Prohgression: Far East Movement’s James Roh talks origins and success

Katherine Zhu

James Roh certainly feels fly like a G6.

Fresh from Far East Movement’s East Coast tour, Roh spared a couple minutes between poppin’ bottles and gettin’ slizzard to chat on the phone before jetting off to Amsterdam.

Roh, otherwise known as “Prohgress,” is one of the four members of Far East Movement, a hip-hop/electro music group based in Los Angeles. The group’s hit “Like a G6” was one of iTunes’ top-selling songs in 2010.

“We’re music geeks,” Roh says. “It does feel surreal, but we know what it feels like to struggle. That keeps us inspired to keep working.”

FM performed at Celebrasia, co-hosted by the Chinese Students Association and Taiwanese American Students Club, in 2009. Roh fondly remembers Northwestern as a “good show” with a “reactive” crowd.

For Far East Movement, high school never really did end. The original members – Roh (Prohgress), Kevin Nishimura (Kev Nish) and Jae Choung (J-Splif) – were all “high school buddies,” Roh says. The trio was later joined by DJ Virman.

Roh traces FM’s origin to a “Big Tower computer with a big monitor,” which Nishimura, Choung and Roh used to record their first song.

“It just felt good,” Roh says. “It was one of those things where I couldn’t tell you the reasons, but it was just something I really enjoyed doing.”

Together, Prohgress, Kev Nish, J-Splif and DJ Virman represent Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Filipino ancestry, respectively, in the Asian-American community.

“We’re very grateful that the Asian-American community is supporting us,” Roh says. “But who cares what you look like? People just care if they can identify with you or not.”

Roh says he doesn’t have a particular Asian-American role model. Instead, his inspiration comes from a more universal element.

“It’s not like I’m picking Asians and asking, ‘Do I want to be like him?'” Roh says. “It’s more, ‘Do I like the music he’s making?'”

Roh describes FM’s music style as “cross-genre,” evidenced by the group’s combination of electro and hip-hop.

“It’s about mixing all kinds of talent,” Roh says. “We’re very inspired by the sound of L.A. There are tacos, Korean barbeque and Ethiopian food. Just all that mixed together is what we’re about.”

Roh attributes his nickname, Prohgress, to the British band Lostprophets. And while the group comprises four different Asian ethnicities, Roh says their name was actually based on one of their first songs.

“‘Far East Movement’ was the name of a terrible song,” he says. “It was just about mixing all different types of music together, about downtown L.A. lifestyle. When we were rehearsing it one day, it just felt really good rapping it.”

Roh’s favorite part of performing? Interacting with the crowd and their fans.

“Before we play a show, we always ask, ‘Who’s feeling fly like a G6?'” he says.

Almost on cue, Roh politely excuses himself from the phone call to take a picture with one of his fans. Through the background of the call, a camera click is barely audible, followed by an enthusiastic “thank you” from the girl.

“We do get recognized more, and that’s cool,” he says nonchalantly. “But we’re just grateful that people enjoy our music.”

Although Far East Movement has come a long way from playing Celebrasia – “Like a G6” is now played generously on the radio and in clubs – Roh and his group members don’t let fame get to their heads.

“I don’t know if I have advice,” Roh says. “Just be creative and if it doesn’t work out, life goes on. Keep good people and a support system around you. I honestly think we just figure that out as we go along.”

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