured in this album stand out because of their later fame from the hip hop survival show ‘Show Me The Money’ – C Jamm (씨잼) and BewhY (비와이).
Code Kunst was scouring local hip hop community sites looking for potential collaborators and came across C Jamm’s first mixtape. What started as a collaboration between two novice musicians has become a long-running collaboration, with C Jamm featuring in all three of Code Kunst’s subsequent official albums.
Album ‘Novel’ (2014)
Less than a year after the EP, Code Kunst’s first official album ‘Novel’ saw its release in 2014. Through his friendship with rapper BLNK-TIME, Code Kunst was able to meet Nuksal (넉살) who featured in the song ‘Organ’ in this album.
Like C Jamm, Nuksal has since formed a friendship with Code Kunst, appearing in all of his albums and in several Korean shows together (eg Running Man, Show Me The Money 777). As a testament to their friendship, Nuksal even moderated Code Kunst’s live streaming event for his first album ‘People’ (2020) since joining the record label AOMG.
Album ‘Crumple’ (2015)
In 2015, Code Kunst followed up with his second official album of 20 tracks, with a wider cast of collaborators and more storytelling elements throughout the album.
Of the 20 tracks, the 13th called ‘Love Scene’ featuring Car, the garden (formerly Mason the soul) stands out. Code Kunst described the song as one of his personal favourites out of the album tracks and which helped him develop both personally and professionally.
As a fan of Car, the garden, Code Kunst’s collaborations with the artist seems to bring out the best album after album. ‘Love Scene’ in the album ‘Crumple’ was followed by even more groovy songs ‘Don’t shoot me MAMA’ and ‘Dirt in my HEAD’ in subsequent Code Kunst albums.
Formed in 2015, HIGHGRND was YG Entertainment’s independent record label focusing on supporting talent in less mainstream music scenes. Under the management of Epik High’s Tablo, the label recruited artists like Hyukoh, punchnello, offandoff until it ceased operations in 2018.
Code Kunst signed with YG’s HIGHGRND in 2015, making him the label’s second artist after band Hyukoh. Bolstered by the support of his new label, he released several singles and also his third official album ‘Muggles’ Mansion’ (2017) featuring some of the most recognizable names in Korean hip hop.
Single ‘Parachute’ (2015)
Code Kunst and Oh Hyuk of band Hyukoh, along with Tablo’s former label artist Dok2, collaborated on the single ‘Parachute’ that became HIGHGRND’s first release since it was established. The intro with Code Kunst’s beats and Oh Hyuk’s first three ‘Yeah’s are enough to get the listener hooked:
Album ‘Muggles’ Mansion’ (2017)
In addition to the songs from the singles ‘Parachute’ and ‘Beside Me’ (2017), Code Kunst’s third official album ‘Muggles’ Mansion’ included songs featuring an array of artists: G.Soul, Loco, Mino, punchnello, Ugly Duck, Lee Hi, BewhY, YDG, Car the garden.
Track 5 – Fire Water (Feat. G.Soul, Tablo)
Track 10 – X (Feat. LeeHi)
‘X’ was the first time Lee Hi appeared on Code Kunst’s album though it wasn’t their first song together. At the time Lee Hi was in YG Entertainment, from which Code Kunst’s then label HIGHGRND was born. The pair has since moved to record label AOMG and continuing their much anticipated collaborations.
Read more about Code Kunst and Lee Hi’s partnership and friendship in the next section.
Track 12 – Beside Me (Feat BewhY, YDG, SURAN)
Code Kunst joined AOMG, hip hop artist Jay Park’s record label, in 2018 after his contract ended with HIGHGRND. He released his fourth official album ‘People’ in 2020.
In addition to Gaeko, The Quiett, Paloalto, C Jamm, Nuksal and Lee Hi, fellow artists from AOMG – Jay Park, Simon Dominic, Gray and Woo Won Jae – were reigned in to add even more muscle to the album.
Collaborations with Lee Hi
Lee Hi is another artist that can’t be glossed over when it comes to Code Kunst’s work and circle of friends.
Lee Hi and Code Kunst first met in 2015 when Lee Hi was a YG Entertainment artist and Code Kunst was in YG’s independent label HIGHGRND.
The duo’s first song release was ‘FXXK WIT US (feat. DOK2)’ in Lee Hi’s 2016 album ‘Seoulite.’ This was followed by ‘X’ in Code Kunst’s 2017 album ‘Muggles’ Mansion’ which led to a series of songs (X, XI, Xii, O) between the two artists over the subsequent years that tell a story of bittersweet love.
The following year, Code Kunst left HIGHGRND for AOMG. In 2020, Lee Hi decided to follow suit to join AOMG after her contract ended with YG Entertainment. In various interviews after joining the new label, Lee Hi admitted that Code Kunst played a role in her decision to join AOMG.
In Code Kunst’s first album under AOMG, the pair concluded the previously mentioned ‘X’ series with the song ‘O’ – a more upbeat ending to a start that was rather dark and raw as seen in ‘X’ and ‘XI.’
Code Kunst’s collaborations with Lee Hi is likely just starting to take off. At his live streaming event for his new album, he’s referred to Lee Hi as his muse and revealed that he has worked with her on more tracks than any other artist. He also teased that they have several mind-blowing songs that haven’t been released yet (but hopefully soon, now that they are under the same label and have complete freedom to collaborate).
Variety Show Appearances
Since joining AOMG, Code Kunst has been on a number of popular variety shows, including Running Man, Radiostar, King of Masked Singer, Show Me The Money and Hangout with Yoo. Some of his notable appearances are mentioned below:
Running Man (2019)
Code Kunst teamed up with Nuksal as one of the artists collaborating with Running Man members for a performance to mark the show’s 9th anniversary.
King of Masked Singer (2020)
Code Kunst came on as a contestant on the King of Masked Singer in 2020, a show where a singer’s identity is hidden as they compete with other contestants. Code Kunst demonstrated that he can indeed sing, even though his songs are most known for harnessing the power of his beats and the voices of other artists, rather than his own.
Hang Out with Yoo (2020)
Code Kunst collaborated with ‘Linda G,’ Lee Hyo Ri’s alter ego developed through the show. The song ‘Linda’ shines the spotlight on the darker side of Lee Hyo Ri’s life and fame, accompanied by Lee Hyo Ri’s subdued singing, Yoon Mi Rae’s unmistakable rap, and Code Kunst’s soulful beats that bring everything together.
Code Kunst’s latest involvement with Jannabi’s vocalist and Simon Dominic for Elle Korea makes this budding producer’s next projects even more anticipated.
In the meantime, check out MoinNet’s YouTube playlist of some of Code Kunst’s highlight reels, including official music videos and interviews with English subtitles.