Kenan-Flagler student markets his hip-hop
Howard Lee leads a double life.
A recent graduate of the Kenan-Flagler Business School, Lee will start a banking job in New York this summer. Until then, he’ll be promoting his latest electronic hip-hop album, “State and Soul,” on two continents.
Despite the vast differences between his two areas of interest, Lee found them to be compatible.
“At first, business and music seemed separate, but the more I worked on this solo project, they interlinked,” Lee said.
“You have to do so much marketing and promotion when you make an album, so a lot of what I learned in school helped me to package this project a lot better.”
High school friend and fellow musician Allen Mask agreed that Lee’s unique background will help him with his foray into the music industry.
“Having multiple interests and talents contributes to the ability to bring perspective to anything that you do,” he said.
Born in Korea, Lee began playing the piano at age 5. His musical focus narrowed to rap when his older brother started a Korean hip-hop group in Chapel Hill.
“I tried to find opportunities to do freestyle rap at school,” Lee said.
During his senior year of high school, Lee formed a hip-hop group with Mask.
Lee said that he continued to collaborate with Mask throughout high school and later at UNC, where, Lee said, they “took it to another level.”
Mask went on to co-found UNC’s Vinyl Records during his time at the University.
Throughout college, Lee pursued his business degree while building his rap career.
“Howard is very intentional and very serious about his craft,” Mask said. “He takes his work just as seriously as he wants other people to take it, and I think that’s really important.”
Lee’s producer and friend, UNC alumnus Eric Sim, said that working with Lee is both productive and enjoyable.
“We’re friends, so it’s just people getting together and doing what we love doing,” Sim said. “But it’s very efficient too. Howard always comes ready to record.”
Half of the songs on Lee’s new album will be in English and the other half in Korean, allowing Lee to demonstrate his versatility in both languages.
Lee said that much of his music’s subject matter comes from his own experiences.
“There’s one song, ‘Great Escape,’ that’s about my experience working in a 100-hour-week death trap,” he said, referring to an internship. “There’s certainly a storytelling aspect to my music.”
In the spring, Lee will travel to promote his album in Korea.
“It’ll be a rough process, trying to book all these gigs,” Lee said. “But I went through this type of painstaking experience with my job hunt and I learned that nothing good ever comes easy.”
Lee said he hopes that his listeners won’t focus too much on his experience in business.
“It’s not about the background you have,” he said. “It’s how you can use that to find a really good way to deliver your message to your listeners.”
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