Taking the Road Less Traveled

My editor has a pretty strict rule: no coffee shop interviews. But what other option do I have when, on the unseasonably cool Thursday afternoon I’m to meet with Correy Parks, he’s already at Kafe Kerouac—where you could tell he’d been for hours, in his dojo, just crafting fresh ideas for new music and sketching them on his laptop.

“I love coffee shops,” he told me as I sat across the table from him—another thing my editor insists we avoid. “I like being around people, but I don’t like having to interact. I can sit and feel the energy and be a part of this, but know why I’m writing this and be in my own zone.”

Parks is a buzzing rapper in this city—and beyond, getting nods on MTV.com, XXL, and The Fader—but he’ll never let that title standalone. If you’ve ever heard any of his catalog up to this point, you’d know why.

The 27-year-old half African American, half South Korean Parks has had a different journey than most. He was born on an Army base in Kentucky and spent time in Illinois and Germany before moving to Columbus 15 years ago. A child of the Milk N Syrup scene, the period during which Fly Union and King Vada (formerly L.e for the Uncool) dominated hip-hop culture in the capital city, the much younger Parks began as simply a fan. And while he’s not technically from Columbus, he considers Ohio his home and becomes upbeat when its rising vitality is discussed.

“I think Ohio, more than anything, shaped who I am,” he proclaimed, donning an Ohio Against the World t-shirt and OffHigh jacket of yesteryear importance. “Ohio is such a larger picture than other places I’ve lived. It doesn’t force you to be this one thing. It’s a mix of backgrounds, and we’re the true definition of what the U.S.A. is. It allowed me to be who I want to be.”

When it comes to music, Parks never saw himself as anyone of melodic aptitude early on. He’s only been doing it for a few short years, which is why his 2014 debut Lock and Key EP was somewhat of a surprise to not only Columbus hip-hop enthusiasts, but also people who knew him well. Parks had a musical family, but never considered himself musical. It took a personal tragedy to really get him to do what he now loves, as the death of a sibling became both a point of inspiration and tribute.

“She was very musically inclined. She could sing,” Parks said with a footnote annotating that his older sister Angie, who died three years ago from lupus, was the superior musician in the family. “She had a very big appreciation for music. A lot of what I listened to was because of her. So for her to go for it for a little bit but then get sick and pass, that was the main thing to get me going. It’s always been an inner thing mixed with her motivation.”

Parks’ latest release and strongest body of work to date, The Road Less Traveled, was released in March and completely produced by Dev Draper (also known as Wunderful Musick). Beautifully all over the place, it sees Parks spinning some of his most personal yarns within the eight-track project. He begins by equating the album’s title with “The Road Not Taken,” and recites part of the Robert Frost poem of the same name. From there, he moves on to detail experiences you can tell are very real. Tales of heartbreak, professional failure, and family tragedy consume the project until “Dreaming,” the final track and perhaps biggest insight into how he plans to move forward.

“That was me just getting everything off my chest,” Parks said of the song, which is lifted by a sampled hook about why few comprehend a lot of his pain. “I’ve got to really express to people what I’m doing. Everything else was where I was before, but ‘Dreaming’ is where I’m at now. And to me, that’s most important because people have no choice but to understand where I’m coming from.”

“I get the greatest joy out of working with people who I know are passionate,” Draper said, of he and Parks’ latest work. “The talent’s obviously going to be there, but when you’re really passionate about it you’re going to move a certain way, and that’s what he does.”

It’s unclear what Parks’ musical output will look like for the remainder of 2016, but he hasn’t ceased from creating. He does plan to put out a full-length debut LP at some point, but it may be preceded by another shorter project as he continues to grow. That growth has even more recently been accompanied by creative expansion. Parks’ April collaboration with singer Meg Paulsen on the song “I Think They Know” admittedly brought him out of his comfort zone at first, but taught him more about the boundless road he continually describes in his music.

“I think he’s found that confidence to be open to trying new ideas,” Draper relayed. “He’s starting to get a different feel for what he’s going after and what he wants the world to hear.”

“I think my greatest purpose is to spread this message of unity, and finding yourself through your passions,” Parks said in closing. “It just happened to be that I was blessed with this vessel of music and being able to speak my message through it. And I love it.”

For music and more information on Correy Parks, visit: correyparks.com.