It’s impossible to put Justin Park into a box.
Park, known better by his stage name Azure, is one of the latest rhyme-spitters to grow from the Bay Area streets, one whose reach within the region’s music scene is immeasurable.
In addition to releasing Leap Year in 2016 and Godspeed this past July, Park is a member of the Oakland-based trio Down 2 Earth. But Park’s discography doesn’t stop there — in 2017, he released a collaboration with fellow Asian American rapper Kero One, simply titled Kero & Azure.
Park’s range only begins on the microphone. At the peak of popularity of the HBK Gang — a group that has produced big names such as Iamsu!, Sage the Gemini, P-Lo, Kehlani and a plethora of others — Park served as the group’s DJ during the HBK Forever Tour in 2013.
While Park was responsible for orchestrating a hyphy-oriented sound during the tour, he and DJ Agana have collaborated to make Don’t Sweat It Vols. 1, 2 and 3, hourlong mixes that feature a soulful brand of hip-hop.
For Park, the name “Azure” transcends any one particular point in time.
“Azure is a twist on the word, which actually means the color of the sky or the hue of blue,” Park said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “At the time, I wanted something to represent me as a whole, not just me in the present, but me in the present, me in the future. I thought about what is constant in your life. To me, the people around you will change, but the sky is always the same sky.”
Park stays true to the name; he embraces the underground, counterculture brand of rap he grew up on, and that dedication to the sound becomes apparent in his discography.
A self-proclaimed “art kid” during his time at Pinole Valley High School, Park often spent his free time drawing and dabbling in poetry. One of the main catalysts of his music career, however, was a freestyle circle on campus.
At the urging of a friend, Park decided to test the water that is spitting off the top and hopped in the circle. While he admitted with a smile that the freestyle was “wack” — “about having a girl in the shower or something,” he laughed — he never forgot the unique feeling that the freestyle induced.
“I hadn’t felt anything like that,” Park said. “My sense of a rush was very minute. You’re young, so there’s only certain things that can give you that kind of rush, that authentic kind of rush. That’s when I really started writing.”
Park began to further cultivate his newfound passion at Youth Radio, a Bay Area program for high schoolers formerly based in Berkeley, which has since moved to Downtown Oakland.
It was there that Park, along with most of HBK, took his adoration of the rap game and began to learn the fundamentals, such as making beats, the basics of sampling and how to use audio programs, all of which are key fixtures in the production of Park’s music today.
While Park does bless the microphone, his range in the realm of hip-hop extends far beyond composing and spitting rhymes.
Before making the jump to rap, Park doubled as a DJ during his time in college, playing in clubs and fraternity parties. Park now spends most of his time on the mic instead of behind turntables, but those gigs provided a new perspective when it comes to crafting rhymes.
“One of the things I got from DJing was the ability to hear a song and feel it,” Park said. “I think anybody that calls themself a real DJ, that’s a core thing to have.”
Park’s background as a DJ was not a separate entity from rapping, but rather, they were two sides of the same coin. And when it comes to the songwriting process, Park’s time as a DJ has taught him one crucial skill: patience.
“When I was writing, I would wait until the best shit came to me,” Park said. “I wouldn’t just write whatever words were coming to me. This is the reason why a lot of my early years, I would take hours (to write). I still take hours sometimes.”
In an era of hip-hop and rap in which the trap genre has a borderline monopoly at the top of the charts, Park has stayed true to the brand of rap with which he grew up, one that he loves.
“I’m part of that underground counterculture, and I’m always going to be a part of that,” Park said. “That’s just what I relate to.”