Roy Choi

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Chef Roy Choi changed the landscape of LA’s food scene with his Korean taco track Kogi and tells us about five hip hop artists that changed his life. He calls Rakim the “lyrical master of all time”, credits Public Enemy with “speaking the truth” and says 2Pac reflects the lighter side of his personality.  Roy is also behind the restaurants Chego, A Frame and Sunny Spot and is currently serving up his unique cuisine as part of the Mike D-curated series at MOCA, Transmission LA: AV Club.
For More:

1. It's Like That- Run-DMC
2. Dope Man- N.W.A.
3. Rebel Without A Pause- Public Enemy
4. I Ain't No Joke- Eric B. & Rakim
5. I get Around- 2 Pac

Anthony Valdez: Hi I'm Anthony Valadez and I'm here with Roy Choi, the chef behind the Kogi food trucks, and restaurants Chego, A Frame and Sunny Spot. He's a rising star on the LA food scene and a big music fan so we're excited to hear what he has in store for us as part of KCRW’s Guest DJProject. Roy, how are you man?
Roy Choi: Hey, I’m doing great Anthony.
AV: Awesome. What'd you bring for us today?
RC: When you guys told me that I had to pick 5 songs it was tough, because I’ve been through so many different communities. I was raised on oldies and classical music. I played trombone, went through a jazz phase. I moved to Orange County in high school and I got deep into heavy metal and I was a deep rude boy and rockabilly as well. But then there was one thing that changed my life and that was Hip-Hop. The moment I heard Run DMC -- “Hard Times and “That's the Way It Is” -- it shocked my whole world.
Song: Run DMC – “It’s Like That”
RC: The first time I heard it, I was visiting a friend. It was on vinyl and he put it on and it was that beat, that first beat you hear from “It's Like That”. It was a moment where…I had an up and down life growing up and it was the first time where I felt like someone just gave me a pound, like they knew what was up.
The same things that I was seeing and the same consciousness that I was having was being told to me again through a beat and I could just feel it, and my body was moving. Even though I had gotten deep into heavy metal and deep into ska, this was like putting all the ingredients together.
AV: Hmmm. Ingredients?
RC: Yeah.
AV: That was Run DMC with “It's Like That” selected by Chef Roy Choi as part of KCRWs Guest DJ Project. You mentioned ingredients and you mentioned beats, kicks and snares. How does it inspire you when you cook, you create things?
RC: To work in a kitchen it has to be like being in a casino. You have to be up all day all night and never get tired. But I think on a creative level the way food comes to us as cooks sometimes and the way we smell it, sometimes certain small things trigger a whole recipe or a whole development of a dish. It could be the way you hear the sound of the tortilla hitting the griddle. I believe… I'm not a musician, but I believe it’s the same probably for musicians. You go through life's ups and downs, you hear things, you have heartaches and then you are able to transfer those through the instruments you have.
AV: So what's your next song?
RC: We going West Coast on the next one. We're picking N.W.A – “Dope Man”.
One thing unique about my life -- and even you can see it today with the Kogi truck -- wherever I tumbled into, I wasn’t ever a spectator. I was always within it. World Class Wrecking Cru was playing and at that time, outside, I used to go out and have a smoke and then there was always a cypher, a small cypher going on. I was like ‘Yo, whats going on over there’ and there was this kid with a curl and it was Cube. This is when they were coming up and he was always creating these cyphers at whatever concert I would go to.
AV: For our listeners who don’t know what a cypher is, can you let them know?
RC: When everything around you comes closer and closer and closer together. It’s where the rhythm and the creativity of your life just comes together almost like you’re reducing a sauce. It's raw with no limitation, no worrying about anything around you, just giving it straight from the essence of the soul. There was nobody rapping like Cube.
Song: N.W.A. – “Dope Man:
AV: So we're going to take a listen. This is N.W.A with Dope Man.
AV: That was N.W.A with Dope Man selected by Roy Choi an amazing chef. Part of KCRWs Guest DJ Project. What's next?
RC: Its Public Enemy, man. If rap changed my life and hip hop changed my life and turned me left, Public Enemy took it up to the next level.
The first time I heard Public Enemy it was just a consciousness, just the truth. The complexity in the rhyme, the metaphors, every verse and every word was so powerful. None of it seemed cliché. Even though it was political it didn’t seem like rhetoric. It was speaking the truth.
Song: Public Enemy -- “Rebel without a Cause”
RC: For me this song, “Rebel without a Cause”, just turned the lights on to the lies, the segregation, the oppression of life, what we do to each other.Chuck D, the S1Ws, Terminator X and Flavor just coming out and turning the lights on and saying we aint taking it no more.
AV: That was Public Enemy with “Rebel Without a Cause” selected by our guest Roy Choi part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. What's next?
RC: So now we're going into lyrical flow. I don’t care what anybody says, the lyrical master of all time is Rakim. Even though him and Eric B split up, when they were together they made some of the best jams in history.
Song: Eric B and Rakim – “I Ain’t No Joke”
RC: This song, “I Ain’t No Joke”, came at a time where I was going through some stuff. I wasn’t that funny of a guy at that time. Things weren’t hilarious to me.
Growing up in the family I did, and not excelling in school...I was young, you know. I was just so passionate -- like that’s not how it could be or should be. Like that’s just the way life goes…but to me it was like ‘nah, that’s not the way life goes’. He has lines in there where he says ‘I'm not a comedian’. For me, that really spoke to me. I'm older now but sometimes, when I'm in the kitchen, I ain’t no joke.
AV: In the food or in the attitude?
RC:  The attitude, the food, the flavor. But yeah, I still got that fire.
AV: And you smile now just for the record.
RC: Yeah, I smile a little bit now.
AV: We're going to take a listen. This is Eric B and Rakim, “I Ain’t No Joke”.
AV: That was Eric B and Rakim with “I Ain’t No Joke” selected by Roy Choi as part of KCRWs Guest DJ Project. This next one, Tupac -- “I Get Around”.
RC: Pac had so many different levels to him. He was never a gangster. He was a skinny little kid, 165 maybe 155. He was a thespian actor. He lived the role but he was never really a hardcore dude.
The first time I saw him I was at a Queen Latifah concert at the Palladium. It was Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature and Pac was opening. I remember he was going around the whole place partying, having fun. I feel like “I Get Around” really you see Pac all the way. He was just a clowner, man, you see it in the video and you hear it the voice and you hear it the song. This really to me represented Pac. For me it was a chance to, from “I Ain’t No Joke”, to smile a little bit and clown and laugh.
AV: That was Tupac with “I Get Around”, selected by Roy Choi part of KCRWs Guest DJ Project. I'm looking at all these tracks and there's a lot of fusion, there's a lot of different energies. Let's talk about the fusion of the food.
RC: I think if you look at the food, and especially this music, and then the other music that’s been in my life, you see its not just fusion and things put together. It's really a deep thread in the soul of my life and the people around me and our communities and what we went through in LA. I call our food LA food. I never ever, even from the beginning, thought of it as Korean food or Mexican food. That was a phrase and an easy sound bite that a lot of people around us used to be able to comprehend what was going on. It was like my placa, it was like my bomb on the wall of what I went through in LA. It was my mural, but instead of paint, my mural had green onions and ginger.
AV: I'd eat your murals any day man. Roy thanks so much for joining us at
RC: Thank you, it's been a pleasure.
AV: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online go to and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes