Not long ago, the trailblazing, fresh-faced HAON felt aimless. There was an itch inside him. He had a lot to say, but there was a disconnect between his words and emotions despite a string of successful collaborative singles in recent years. “It was a period of time where I spent a lot of time contemplating my future and the direction I should take in life,” he recalls.
Then, Sik-K reached out to him. Would he like to collaborate on a track? That’s all it took. Turns out, HAON had been standing on the precipice of artistic evolution. As he “spewed out” the lyrics to ‘MAYBE I’M KCRAZY’ in those first few sessions, he had unknowingly sent himself tumbling into a new era.
Months later, as Sik-K and HAON join NME through a Zoom call, their relationship has evolved from long-time collaborators and labelmates to a CEO and his artist. As they shaped ‘MAYBE I’M KCRAZY’ through a series of ramblings and freestyle sessions on their international tour, the two realised that their synergy demanded a more permanent space to thrive.
“When we finished the track, we realised that we needed an album-like scale for this project,” Sik-K recalls. “Because it was so fun to create. Using new sounds and imagining new performances with the audience pulling up to the concert. And we were about to go on tour at that time, so we finished like seven, eight tracks in Korea and made it happen in Europe, North America. The songs weren’t even released yet, but [the audience] was hyped for real.”
“It wasn’t a particular sound or a particular meeting [where] we sat down and discussed what we wanted to express.” HAON adds. “It was really fun to be able to express all these emotions. We realised that our synergy worked really well.”
“I chose to solve problems by myself a lot of times. But Sik-K was able to help me get out of being isolated and alone” – HAON
Eventually, ‘MAYBE I’M KCRAZY’ would become the fourth track on their collaborative mixtape ‘ALBUM ON THE WAY!’. Just as they’d finished laying the foundation for more songs, Sik-K offered to bring HAON on as his newfound agency’s first official signee. Sik-K, who had parted ways with H1GHR Music a year prior, was setting up his agency Kwon Min-sik Company, or KC. HAON, who had been craving a new direction and structure, said yes.
Looking at the larger trajectory of events – Sik-K’s prominent position in the industry and HAON’s prodigious rise on the scene, underscored also by his litany of collaborations, including with Sik-K – it’s easy to think of their dynamic as a brotherly or mentor-mentee bond. Preserving their individual identities, however, is the inviolable clause of this effortless relationship.
For HAON, freedom was a key factor in putting down roots at KC. “KC was able to give me a clear direction. They respect my ideas and my perspectives, whether that [comes] from me personally or my music. There has been a mutual respect and trust between Sik-K and I that has been going on for over five to six years.”
Despite his self-professed stoicism – as he declares at one point in our conversation – HAON credits Sik-K for bringing him out of his shell. “In the past, I found it quite difficult to reach out for help first,” he admits. “I chose to solve problems by myself a lot of times. But Sik-K was able to help me get out of being isolated and alone.”
The change in outlook, HAON reveals, subsequently laid the foundation for the pivot in his musical direction. “There have certainly been moments when I felt powerless in the face of the rapidly changing society. But looking back, it was a period of clearly defining and deconstructing, and reassembling what I want and do not want for myself.”
Perhaps it’s the novelty of the role, but it is odd at times to see ‘CEO Sik-K’ in action – as in his music, the rapper in person is the embodiment of movement. Much of ‘ALBUM ON THE WAY!’ was refined as he flitted from one concert venue to another, jumbled thoughts and rejected ideas in his wake. He’s spent a better part of his career cooking up collaborations with other artists.
His restlessness peaks through even in public interactions – he speaks with his whole frame, his hands trying to keep up as words fly out at the speed of sound. For a maverick such as him, the concept of putting down roots seems anathema. It seems, however, that he’s definitely not a rebel without a cause.
“I’m not trying to step on them [or] go higher than H1GHR Music right now. It’s a small world, and we gotta not fight” – SIK-K
“I’m a free-spirited guy, but like, the ‘locked-up’ free-spirited, you know?” He explains his motivations behind KC. “I realised that it’s my last opportunity to meet people and create a team for, like, Team KC and Team HAON. It’s really hard to meet people, but as soon as we work on something, everybody’s really focused on it, and I really start to trust them. I hope they do too.”
“I just want to finish this music and stuff at some point,” he reveals. “I don’t want to do this till, like, 50. I just want to support [up-and-coming] artists, and I want to link them to my team, like HAON or my friends. 20 years ago, in Seoul, hip-hop and rap music started to, like, ‘settle down’. I think it’s another era [like that].”
Inevitably, the conversation turns to H1GHR Music, which both Sik-K and HAON had called home for years. With the global expansion of Korean music, H1GHR is oft credited for revitalising interest in Korean hip-hop. Sik-K remained one of the key players on the agency’s roster until he left in 2022 after his contract expired. HAON followed in May 2023 after a five-year stint.
As natural as it is for speculation to run amok when artists part ways with their agencies – “Any kind of bye is not a ‘good’ bye,” both Sik-K and HAON say during the conversation – their bye was “perfect”. Sik-K credits this to knowing that having different plans for himself wouldn’t tarnish his relationship with his former home. “It’s like family stuff, it’s not like business stuff,” he says.
“I’m not trying to step on them [or] go higher than H1GHR Music right now. It’s a small world, and we gotta not fight,” Sik-K says. He may still be new to the role of CEO, but the confident purpose is as magnetising as the man himself. “I can tell KC is bigger than my being and my character. [With KC] I want to take responsibility. No jokes, no scams – I want to protect the artists here.”
Despite the finality of his words, the endgame is far from sight. Both Sik-K and HAON have albums planned for later this year, and international expansion is the next logical step they agree on. “We don’t wanna stop. We want to work like, [out of seven days] maybe three days in Korea, two days in the States, two days in Asia somewhere,” says HAON.
Sik-K adds: “I don’t think this is the time to talk about the endgame. This is the opening.”
Sik-K and HAON’s new mixtape ‘ALBUM ON THE WAY!’ is out now