Major(s): Economics and Music
Extracurriculars: Zumbyes, Dance and Step at Amherst College,
Korean Student Association,
Math Department Teacher’s Assistant
Occupation: Customer Success Manager at Refinitiv for Financial Service Technology Sector and Independent Musician (rapper, producer, singer)
FLANNEL ALBERT (Albert Joo, AC ‘15) is a melodic hip-hop artist based in Los Angeles, CA.
He started in music from the young age of four, studying classical piano and music theory. Though he was raised in Portland, Albert lived in Korea for a few years where his first project topped independent online music charts in Korea. He eventually settled in Brooklyn where he delved into hip-hop and joined the WH9LE Collective. The artist now resides in Los Angeles.
FLANNEL ALBERT’s music is an eclectic blend, reflecting his personal taste in music. Citing influences such as Drake, Childish Gambino, Sufjan Stevens, and Frank Ocean, he fuses his classical music training with upbeat pop vibes all while incorporating electronic sounds, clever lyricism, and vibrant energy.
He is best known for his tracks aok, bank!, Asian Glow (w/ Filthy The Kid feat. Jesediah), and Centerfold (feat. Kendyle Paige), which have been featured on Spotify’s Editorial playlists.
How has your experience informed your Asian identity?
I grew up in predominantly white Portland, Oregon, and I naturally found myself surrounded by white kids.
I moved to Korea where I had no choice but to hang out with Koreans. In doing that, I realized that there are certain innate connections you have with Asians and, in my case, Koreans, which doesn’t exist for other people. The food that you eat, family dynamics, the Asian glow – things that don’t necessitate explanation.
My Amherst experience reinforced this familiarity and comfort. I joined the Amherst College Zumbyes my freshman year, and my Zumbyes class was composed of mainly Koreans. It was nice to be with a group of people who knew where you came from.
What do your parents think about your music career?
My parents know that I’m pursuing a music career. At this point, I feel as though they’ve “given up”. To an Asian kid, sometimes it’s a good thing since it means that they’ve given up on trying to control your life.
They wanted me to be a lawyer for a while, and I thought that I wanted this too, until two years ago when I had taken the LSAT a few times and wasn’t getting the score I wanted. I was stressed and unhappy, but I kept coming back to this music thing. After a while, I had a switch in mindset. I thought that if I’m going to be really serious about music, I need to start treating this like a job. So this means after work, no Netflix, no sleep; I discipline myself to stay up, and I stay in on weekends. I really try to make this happen. This change led to finishing songs and projects and really putting myself out there.
To do this, I went to my parents and said, "Give me a year and a half – I really think that I can make something happen." After a lot of convincing, they agreed under the condition that I would have something substantive to show them in that time.
It’s hot and cold with my parents. They’re both in Korea, so they’re far. Sometimes I’ll receive messages telling me that they’re embarrassed of me and other times, they’ll say 열심히해, which means whatever you do, work hard at it. It’s hard growing up with this type of support, or lack of support, from them. I’ve accepted that they may never understand how important it is for me to be connected to music.
It’s been a year and a half, and I’m not as far as I thought I would be in the beginning, but to be where I am right now, I am very happy. I’m at the point of no return.
Growing up, I wasn't the most disciplined person when it came to studying or practicing piano. My parents used to say they'd be so happy if I could do either of those things obsessively – to the point where they'd have to tell me to stop. "Why can't you focus on something that much?" they'd say. I believe I've found that something, and even if it isn't the direction my parents want me to go, my passion assures me that it's the right direction.
What is it like being Asian in the music industry, especially in hip-hop?
I try not to think too much about it, but I can see from my Spotify analytics that I’m already being boxed in. I feel as though people make the incorrect assumption of looking at me and associating me with K-pop, which is not bad, but the last thing that I want to do is limit myself.
There is certainly a market for Asian hip-hop, but there is always trouble breaking from the K-pop market. Not to be cliche, but I feel like I’m different. Like most, I started off singing and playing piano as a kid in Portland. I continued my music in Korea where I debuted my pop EP album in high school, and at Amherst, I sang in Amherst College’s oldest a cappella group whose repertoire includes all genres of music, ranging from rock to R&B. Now I’m a part of a hip-hop collective, WH9LE, and write and produce my own music. I think my diversity of experience builds into something new, and I would hate for other people to assume that I’m one-dimensional by virtue of being Asian.
I’m always a little worried my mentality is going to be construed as me abandoning my culture. That people are going to see it and say, "Are you embarrassed about being Korean? Are you embarrassed about being Asian?" It’s not that at all. It’s just that I know that if I want to break out in a larger scale, I’m going to have to diversify myself and hopefully at the end bring more Asians into the spotlight
If you could give advice to current students, what would it be?
Take advantage of diverse experiences. Whatever your career path is, you don’t have to devote everything to that during college. At this point in your life, explore different options. It’s good to have your passions, but don’t automatically assume that anything directly unrelated to those passions are useless. Even if diverse experiences are uncomfortable at first, that discomfort is really what makes you a better person. In my case, the music industry is tough and takes a lot of discipline, but Amherst gave me that discipline and turned me into a more well rounded person.
What are your thoughts on AAPI Studies?
All you learn about in American high schools is ancient China and maybe the Chinese Exclusion Act, but there is such a rich history, which, if you know it, makes you feel more complete as a person.
I feel like education and media taught me that Asians were one dimensional: the obedient, model minority. But in learning the diverse experiences of Asian immigrants and why they had to fit in and why they were well behaved, you realize that we are multi-faceted. Circumstances put us in this position. To learn that is eye opening. It’s not only educational. Emotionally, mentally, it’s essential that you learn your history.