This is: plusNONE
aised in Flushing New York as Pedro Lee, Korean-American artist plusNONE has immersed himself in music since he was four years old. His middle school years coincided with the hip hop era when artists like Kanye West and Pharrell were flipping the genre on its head; videos of these producers making beats on MTV and YouTube served as a major inspiration on his own music.
plusNONE (known at the time as sleep2) eventually went on to study jazz theory and audio engineering at the City College of NY. The time he spent mastering his tools quickly paid off - by 2015 he began receiving requests to open for artists such as Joey Bada$$, Elle Varner, and A$AP Ferg. By 2016 he was spinning at New York City’s most famous venues, including Webster Hall and the Knitting Factory.
On the other side of the world, the hip hop scene had been rapidly gaining acceptance as a legitimate cultural movement. Rap music was quickly starting to become more popular in Korea, with artists like Beenzino, DynamicDuo, and Zico consistently topping the charts. Their musical styles appealed to a wide audience, intersecting western-inspired lyrics with instrumentals that were more retro and jazz-inspired. Many of these artists had their beats made by Primary, a major force within the Korean music scene.
When Primary was in New York during the tail end of 2016, a mutual friend introduced him to plusNONE.
“That was it for me,” plusNONE remembered. “I worked my ass off to save money and got on the earliest flight I could. Didn’t even really know how to type in Korean back then, but I’m pretty nice at it now.”
Meeting Primary was a major turning point for plusNONE’s musical career. He has taken his own approach to marrying the styles of both New York and Korea into his own twist on RnB. By signing, plusNONE received not only the backing of Primary’s record label Paktory but also the attention of other young artists in the Seoul region. A few months after moving to Korea, he produced his first album, ‘shininryu,’ which features a diverse lineup of up-and-coming artists like Sam Kim, eSNa, pH-1, and SUMIN. The album has since amassed over five million plays on YouTube and millions more across streaming platforms like Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Spotify.
plusNONE featured above on the keyboard alongside Primary, Sam Kim, and eSNa
Fast forward to 2020. Frequently spinning at cult-classic venues like Kinfolk 90 in Brooklyn, 25 year old plusNONE is a known name in music production in both Seoul and NYC. His music has since been featured on Soulection Radio, as well as across a variety of major projects within the Korean entertainment industry (including Netflix’s new movie Time to Hunt and DynamicDuo’s album ‘Off Duty’).
Myth Magazine sits down with the Queens native to chat about his more recent projects and his experience in the music industry.
Hey, thanks for speaking with us, it’s been a minute - think last time I saw you was in Seoul. Tell us a bit about yourself - have you always been a musician?
Yeah, I’ve been playing piano since I was about four, like all Asian kids do. I’ve always wanted to make music - I remember seeing videos of Kanye making beats on YouTube, and it immediately stuck out to me as something I wanted to do. I’ve also tried the whole singing and guitar thing and took lessons for a bit, but beatmaking is really something I’ve always known I wanted to do.
Who are your biggest influences? How would you describe the music that you make?
My top three influences are Kanye West, Pharrell, and Pete Rock. These three guys have a ton of reach - odds are that they played a part in producing a lot of the music that you heard on the radio back in the day. At one point like 60% of the songs out there were produced by one of the three of them, or if not them then Timbaland.
For the first few years that I made music, most of my music was inspired by future beats - I was big into producers like Kaytranada and ESTA and would spend days digging through Apple Music or SoundCloud, or in shops for vinyl.
My style has changed a lot though, especially after I got to Korea. I was really experimental for the first two years that I moved there. The thing is though that after a while, a bunch of people started saying they could hear Primary’s influence in some of the music I was putting out which I didn’t really want. I wanted people to hear my music and think “that’s plusNONE” without necessarily comparing me to anyone else - I wanted my own sound. So I kept experimenting and experimenting and landed on a style, and Primary told me to put out a whole bunch of sh** that was similar to it. I haven’t made too much of my new stuff public yet, but I’ll say that my style has shifted away from future beats into more straight up RnB, neo-soul, stuff like that.
When you got off the plane in Korea, what were your first few months like? Were you scared? What did your parents think about this opportunity?
My parents actually took it pretty well when I told them I was going to move to Korea. I had dropped out of college by that point and was already living by myself, so it was kinda up to me to make my own decision. They told me that as long as I could figure it out, it was something I should go for - they both wanted to pursue stuff when they were younger and had people stopping them and telling them to play it safe, so they were encouraging of me. I straight up had no idea what I was gonna do at first when I moved to Korea. I thought I was going to be like Primary’s intern, or his assistant or something. But after I got off the plane and settled in, Primary told me to go to his studio and this famous Korean celebrity named K.Will was there, and from that point I started selling beats.
Shininryu was a really good album. How did you like working on that project?
Shininryu was my favorite project so far, and I’m probably most proud of “Baby.” It was my first time collaborating with artists in Korea like that, and was my first official release, so it was dope. It actually only took the summer - I had a bunch of beats in my folder that worked as a base for some of the songs, and we just went back and forth on editing them for the album. I’ve kept in touch with a bunch of the artists that were featured on that project. SUMIN is the GOAT - she sings, does all her own mixing, recording, engineering, everything really. It’s dope that people still bump some of the songs, like 42. The only thing is that I left Korea right after it dropped so I have no idea how people there reacted to it, haha.
Let’s hear a bit more about your upcoming album. What’s it called, any drop date?
Yeah, it’s called 24. I’ve been working on it since summer 2019 and it's definitely got a lot of stuff that reflects my current style. There are 11 tracks - the concept is that it’s about somebody who wakes up after a long night and the 24 hours that they go through the next day before repeating. I was hoping to get it out sometime this year, but not sure if that’s going to happen with the whole coronavirus going down. I probably won’t make it back to Korea for a while and there were a few features there (including SUMIN) that I wanted to sit down with. pH-1, who was also on shinrinyu and is from New York, is going to be featured as well.
What was your first big purchase after you finished up your album and started getting sales?
Damn, that’s a good question and I don’t really know. I made a couple of big purchases over the few months after. I think the big one was taking a vacation to LA - it was my first time there and a good time. Besides that, I copped a lot of clothes that I’d been eyeing.
So you’re into fashion?
I’d say that fashion is probably my second big thing after music. Music feeds that hobby, I guess - I love designers like Rick Owens, and I think that a lot of designers these days in Japan are dope too since they really understand how hype works there.
Recently, you worked on the music for that Netflix film, Time to Hunt. What was that like?
It was cool! Time to Hunt was the first time I worked on a movie like that. I only got pulled in recently, but Primary had been working on the movie for almost two years at that point, doing everything from the sound effects to the actual music. I have a few songs in there, but didn’t do too much with effects and stuff. It was pretty dope; they would give me a scene from the movie, and I would try to find a beat that matched the scene well. Like for example, there's a scene in the movie where they leave the prison and are talking about what they would do with the money - that beat was mine. I had a few of the beats ready, but there were a few that I had to make from scratch. Pretty good timing with Parasite, since Choi Woo-Shik started in both movies, haha. I’d definitely do another project like this if it came to me, it was fun.
Where do you want to land after you get more established?
Definitely New York. It’s hard living in Korea as an American - it’s weird going half the year without speaking English when it’s the language I’m most comfortable with. Beyond that though, I get more inspired when I’m back in the states so it’d be cool to move back here once I feel ready. My music still has a Korean kind of sound to it, so I’m waiting until my style becomes more mainstream in the Americas before I start selling beats and putting in more work here.
Nah, just that I’ve got a lot of respect for people who are grinding and trying to make it in music and to keep it up. It wasn’t long ago that I was in the same position, and a lot of big artists go through the same struggle. I remember the last time I saw Dumbfoundead, Anderson .Paak was opening for him and the room wasn’t even half full. Look at him now and keep at it. Stay tuned for my upcoming album drop.
Follow plusNONE on instagram @plusnone_ for the most up to date information!