Never still, never complacent, the sky’s the limit for Pinnacle TheHustler
“My message, everything that I’m about, is progress, forward movement, and not being where you were two weeks or two months ago. Get out of complacency. This country can feel like a bubble. It’s like you get used to having your apartment provided; things are easy, and then you have to get back out into the real world.”
Jason Waller, aka Pinnacle TheHustler, came to Korea as an English teacher like many of us do, but he literally hustled day and night to hoist himself out of a profession that didn’t inspire him. It has been four fast years since he arrived in Korea and he has well and truly carved a niche for himself as a hard-working and talented DJ, performer, emcee, radio host and CEO of his own entity Planet Hustle.
A few days before his permanent departure from Korea, I met up with Pinnacle outside of exit ten at Gangnam Station, his stomping grounds for the past few years. It was one of those rainy days when people use their umbrellas as makeshift weapons. While waiting for the photographer to arrive, Pinnacle and I shared a laugh as mine nearly maimed an unobservant stranger’s eye. We noticed a sign for a kitty café nearby and I contemplated doing the interview there. I could just imagine Pinnacle in the magazine, this talented rapper cradling a cute wee kitten. Jokingly, he was all for it. My first impressions of Pinnacle TheHustler were just that of a super funny and charismatic guy. Over the four years that he has been living in Seoul he has managed to make a huge impact on the Korean Hip Hop scene, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
“The recruiter that was responsible for bringing me to Korea didn’t give me ANY of the necessary information that I needed upon my arrival. As soon as I stepped into Incheon airport I got hustled by a taxi driver who told me that the taxi ride from Incheon to Bundang wouldn’t be that far. Fail. Once I actually got to my job site I then found out that I wouldn’t be paid for about a month and a half from my start date, and I didn’t have much money to my name at the time. Double fail. Upon finding out that I’d be broke for the next month and a half, I was also informed that housing would not be provided to me and that I’d have to look for and pay for an apartment by myself in a country where I did not speak the language. Triple fail.”
He was homeless, broke and unable to communicate with those around him. Needless to say, Pinnacle’s initial experiences here were not positive at all. So he hustled to pick up the language and to meet the right people in the Korean music industry. It was through one of those connections that he got his first gig in Korea at a Lamborghini party.
“It was a really posh event, just Lamborghini owners and their nice cars. They looked like skittles, a bunch of different colored Lamborghinis parked in the lot. The reception to my music was really good, which I initially thought was interesting. Every time I stepped on stage the crowd was always rocking with me.”
Later, when Pinnacle started performing in front of diverse crowds in clubs, he realized that he had to simplify his music—not dumb it down, but just make it easier for his multi-cultural audiences to process.
“The thing I really enjoyed about performing here was the different colors that I would see in the audience, literally people from everywhere. At first it was a bit daunting; people have different tastes, experiences and cultures. Everyone grows up in different environments which shape what they like and dislike. So when performing in front of all these people from different countries and backgrounds, I thought how can I affect such a diverse group, but I did it.”
Pinnacle’s numerous shows during his years in Korea enabled him to hone his craft. He has been compared to Nas, Twista, Jay Z, Eminem and Lupe Fiasco but he has a distinctive flair and style of his own. He raps about subjects that are personal to him but skillfully manages to deliver his words in a way that is general enough so that everyone can relate to the message.
“After my shows here, we would get all these different types of people saying how they enjoyed it. My favorite compliment was when someone said that they didn’t even like hip hop but that they loved my show. It meant a lot, coming from someone who didn’t already have a positive view of what I was about to do, but they still got into it.”
At the World DJ Festival this year Pinnacle and his band were in the middle of performing on a huge stage in front of a crazy crowd of 5,000- 8,000 people. It started pouring down with rain, there was no shelter and Pinnacle was shouting to the crowd ‘fuck the rain.’ Everyone was flipping out, and it was one of those shows when Pinnacle was in rare form, jumping on and off the stage and having a rad time.
“I jumped off the stage, and then went to come back up, I looked up at the stage and it just looked like a big ass slip n slide, you remember those things? And I’m just like you know I bet I could just slide across the stage. Why did I think that!? So I get a running start I’m like yeaaaaa, I dove on the stage expecting to slide, but I went nowhere. I just hit the stage and my shoulder popped out. So I was just laying there for a minute, like, I can’t believe I just dislocated my shoulder. The crowd was freaking out, I just sat there for a second then managed to pop it back in. I took a private moment to literally pull myself together, and then I picked up the mike and went back on stage.”
At the time Pinnacle was caught up in the moment, but when he looks back on it now, he sees it as a physical test that demonstrated his commitment to the craft.
Other artists in Korea that are committed to the craft and whom Pinnacle rates highly include his friend Vasco.
“He’s a good friend and is also a really dope artist. He is very passionate about the type of music that he puts out; it’s real raw underground hip-hop.”
He also admires Jinbo who is a popular r&b artist, as well as Zion.T, Tiger JK and Tasha.
“There are a lot of Korean hip hop artists doing well now.”
As well as being influenced by talented Korean artists, life in Korea has expanded Pinnacle’s perspective on his music, his country, and his actions.
“Being out here has made me better understand my relationship with the world. I don’t want to pull the race card, but obviously being black kind of affects my day to day life. In America you are only relating to things that you see everyday. When you step outside of America and you see how other people view you, even though they might not know you but just how they look at you or your culture, it gives you a different perspective on how you should act. Wherever I go, I know that I am kind of an unofficial ambassador for all black people. If I do something stupid, people here are going to be like, ‘see, that’s how they are.’ So it made me conscious and responsible with the type of content that I put out and how I conduct myself in public.”
When I asked Pinnacle what he would miss the least about Korea he was quite hesitant to express himself, but I could pretty much guess what his answer was going to be anyway as these feelings seem to be recurring ones amongst a number of foreigners residing here.
“I would say the umm…the social interactions that can just make your life difficult. A lot of times you run into people that have um… their thought process is different, these people can negatively influence your day sometimes and so yea. I guess what I am saying is the xenophobia and racism is what I am not going to miss.”
What he is going to miss though, in vast quantities, is the food.
“I love Korean food, especially samgyeopsal and dak galbie. Me and my family, how we do back home is BBQ anyway.”
He’s not too sure about scoring great kimchi back in Cincinnati though.
“Once you’ve had the good authentic stuff, nothing compares.”
Although Pinnacle is looking forward to seeing his family, he doesn’t plan on being in Cincinnati for long periods of time.
“My mail is going be going to Cincinnati and I will rest there, but I plan to be on the go a lot; I will hit different states in America and Asia and I’m trying to work on some countries in Europe.”
Pinnacle is working on a new album right now; it’s close to being finished but probably won’t be released until spring or summer. He has also just released a single called “Sunrays” (featuring Jay Eure) and has almost finished filming the video. The next single he plans to release is called “Hero” which features Vasco and is one of Pinnacles favorite songs.
Pinnacle got to play a number of his favorite tracks on air as the first black male radio personality in Korea. He was an integral part of Night Vibe the only radio show in South Korea dedicated solely to urban music.
“I will still be doing the Night Vibe Radio show from the states via Radio Invasion. I’m really happy to make that move since Radio Invasion have thousands of listeners!”
Pinnacle won a TBS talent contest that led to multiple appearances and a weekly guest spot on The Steve Hatherly Show. He worked that guest spot for over a year and made it as solid as he could. This led to him being offered a position on a weekend show which—of course—he hustled to make successful. Eventually, he was taken off the weekend radio show and was put on air seven days a week.
Pinnacles’ popularity isn’t limited to his radio or DJing work though. He has close to 9,000 likes on Facebook and has played at packed gigs all over Seoul. He isn’t worried about difficulties in transferring his current popularity from Korea to the States or to the world.
“We now live in a world without boundaries—it’s really not difficult. Psy is popular because of the net; it’s the same with K-pop and J-pop etc. It’s a matter of marketing and promotion. I’ll keep on DJing, which I love, and also I’ll be doing marketing services for my business Planet Hustle. I’m excited that I can have my own entity that I can work at. I don’t care about being famous. I just want to fund myself and my passion and be able to take care of my family.”
Jason Waller came to Korea as an English teacher, as many expats do, but it was in his blood to hoist himself out of a profession that didn’t inspire him. He worked day and night over four fast years living in Seoul to carve a niche for himself as a hard-working and talented DJ, performer, emcee, radio host and CEO of his own company, Planet Hustle — living up to his self-coined moniker, Pinnacle TheHustler.
By first impression, he is a funny, charismatic guy. His music has been compared to Nas, Twista, Jay-Z, Eminem and Lupe Fiasco, but he has a distinctive flair and style of his own. In the middle of last year, Pinnacle packed up his Seoul home and returned to his native Cincinnati to expand his reach in the West. But the city would be hard pressed to realize it, as he’s been back and forth some half a dozen times since then.
“My mail is gonna be going to Cincinnati. I will rest there, but I plan to be on the go a lot. I’ll hit different states in America and Asia, and I’m trying to work on some countries in Europe,” he says in an interview during one of his stops late last year, a few days before setting off stateside again. “I’ll still be DJing, which I love, and also I’ll be doing marketing services for my business Planet Hustle. I’m excited that I can have my own entity that I can work at.”
This attitude is a reflection of what Pinnacle is all about: Once he decides that a barrier can be broken, he’ll trample it down and set off to the next. When he outgrew Korea and realized it wasn’t so far from the U.S. or China or even Italy, there was nothing stopping him from going global.
“My message, everything that I’m about, is progress, forward movement and not being where you were two weeks or two months ago. Get out of complacency,” he says. “This country can feel like a bubble. It’s like you get used to having your apartment provided; things are easy, and then you have to get back out into the real world.”
He owes his broadened perspective largely to the 2008 leap he made to Korea, where he has come to see how he fits into the bigger picture. “(Living here) has influenced me as far as expanding my perspective on a lot of things,” he says. “When you change your perspective on life, you change your perspective on your art. Being out here has made me better understand my relationship with the world.”
And a lot of that perspective, he says, has to do with being one of the few black people in a mostly homogenous country. Leaving the U.S. and assimilating in Korea forced him to see the pedestal that he and other black people are put on, but he has embraced his responsibility of being a role model, especially as one of the handful of blacks in the public eye here.
“When you step outside of America and you see how other people view you, even though they might not know you but just how they look at you or your culture, it gives you a different perspective on how you should act,” he says. “Wherever I go, I know that I am kind of an unofficial ambassador for all black people. If I do something stupid, people here are going to be like, ‘See, that’s how they are.’ So it made me conscious and responsible with the type of content that I put out and how I conduct myself in public.”
But he sees that Korea’s diversity is growing. One thing he values about performing here is the variety of cultures represented in any given audience; even though everyone came from different places, they can still come together and enjoy the same music. His favorite compliment came from someone who didn’t even like hip-hop, but says they were still able to enjoy his show. Keeping his diverse audience in mind, he says, has also taught him to be relatable.
“At first it was a bit daunting; people have different tastes, experiences and cultures. Everyone grows up in different environments, which shape what they like and dislike. So when performing in front of all these people from different countries and backgrounds, I thought, ‘How can I affect such a diverse group?’ But I did it,” he says. “My shows in Korea have really helped me to hone my craft. I can still rap about subjects that are personal to me, but I can deliver them in a way that is general enough so that everyone can relate, in some way, to the message.”
Pinnacle was recently back in Seoul to perform on New Year’s Eve at the U.S. Army’s Yongsan garrison, and held his release party a few weeks later for “Sun Rays,” his newest single, which features Jay Eure. His next single, “Hero,” features Korean underground rapper Vasco and is one of his favorite songs, he says.
His popularity shot up at TBS Radio from being a regular guest on “The Steve Hatherly Show” and cohosting with Elliott Ashby on “Night Vibe,” the only radio show in Korea dedicated solely to urban music. Pinnacle’s popularity isn’t limited to his radio or DJing work, though: He has close to 9,000 likes on Facebook and has played at packed gigs all over Seoul. He isn’t worried about difficulties in transferring his current popularity from Korea to the States or to the world. For the foreseeable future, Pinnacle plans to hop between Cincinnati, Seoul and all the other places where he’s making connections.
“We now live in a world without boundaries. It’s really not difficult. Psy is popular because of the net; it’s the same with K-pop and J-pop. It’s a matter of marketing and promotion,” he says. “I don’t even care about being famous. I just want to fund myself and my passion and to be able to take care of my family.”