The Korean hip-hop (K-hip-hop) scene in Korea is something that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, though fans of the sub-genre know it has its roots going back to the late 80s. Acts like Seo Taiji and The Boys and DJ DOC helped grow the sub-genre which led to a massive surge in popularity throughout the 90s. The groundbreaking sound that talked about harsh issues also created groups that also were outside of the norm including the co-ed group Uptown.
The original line-up of Uptown included Chris Jung, Carlos Galvan, Steve Kim, and Yoon Mirae (who went by Tasha Reid and T at the time). One unique aspect of the group, besides the fact it was co-ed, was that it consisted of two members who were biracial. Yoon Mirae was born to an African-American father and a Korean mother while Carlos Galvan’s father was Hispanic.
The group’s album first album Represent was released in 1997 and was well received for the genre being so new and controversial. The group performed the album’s title track “Back To Me” on a variety of music shows including Inkigayo and even won first place. Uptown’s sound, directly influenced by black artists popular in the United States at the time, was something fans of hip-hop loved and felt legitimized them more than some hip-hop artists at the time.
The group immediately released a follow-up album, although Yoon Mirae’s participation in promotion was limited due to her real age of 16 being discovered. They continued to rise in popularity and performed well on charts with the title track, “You Inside Me”, an R&B track.
Uptown’s third album saw the brief addition of member Park Tam Hee, who later left the group to pursue acting. This new album had a slightly different sound than previous releases and headed in more of a dance direction, something that die-hard fans didn’t enjoy.
After the release of their fourth album, the group ran into the legal trouble that would spell the end of Uptown and destroy the friendship between some members of the group.
In April 2000, Chris Jung, Carlos Galvan, and Steve Kim were arrested for allegedly injecting illegal drugs including methamphetamine along with two university students by the Seoul District Prosecutor’s Office. According to prosecutors, Steve Kim, in addition to allegedly injecting and inhaling methamphetamine, was accused of taking ecstasy and smoking cannabis several times with John Kim. The investigation also implicated Yoon Mirae and then a member of Drunken Tiger, Tiger JK, who were dating at the time.
In an interview with SPIN Magazine in 2000, Tiger JK stated that he heard that police were looking for him for questioning about the case, but soon discovered that his face, along with Yoon Mirae’s, were shown in TV bulletins as though the two were on the run from police.
I was just dumbfounded. I wasn’t even convicted yet, but I was reported as being the main provider.
— Tiger JK
Following negative urine and hair drug test, Tiger JK said that Carlos Galvin and Steve Kim attempted to pin blame on him, to which he responded strongly, attempting to fight the two. These false accusations led to Tiger JK spending a month and a half in jail, having two years of probation, and Drunken Tiger being banned from performing on public media in Korea, although the ban was later lifted in 2001.
Yoon Mirae spent much of that time in hiding as well, and it is thought that the bad blood created by the false accusations are what led to her leaving the group, although the group was forced to disband at the time regardless as Carlos Galvan and Steve Kim were deported back to the United States.
After the group’s disbandment, former members Carlos Galvan and Steve Kim attempted to bring the Uptown brand international in 2002 by signing to an American label where they released only one album.
Uptown made an unexpected return in 2006 with a new album, most of the original line-up, and a new face to replace Yoon Mirae in the group: first, a rapper named Say, then a teenage rapper known as Jessica H.O, who now goes by Jessi. The group saw a decent amount of success that year and was nominated for Best Hip-Hop Performance at the 2006 Mnet Asian Music Awards.
This was their post “disbandment” peak, however, and the group only released two additional albums.
On top of that, by the time the group’s second to last album New Era was released, the line-up had changed yet again and consisted of Chris Jung, Swings, Brownie, Snacky Chan, and Maniac. The group’s final album Surprise! saw another line-up change as well.
Uptown has since faded into the history books with no current plans of reuniting at the time. Their contributions to the Korean Hip-hop scene cannot be denied and still serve for some excellent throwback hits.