HeeSun Lee, a Korean-born poet and rapper, has opened the eyes of many people through her music, which connects the Gospel to real life. Raised in Staten Island, N.Y., HeeSun uses her gifts to share her experiences, her testimony, and her love for God. In her debut album, Re:Defined., HeeSun displays a special skill communicating the mystery of redemption. I recently caught up with HeeSun to ask her about the project.
You've become a prominent Christian artist, rapper, and poet on the East Coast. What parts of life have matured your faith and marriage?
I was born in Seoul, Korea, but was placed into foster care right after. I was adopted four months later and sent to Staten Island, N.Y., to live with my adoptive parents. My spiritual journey has been long and winding! I've definitely had my ups and downs, my doubts, and my "Christ-fanatic" times, and my good and bad phases. What sparked my belief in God was my grandma dying when I was 15-years-old. It was the first time I ever felt a sense of loss in my life because she lived with me and watched over me a lot.
And your husband?
I met my husband in church, actually, 12 years ago! We have had a crazy relationship ever since then, from breaking up to getting back together to breaking up again. There have been many challenges in our marriage because of that, but God has been working in us and helping us deal with our past issues. We just got married last November of 2009!
What influenced your entrance into hip-hop?
I was always into writing. I've written stories since I was 13. As I was getting older, though, the stories transferred into poems and then the poems transferred into songs. Hip-hop has been a part of my life since I was in junior high school. I remember bumpin' Warren G in my mother's car and her getting at me because she kept hearing curse words. After Warren G, I started having a huge obsession with Will Smith! I memorized all of his songs on his Big Willie Style album, and I would even record myself rapping his verses on my cheap karaoke machine. Once I entered college, I would listen to any hip-hop that was hot. I was heavy into Tupac, and I started memorizing his songs too. His songs were harder to memorize because he has about a million joints [tracks] recorded! Hip-hop was a way for me to express myself on paper and then onto music. I never tried to be something I wasn't, and I always wrote from my heart. My whole thing is, if you can't be real in your music, why bother?
It's unusual to see a female Asian-American hip-hop artist. How has your background influenced your work?
Being adopted and growing up with identity issues has been the biggest obstacle I've ever had to face. To be honest, I'm still dealing with it, but hip-hop has helped me a lot. Trying to always fit in to a specific group is a struggle because you can live your entire life never feeling accepted, but hip-hop accepted me. It was the first culture to look at me for who I was and not care; it helped me to open myself up in my lyrics and to not be ashamed of who I was. I want to make sure that being a rapper or a poet will assist me in bringing unity to different cultures. That would be my ultimate goal as an artist.
What inspired the concept and vision for the Re:Defined. album?
Re:Defined was birthed after I was going through a lot of transitioning in my life. I was changing churches, ministries, friendships, everything, and so I wanted my album to reflect what I've been through and where I was going. As Christians, we all have our different phases, and I believe its important to show people how you've grown and how you've changed for the better. There are a lot of topics on this album including racism, foster kids, abandonment, love, women's empowerment, my testimony, life issues, everything!
You have a great video for the song "Open Your Eyes" on this release (see below). What inspired the song?
This song starts off by telling a story about a women in a dead-end relationship where her boyfriend is cheating on her left and right. Instead of getting out of the relationship, she decides to lower her worth by cheating as well. I wanted to show people, especially women, that we do not need to sink to any level where it's compromising who we are as women. We should remember how beautiful and important we are, and if we're ever with a man who cannot value our worth, dump him! It's also a wake-up call to the men as well, where they need to understand how important it is to treat their women with respect.