Zachary Klein's first album, written under the moniker Charlie Park, the Grad, delves into the search for identity after adoption, anger at the current political climate, and anxiety.
The 10 songs on "Charlie Park," published in May, pull from a wide variety of stylings, with rapid-fire rap featuring as often as mellow vocals. Klein's struggle to find identity as a Korean man adopted by white parents features heavily -- but listeners without the same background should find much to appreciate in the album's subject matter.
Klein, currently based in Rochester, will return to the Cleveland Institute of Music for his final year of his Master's degree.
507 caught up with him about producing an album in quarantine and diversity of sound.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
How did you get into making rap music?
I began to produce my own music after I had surgery for cancer (in November of 2019). I'm an upright bassist by trade and the surgery was invasive enough to where I couldn't play my instrument and I needed an outlet for expression, especially since I had a lot of mixed emotions at the time. I've been writing lyrics and poems for a long time now. I've had times where I've experimented with rap and slam poetry, but this is the first time I've really taken hip-hop vocals this seriously.
"V I R U S" seems pretty timely on a first listen -- when were you writing all of the songs on this album? How quickly did it come together?
The song "V I R U S" is my response to certain individuals referring to COVID-19 as the "Wuhan" or the "Chinese" virus and discusses how I, as an Asian American person, feel affected by the association of the Asian body and a viral infection. I wrote two of the songs on the EP in early January and then a majority of the music during the Stay-At-Home order when my work was shut down.
How did you select your rap name "Charlie Park, the Grad?"
The name Charlie Park comes from two places. I wanted to pick a name that had meaning behind it, and I immediately thought of how, in the Vietnam war, the Viet Cong were referred to as "Charlies," coming from the abbreviation "V.C." or in the phonetic army alphabet, "Victor Charlie." Charlie is a semi-derogatory term for Asian people, and I was called that a lot as a kid and growing up through high school. I wanted to use that name to represent my Americanized stylings and, since it's a common English name, to denote my adopted side. Park is my Korean last name from before I was adopted. Together it's really close to Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophone player, and since I have roots in jazz, I thought the name was cool.
What did you hope to accomplish from an artistic standpoint?
I'm proud of the diversity of sound I bring to the EP. "An. Atk." is a song about an anxiety attack and the buildup to peak anxiousness, with the lyrics bouncing back and forth between trying to talk someone off the ledge and propagating the anxiety. It's a really different style than a song like "Gotcha," which has a more modern hip-hop vibe. I think the song I resonate with the most on the album is "Tattooed Makeup." It's one of two songs that made it to the EP from the initial January recordings and lyrically, I feel like it's one of the most "me" songs on the project.
What do you hope listeners take from this first album?
I hope people can find a way to connect with and enjoy my music. A lot of my lyrics discuss how I feel as an inter-racially adopted person, and the separation from how I feel I am (because I was raised by white parents, feeling like a white person) and how I look (very Korean). I hope people hear my story and understand where I'm coming from. Music is really all about expression and communication, and this project is really me expressing myself in an unfiltered, informal position.
Above all, I hope people can just enjoy it. I vibe with it a lot!