Kim Lee is best known in recent times as the beauty behind the turntables, jet-setting around the world and rubbing shoulders with hip-hop’s biggest names. But the Los Angeles-based DJ is also comfortable in front of a camera, having appeared in Hangover 2 and gracing the covers of FHM, Maxim and GQ magazines, among others. Now, she combines her two talents as co-host of Yo! MTV Raps Asia. We caught up with Kim Lee while she was in Singapore last week to find out more about how she got the gig. Plus, she also shared her thoughts on the rise of Asian hip-hop along with her favorite streetwear brands and sneakers.
Welcome to Singapore! We understand that you come to Singapore often. What brings you to our side of town as often as it does?
I’ve traveled all over Asia since 2012 but I definitely have a connection with Singapore. It’s obviously beautiful – the shopping, the culture, the people and the food. Everyone speaks English here which makes it easy for westerners to come. People can actually live here and get around easily. I feel like it’s my second home. Ever since I collaborated with Singaporean Youtuber Jian Hao, everybody’s on Instagram saying, “Come back to Singapore!”, so here I am.
What kind of food do you look out for when you’re in Singapore?
My favorite is definitely chilli crab! There’s a restaurant called Jumbo everyone’s telling me to check out, so I’ll do just that. I like chicken rice and Indian food too. I know there’s a lot of great Indian food here.
Do you like durians?
I love durians! I’m probably the only American who loves durian. When it’s cold and fresh, it’s amazing!
We’ve already seen you on the first episode of Yo! MTV Raps. What are some of the most memorable moments from the show?
Shooting the season was so much fun. I think what I enjoyed the most was just being on set with all that energy. Everybody had so much great energy – even the extras! I made so many new friends. But if I had to pick one memorable moment, it would be the cypher because it was hyped! It made me want to go in there and rap, even though I can’t rap really (laughs). A segment of the show, “Keep it 100”, was really cool too – getting to know more about the artists, their background, and their thoughts about Asian hip-hop. I think Joe Flizzow gave me the best impression. Joe’s got that swag, that boss mentality and it was really nice getting to know him on the show.
You are co-hosting the latest season with Yung Raja. How would you describe the chemistry between you two?
Oh my god. The chemistry between me and Yung Raja is off the roof. It’s like we met in a previous life or something (laughs). Sometimes when you meet somebody for the first time, it might get a little awkward after the first greeting but there was none of that. The vibe was cool. Working with him definitely helped because he’s got great energy. He talks a lot – sometimes it got way too much. Definitely a great experience. I’m super excited for the world to see the rest of the episodes.
How did the hosting gig for the Asian edition of Yo! MTV Raps come about?
It was so unexpected. I’m actually busy as a DJ myself touring everywhere. So I get this email from MTV saying, “Kim we’d like you to audition for Yo! MTV Raps Asia“. And Yo! MTV Raps was huge in America before. I was like, “Wait, this is for Yo! MTV Raps Asia? This is so cool.” I gave my audition tape and even though I did my best, I really didn’t expect much. But next thing you know, about a week later, I got a call from them saying, “Hey! We might give you a shot.” I was so shocked and excited at the same time. Now, here we are and I believe it’s going to be one of the biggest shows in Asia.
Was the experience any different from your role in Hangover 2?
I just wanted to say that I didn’t even know I auditioned for Hangover 2 until the role was confirmed because they wanted to keep it confidential. But I got to meet the entire cast, even Bradley Cooper, and it was a super dope experience. That made me realize that I wanted to do more TV and movies eventually. Shooting for TV and movies is similar in certain ways – a lot of work, of course. But for movies, it takes a lot longer to shoot, perhaps six months or more. For Yo! MTV Raps specifically, it took slightly more than a week, but it was 14-hour days every day. It was challenging for me as I got up and running straight after my flight from LA – completely jetlagged. At the same time, I was on a schedule, so coffee and Redbull really helped me the whole time.
How did you first get into DJ-ing?
Back in 2012, I was very close to the Black Eyed Peas. At that point of time, Apl De Ap and Will.i.am were about to split to manage other artists and DJs and Apl was like, “I’ll manage you (if you become a DJ)”. I thought it was a great opportunity so I went to the scratch academy and learned how to use the turntables. You know, the fact that I did a lot of modeling in Asia already – being on the covers of FHM and Maxim – did help a lot, and brought me back to Asia as a DJ. My music career took off from there. From opening for Steve Aoki to getting picked up by his agent until now; it’s been seven to eight years.
Asian hip-hop has been on the rise. What are your thoughts on the hip-hop scene in Asia?
I’ve loved Asian hip-hop before it was even popular. Jay Park, Dumbfoundead and all those people are my boys already. I’ve always felt that Asian hip-hop is so underrated. There are so many talented artists in Asia. But now, I think it’s our time to show the world we’ve been the underdogs for too long. That’s why I’m so hyped for Yo! MTV Raps.
Can you name us some of your favorite Asian rappers?
I’d say Jay Park, and Yung Raja’s dope too. I recently discovered his music and he definitely has potential. Chinese rapper Vava, who’s on the show too – she’s amazing, so much swag. Of course, Keith Ape, and Higher Brothers are doing their own thing too. That’s just to name a few. There’s a lot more.
What kind of impact do you think Yo! MTV Raps will have on the rap scene in Asia? Will it help to open up opportunities for talents on this side of the world?
It will surely open up a lot of opportunities for everybody and not just that. I see a lot more collaborations coming between Asian rappers and American rappers – even with Latin rappers. I feel like this is the beginning of everything.
Hip-hop is more than just music. It’s a culture, and the fashion is noteworthy. What are some of your favorite streetwear brands?
I’m not going to keep saying Bape again (laughs) but I do love luxury and designer brands like Fendi, Gucci, Alexander Wang, and Louis Vuitton. I love the fact that Fendi is making a comeback because they were kind of on the low lately compared to Gucci and Louis Vuitton, among others. I can actually go on and on forever. But I just wear whatever I think is dope. I think it’s also great that luxury brands are going street. At the end of the day, people just want to be comfortable.
Can you name your top 3 sneakers?
I’m still a big fan of Yeezys because it’s comfortable even though a lot of people think it’s “played out” now. I like Jordans too and I have a lot of Air Maxes. Basically, I love comfy sneakers.
Obviously, you have many talents. What can we expect from you? And what are your plans for the future?
I just released my EP, Mind Games, last month but I’m producing more music, for sure, when I get back to America. Music is my passion, but I see myself doing more acting eventually. That’s going to be my next thing – more film and TV. Being on Yo! MTV Raps definitely motivated me and I feel this is just the beginning of it.
Keep up with Kim Lee on Instagram and catch her alongside Yung Raja and some of Asia’s hottest hip-hop artists on episode two of Yo! MTV Raps Asia, which airs today, April 30.
Yo! MTV Raps Asia episode two
Date: Tuesday, April 30
Time: 7pm (Western Indonesian time), 8pm (Singapore and Philippines) and 9pm (Malaysia)
Encore: 10.20pm (Western Indonesian time), 11.20pm (Singapore and Philippines) and 12.20am (May 1 – Malaysia)
Subsequent episodes will air every two weeks on Tuesday (timing as above). Follow MTV Asia on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Instagram for more updates and additional content relating to Yo! MTV Raps.