When you think of the budding Asian American rap scene, the Koreatown clubs of Los Angeles and the iconic venues of New York are quick to come to mind. In other words, you probably don’t imagine the state of Virginia—but that’s the very place some of today’s best AAPI hip hop talent calls home.
Rappers Lyricks (Rick Lee) and JL (John Lee) make up Year of the Ox, a quick-tongued pair known for their steady flow and killer rhymes. Originally from Fairfax and Virginia Beach, respectively, the two met in college and struck up a friendship that has since evolved into a one-of-a-kind artistic collaboration. In this episode of Character Concerts, they tell their story and give exclusive performances of hit tracks like “Seven Rings” and their recent anti-discrimination anthem, “Viral.”
Years before racking up millions of fans, Lyricks and JL made their way through the ranks of their local Virginia rap scene and Lyricks went on to try his luck in Los Angeles. But when plans fell through on the west coast, he decided to give a rap career one last shot and bet everything on a move to New York. “I packed up my things; I told my dad that I didn’t want any regrets,” said Lyricks. “I went to New York with a whole different mindset, and that’s when things changed for us.”
He was soon joined by JL, and the two got to work honing their craft as a duo. A well-timed burst of viral fame was all it took for the pair to realize they were finally where they were meant to be. “It took almost a year from when we went viral with ‘Seven Rings’ to when we decided, ‘Alright, we’re going to be Year of the Ox,’” said JL.
Although 2020 hasn’t been kind to any musicians, Year of the Ox are looking forward to 2021 for more reasons than one. “That’s the official year of the ox,” said Lyricks. “We’ve been preparing for this moment. It couldn’t have been written better … So please, ladies and gentlemen, prepare for the stampede.”
Watch Year of the Ox’s full interview and performance above, and make sure to visit our GoFundMe page to help support their work.