Inevitably, the sun sets on the city of Los Angeles, but the lights inside of The Great Company, a creative hub that houses MC Jin’s studio, stay on.
Jin is sitting in the lab, listening intently as one of his new songs, “Glow,” plays loudly through the evening. Rocking a black bucket hat over his shortly cropped hair, the emcee nods as the verses play. When the cut’s hook hits, a catchy uplifting melody breaks through and Jin jumps out of his seat, a testament to how excited he is to share what he’s been crafting all year, his new album, XIV:LIX (14:59), a nod to what happens in the last second of the infamous 15 minutes of fame.
It’s been an interesting metaphorical 15-minute roller coaster ride for Jin since he first hit the scene in 2002 as a hungry battle emcee/champion on BET’s 106 & Park, where he announced the signing of his first record contract, a deal with Ruff Ryders Entertainment.
“You watched the journey unfold,” he says, reflecting on his start. “I get signed to the R. I drop my album [The Rest Is History] in 2004. That was one of the defining moments of the 15 minutes really starting to tick at a fast rate.”
The Rest Is History didn’t live anywhere near expectations. “Between the hype that was generated by the masses and, more importantly, the hype I fed into, it was almost like a recipe for what ended up happening,” he recalls. “From that moment, this 14:59 thing essentially was continuing to unfold quickly.”
Jin took matters into his own hands after he was dropped from Ruff Ryders. He tried to refocus on battling, only to fall where he was once seemingly unbeatable. “That was another major reality check,” he says of losing battles to the likes of Serius Jones in 2005. “At that point, people were like, “Yo, maybe Jin wasn’t the truth like we thought he was.”
Jin’s Transformation After Tribulations
“The storyline is border line tragic / So many different plot twists, I wonder how I got casted / Then it got drastic / Not to be sarcastic / When I say I found new life inside a casket / I had to bury myself, my ego.” MC Jin, “Glow”
As the song comes to an end, Jin stands and acknowledges the truth in the lines above.
“I had to learn the hard way,” he explains. “I had to fall face-first and experience it in the roughest way, as far as watching the album crumble, watching the deal crumble and watching Jin, the Battle Rap legend, kind of crumble.”
Jin, who’s still revered by some for his accomplishments in the past, running through battle tournaments, breaking boundaries for Asian-American emcees, says he’s arrived at a place of acceptance when it comes to the disappointments in his career.
“It’s not about underestimating myself or belittling myself,” he explains. “It’s just about coming to a place of peace. I’m clear about what I stand for and represent and what I want to convey. Before, I was so clouded in the monster that is the music industry, hype and record sales.”
Jin dealt with being dropped from Ruff Ryders and losing some battles by distancing himself from nearly everyone. He calls this one of the darkest moments of his career. Eventually, this would open a door that many did not expect. Soon after dealing with the industry’s pitfalls, Jin spent four years in Hong Kong. There, he admits he was “caught up in a whirlwind” while grinding. But he also acknowledges that the trip earned him “a second chance.” That second chance wasn’t just a second shot at a successful career, but also a another chance at finding his faith.
Jin’s Religious Transformation
Jin didn’t grow up in the church. As an eight-year-old, his aunt Kathy, who he refers to as a loving figure, asked him if he believed in God, a moment that Jin references on “Hallelujah” off XIV:LIX. At the time, the eight-year-old Jin said he believed in God. However, as the years went on, he would realize that he felt “disconnected” from his faith.
“From age eight and onward, I’ve always prayed,” he says, “[but] only when I needed to ask for some sort of rescue…Totally looking at God like He was some sort of genie in a lamp.”
In time, Jin’s perspective on religion shifted. “For the longest time, I felt God was up there,” he explains, pointing towards the studio’s ceiling. “He was this super awesome and amazing being, but he was all the way up there. He don’t know what I’m doing down here and He don’t care what I’m doing down here. But what I experienced in Hong Kong was the complete opposite of that, which was feeling Him so present in my life.”
Jin reflects on that time in Hong Kong, which began in 2008, as “mad productive.” He had steady gigs, endorsements, T.V. shows and he says he was generally “Ryan Seacrest-ing.” But as his career was flourishing, he wondered how it was all happening. His early career disappointments were still fresh. He didn’t want to get “gassed up” again. He began giving all the glory to God by 2010, only to then realize he was “still pretty jacked up inside.”
“I had to come to a very isolated place where it was just me and God,” he says. “I had several moments, where I just broke down and needed God to cleanse my heart and walk me through this.”
As Jin reflected, he realized how disconnected he felt. “Give me strength to truly live for you and not just project like I live for you,” he said in prayer. Since then, Jin says God’s given him the clarity he prayed for.
“This is what I was put here for,” he says. “[But] o a parallel note, I feel like there’s a bigger broader thing than just the music. I feel I have a duty to take my experiences and use them to help others…At the end of it, all this clarity, all this peace and all this joy and all this purpose that I’m talking about is rooted in the fact that I wake up every day and God is at the center of my life.”
Jin’s faith may have helped him find purpose, but it has also helped him shift his focus in his life as a family man.
Jin’s Transformation Through Love & Marriage
Jin is a happily married man. He lovingly mentions his wife throughout our interview, particularly after playing “Fairytales,” a Teesa-assisted dedication to his bride. He calls her his “best friend,” his “biggest fan” and his “worst critic.”
“Her love and appreciation for me goes beyond having bars or not having bars,” he says. “Or if I’m in the game or not in the game.”
Jin and his wife, who’ve been married for three years, are the parents of Chance, their first and (for now) only child, who is two-years-old. As a result, Jin says he has what many believe is an ideal family lifestyle.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Jin and his wife met in 2005. Jin was a young man, reveling in his early success. He knew she was a winner from the start, but he wasn’t quite ready to commit fully, as he explains on “Fairytales.”
“Picture me, 23 / Whole life in front of me / Have you seen How To Be A Player, Bill Bellamy / That was me / Just kidding, maybe not to the same extreme / Nah, had a few ladies on the team.” – MC Jin, “Fairytales”
While he may have enjoyed those times, he’s now glad he quit that lifestyle early. “I was lost in the world,” he says, thinking back on those times. “I was sucked up by this beast that is the music industry and that is the world. If I would have continued in the direction I was going, it was only a matter of time where it really could have caught up with me.”
His wife may have saved him in that regard.
Once the two became an item, Jin realized he could be truthful with her even when he had to hide some of his honest emotions from the public. This was particularly evident during his darkest moments, following the Ruff Ryders run. So, he relied on his wife, who was then his girlfriend, to help him out of the emotional rut he was in.
“At one point, I was so frustrated, so discouraged and so disappointed,” he remembers. “I guess, maybe because of pride and ego, I wouldn’t show it to the word. But between me and her, behind the scenes, she took a lot of it. She became the victim of a lot of my frustrations. Obviously, not in the physical sense, but…My attitude towards her was more often rude than appreciative.”
He now realizes something important that he neglected at the time. “This is really a ride-or-die-chick if I ever met one,” he says, interestingly enough referencing another Double R anthem. “Rather than look at it like that, she was being kind and patient and I was like, ‘Leave me alone.’ I was at home, being a hermit.”
To help Jin regain motivation, his girl delivered a simple message and it resonated
“She was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’ve gotta come out of this slump sometime. You wasn’t like this when I met you,’” he recalls. With time, he would do just that.
But life has a way of throwing curve balls at love, too. So, when Jin had to move to Hong Kong for different opportunities, the two found themselves at a crossroads.
“When the call came from Hong Kong, we were unprepared / Rackin’ up miles like Clooney, we were Up In The Air.” – MC Jin, “Fairytales”
Although they weren’t sure about what would happen, the couple promised to let nature take its course. For some, this would mean the end of a relationship. For them, this would mean two years of a long-distance relationship. During that time, they would sporadically arrange meetings either in Hong Kong or in the States. Somewhere along the journey, by 2010, Jin decided it was time to propose. “She’s right there,” he told himself. “You better cherish this. Don’t blow this one.”
Today, three years into their marriage and two years into the life of Chance (who is the inspiration behind XIV:LIX’s moving tribute to fatherhood and growth “Like A Rock”) Jin’s glad he listened to himself.
Jin’s Transformation In Making XIV:LIX
Jin had to do more than listen to himself to finish XIV:LIX, which he says he’s emotionally attached to more than he’s been with any other project he’s released. This time, he says he went in knowing he would have to trust those around him during the creative process to make this the best possible effort.
“It was a learning experience,” he says. “I trust these people, The Great Company. I trust them and that element rings through the whole album.”
This trusting nature is new for Jin in the studio. In the past, Jin says no one could tell him anything about his work.
“A defense would have gone up, like a wall,” he says, reflecting on his past. “Right away, I’d have this feeling of, ‘What do you know about writing a 16?’ But with this album, its the first time I really showed that vulnerability and let go of it.”
Jin says there was also another difference within himself that helped this album come together.
“For the first time, I was able to really step into the art of it with a clear mind and a clear head,” he shares. “That’s because some of the expectations and things that came with my first endeavor…all of that is gone.”
So, in March 2014, Jin and The Great Company began piecing this XIV:LIX puzzle together.
“The earlier stages were just exploring the concept,” he says. So, Jin began thinking about what he wanted to say on this album and what it would sound like. “This was the first album, in the last ten-plus years of my career, Ruff Ryders and post, that I think we ever really, with such intensity, spent time exploring it. We explored different methods and in the end, it was a balance of that very intense exploration combined with a very organic thing that just grew. It left me at this place of XIV:LIX.”
Jin says he doesn’t remember when the concept came to his mind. However, he says it’s likely been building itself since he first stepped onto that 106 & Park stage. Now, the album is here and he couldn’t be more proud of everything that he’s encountered on his journey to this point.
“In order for me to arrive where I’m at on this album, I had to go through everything that I went through,” he says. “Ultimately, what I want to say [with this project] is, ‘If this is the last piece of art or my last contribution to society and music listeners, what do I want to say?’ It’s this.”