When you think about gangsta rap, plenty of names come to mind. NWA. Dre. Snoop. But here’s one that you probably don’t come up with right away: Wan Joon Kim, the longtime proprietor of the Compton Swap Meet. Kim died last week at the age of 79, but he played an important role in the distribution of early gangsta rap.
Wan Joon Kim opened a swap meet stall in the now-famous suburb of Compton in the mid-1980s. He sold some of the earliest work of those stars at a time when few knew them and fewer stores would sell their music.
…Wan Joon Kim didn’t intend to become the godfather of gangsta rap; in the beginning, his son Kirk says, he just wanted to support his family. Kim escaped North Korea on a fishing boat, and the family eventually wound up in the U.S. in 1976. Kirk Kim says at first his parents sold a random assortment of stuff at swap meets to make ends meet. Then: “Somebody was selling hip-hop CDs at one of these swap meets. My dad saw an opportunity. He saw these big lines in front of there, and he said, ‘I’m gonna try this.’ “
Last year, the Los Angeles times noted the significance of Kim’s place in hip-hop history given the racial hostilities that led up to and were inflamed by the L.A. uprisings of 1992. Kim says that his strategy was simple: just be nice. “Most of my customers were the gang-bangers and drug dealers, so I built a friendship with them,” Kim told the paper.
Rapper Bobby Wilson put it this way: “[Kim’s] in the heart of Compton.”