MC Jin is a natural conversationalist. He'll tap you on the shoulder to get a point across. He'll tell you stories about his son with an ear-to-ear grin. In this setting, it's easy to forget that he's a menace on the microphone.
Or at least, he can be. After all, this is the same guy who would stand up in a scene straight out of 8 Mile and win hostile crowds over with his wit and spontaneity. During our conversation, he playfully improvised a couple of lines against me. I would hate to be the guy freestyling against a battle-ready MC Jin.
The story of MC Jin is a roller coaster ride, and one that could have ended at multiple points. Shortly after exposure to mainstream hip-hop audiences on BET's 106 and Park and signing to DMX Ruff Ryder's label, his debut album The Rest Is History flopped. With a sudden descent and departure that seemed to happen even faster than his rise to fame, MC Jin departed for Hong Kong where he found the elusive stardom that escaped him once in North America. He was fueled by optimism.
"Even though I've had some really down moments in my life, moments of being discouraged, being bitter, being frustrated, if I were to assess the whole journey, I think it was relatively more upbeat," says MC Jin. "Even in the face of those down times, I tried to look at it from an upbeat perspective."
He couples this perspective with a piece of stoic advice. "If I could go back and encourage myself in some way, I would say, 'Everything is going to be okay,'" says MC Jin. "It's something that seems like a relatively simple statement, but there's a lot of power in it. When you use it to encourage someone--sincerely--it might do more than you realize."
MC Jin's journey had a unique challenge -- firstly, he was a Chinese man attempting to navigate through the world of hip-hop. This racial difference became evident even during his first experience in the world of battle rap, during high school, when a classmate took jabs at his ethnicity. "I wouldn't say I was offended, but I was just caught off guard by it. This was my first time being exposed to what I would later find out is a rap battle...That was my first battle, and I pretty much got demolished. I had not developed the nature to rhyme about someone yet."
Yet he's a changed man, now. The years in Hong Kong exposed him to a newfound faith, and a desire for a deeper connection with his fans and collaborators. MC Jin recently launched a clothing brand (or, as he calls it, a "side project") iknowHIM. He also now spends more time meeting up with fans on campuses and at coffee shops.
"All the years of chasing the record deal, chasing the fame, chasing approval, chasing these various things, I overlooked one thing: the people," says MC Jin. His most recent album is entitled XIV:LIX, which is 14:59 in Roman numerals. It features his meditations on what he would do with his final second of fame.
MC Jin knows, probably better than many other artists, that it could all end at any moment. He challenges listeners with the question: What would you do if this were your final day on Earth? If this was your final meal? Or your final second?
It can be a pretty dreadful thought, but MC Jin characteristically spins it around. Instead of anticipating a moment's end, enjoy it while it's still there. "Dude, cherish this," he says. "Cherish it."