In a heartfelt and honest conversation on "Not Your Average," host Julie Young and guest Danny Chung talk about the American dream, the complicated notion of family, and what it means to be a Korean American. He shares, “When you’re a hyphenated American, you tip-toe and you have to tight-rope between that hyphen of Korean and American.”
Check out his newest song here: www.youtube.com/watch
Danny Chung @thedannychung
"Norma Jean", "Ill Fated Natives - Life Goes On (2Pac Cover)", "Got a Feeling" by Danny Chung
"Hello There" by Engelwood
"Why Don't We Talk Anymore" by Rage Logic
"Baby" by Casey Calhoun
"Footsteps" by Jeff Kaale
"Syne Hyper" by Sober Rob
KoreanAmericanStory.org is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to create and preserve the stories of the Korean American experience.
Hey everyone, it’s Julie Young for Korean, American, Story and Not, Your, Average, Today, I’m sitting down with Danny Chung, formerly known as Decipher Sometimes still known as Decipher, right?.
Yeah, I, don’t, uh, I don’t mind either or A lot of people will still come up to me and uh call me by Decipher and, um, I.
Guess other rappers or people who have a stage name or use monikers would be like upset Like, ‘Ugh.
You don’t know me by my new name, yet’, But, nah, I’m…, I’d, uh… embrace.
It all, haha, Nice, Alright, cheers!, We’ve, been, um, trying to get Danny on Not Your Average for about two years.
Now, So I had to chase him out to LA to do it (I’ve been) elusive, to say, the least Yeah.
This is a little bit strange because I thought this would happen in Philly Yeah.
But like we can’t be easy Can’t give in on your first call But.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Cause I, really wanna know your story - I think it’s so interesting You were born in Philly? Born in Philadelphia.
Yes, Moved around a lot I think within like my first year, I moved to Chicago for a little bit.
Then moved back to the East Coast - Jersey I.
Pretty much moved around like, literally every single year of my childhood until about fifth grade or so And.
Then I stayed in this house, umm… moving back and forth from rags to riches, riches to rags Talk about that a little bit, cause I was listening to an interview you did.
And you were talking about how there was a certain point in your life where your family was pretty well-off, Yeah, I mean, um… And that suddenly changed Right.
Parents were pretty well-to-do They came to America.
Just like many immigrant, families, Coming from Korea for that American Dream They were relatively well-educated.
My mother came form, Yonsei University with a nursing education.
So she came to America looking for a.
You know, a nursing job.
My father was a computer engineer But when they came to America.
They quickly saw that the fastest way to achieve you know.
Those goals of a big back yard, and white picket fences.
And that whole thing, was to start a business, you know, They had a Dunkin Donuts.
They had a 7Eleven But then.
They did it kind of haphazardly They just wanted the American Dream faster than a lot of people wanted it They wanted the biggest house on the block Cause.
They came from a really poor background, My mother.
She used to tell me stories about how her mom, her grandmother would.
You know, make like dak-dori-tang -spicy chicken stew.
And then it would literally have to stretch out for a week to feed like five people And.
Then they would literally be like chewing on the bones and stuff So.
They came from the dirt They came from nothing And then to come to America and still be broke.
That was just unacceptable… to her You had a pretty interesting experience.
When you went to go for your driver’s license, Do, you wanna share that story? So.
This is where, like.
Everything kinda turned around In terms of how I defined family And.
How family became contextualized in my life So.
When I went to go get my driver’s license, You need your social security and birth certificate to go get your driver’s license.
And at that point, I, realized, ‘Oh, I’ve, never seen my birth.
Certificate’ So I was curious So while we were on the way to the DMV- with my dad and I was like.
“Oh, can I see my birth, certificate?” And.
He just got really like weird and shaky.
And he wouldn’t make eye contact And.
He’s like, “Uh, no., Don’t worry about it.” And that made me, super curious - I was like, ‘Oh, okay’, ‘Imma, keep that one in my head’ Like, I’m, not gonna ask about it now, I’m, not gonna bother you now- but I will figure this out And.
Then eventually like that day or the day, after, I, just snooped around my parents room to find that birth certificate and I found it and I took a look at it.
And then I looked at the mother’s name and the father’s name, and I recognized the mother’s name was actually my aunt’s name.
The woman I grew up calling ‘ee-mo’, calling.
My ‘aunt’, was my actual birth.
Mother And, the father’s name was a name I, completely did not know at all It was this stranger, So everything just kind of…, flipped upside down, And then I just put pieces and pieces together and I realized.
My birth mother was actually my aunt Which made a lot more sense, just thinking about it in hindsight because the person I call mother- and I still couldn’t to this day call her (aunt) mother, because that’s the person that raised me-.
That’s my mom If.
You do the math, she was about 42 or like 45 or something when I was born So.
It didn’t make much biological sense.
But I, never thought about that, ever, because why would you think about that? Cause? She took me in when I was literally born It was pretty much- I was adopted I was adopted by my birth.
Mother’s older sister I was kind of like a ‘miracle child’ in a sense because she my “mother” never had a child prior because she miscarried a bunch of times And.
She just couldn’t have a child And.
Her younger sister got pregnant - it was an unwanted birth Like when she was really young.
She was like.
She was probably about like… 20 or something like that And.
It kinda all just fell into place… per se.
What was that like as a 16 year old finding that out? And did you like,? Did you go to your parents and say..? No? No no- I didn’t even tell them I knew Oh really?, Yeah, I didn’t even tell them I knew at all Till when?, Ever?, Ever.
I never told about it, But your birth, mom, your aunt.
She knows, you know, now?, They know, I know now, because my uncle listened to one of my- listened to my music And.
He understand English, and he understands rap He’s.
The one that got me into rap He’s.
The one that was a DJ when I was a little kid and like putting me onto Kid, ’n, Play, and Ultramagnetic MC’s.
And all these things that he didn’t even know, I was really soaking in And I was just in the corner playing with my toys.
But he was into hip hop So.
You’re 16 and you figure this out- what was that like for a 16 year, old? It’s, a lot-.
It was a roller coaster.
Actually, because at first I was like, ‘Wow.
This is huge.
This changes everything.’ But.
Then I was like, ‘Does.
It really change everything?’.
Does what it doesn’t Yeah,? Does it really change? Everything? Because I’m, not gonna stop calling, mom, ‘Mom’, Like, she’s the one that raised me, she’s the one that changed my diapers, she’s the one that put me through school These are the people that drove me an hour out to the suburbs every day so I could get a better education.
But then I was like, ‘Damn.
This changes the whole narrative’ This changes.
My whole story And then, do I, bring it up to them? Like, do I make it weird for them?.
Do I, make them decide? And.
Then I started remembering- again, hindsight, Remembering.
These things in time, I.
Remember, this one point in third grade, when I was like living with my ‘aunt’, which was my actual birth.
Mother, And, I think there was a shift there during that period of time.
She was getting older Her.
Biological clock was ticking.
She never had a “child of her own”, She actually did, which was me, but she never got the chance to raise a child She got to that point.
And she kinda wanted me back or something And.
Then there was kind of like a tug of war at that point Which I didn’t realize at all But then I remembered like.
My dad picking me up from her- from my aunt’s house and just them fighting.
And there was a literal tug of war.
I think I settled on ‘You know, what? It doesn’t matter as much as I think it does’ It matters in a sense that that happened, and it’s good that I know, I’m just- I’m, glad that I was ignorant of it Cause like to me, I think of you as an adoptee You know.
Your mother is who raises you And, there’s no animosity either to my aunt giving me up to my mother, I mean, I.
Think it worked out better for everybody in the grand scheme of things Your.
Biological mom is still in Philadelphia.
Biological mom is still in Philadelphia.
My aunt So do you ever think of any part of your identity as an adoptee? Yeah, yeah.., technically Cause, technically you are, but it’s sort of like because your whole life.
You didn’t really think you were until you were 16 How.
Does that come into your identity? Yeah, technically I would definitely have to say, I’m, an adoptee cause I was raised by not-my, biological parents, I don’t know, like you said, I, never grew up thinking that way or knowing it and I had to find out myself But.
Guess a lot of adoptees would share that same narrative Right? I mean.
A lot of times you don’t get told that I don’t know.
What do you think? What? Do you think is the better avenue to take? I think it’s so personal I.
Think every adoptee has their own journey.
And it’s very personal Do.
You ever think about your birth, father? Now that my birth mother knows that I know.
She confronted me and asked me, like, “Do.
You want to meet your birth, father?” And.
Then at that time, I said, “No” Not because I was angry or distant from the situation or anything because, like I, said, I was just happy how it was And.
Guess I just didn’t wanna disturb that.
And why make it more complicated than it has to be? That was around when my mom, the one that raised me, passed away I was about 20 to 21, something like that She asked me if I wanted to meet my birth father, like he was… I, don’t know if she was still in contact, I, don’t know if she was actually able to put me in contact with him, but I just said, no, right off the bat And, honestly, I’m, more curious.
If he has other children, So I’d, be more curious.
If I had half-siblings more so than actually meeting him, per se So even to this day, I’m, still more curious about that-.
If I have siblings, Cause, I grew up as an only child Cause that-.
That’s another thing, That’s like, being an only child your whole life.
If you were to find out, you had siblings.
It’s this other identity, You know what I mean? Like, even in my adopted family, I’m, the second oldest of six, so I’ve always thought of myself as older, as one of the older children, In, my Korean family I’m, the baby, and it’s a totally different identity and like, place, in the family I kinda like being the baby, hahaha Yeah, me being the only child, definitely played its part in my life The stigma with being the only child is that you’re spoiled, you’re this, you’re that but again, I don’t think I grew up like a normal only child, Like, I, said, I was back and forth from being poor and like, being really poor and being like, really well off or whatever So I never got a chance to be like, fully spoiled And, I, barely cried, my parents said, which was a weird thing.
But I think that came from a place of just I don’t know, seeing that back and forth: from being a have, to a have-not, like all the time Did you ever struggle with your Korean-American identity.
When you were growing up?, Yeah, absolutely I.
Think when most- I mean, that’s the general story, When, you’re a hyphenated American, you tip-toe.
And you have to tightrope between that hyphen of Korean and American.
The hyphen is literally like a tightrope where you’re trying to balance where you stand You, know, I’ve visited Korea, a lot- even throughout my childhood I’m sure it’s almost like a cliché at this point.
But being in Korea, you don’t feel Korean enough In America.
You don’t feel American enough So.
You’re stuck on that hyphen You’re just trying to balance on that hyphen-.
You’re tightroping that And you grow up in school, like I, said, I didn’t get taunted as much or whatever, but ask the other kids- Asian, and good at math, or take karate and get picked on or shit like that That’s, why maybe I adhere to hip hop more because it’s more about machismo, and bravado, and being tough Like.
I didn’t have a good literal-father figure raising me so like, you know, Tupac, Biggie, Bone Thugs-.
These were my father figures and stuff like that They raised me to be a little bit tougher, or whatever Well, Danny, I, just want to acknowledge you, because you know, I, love you, and you’re such a creative, ambitious, hard-working, and kind person and you’re like, so humble and I, just wish you all the best Thank you for doing this Thank you so much Cheers.