If there is one thing age is not an indicator for, it’s talent. 17-year-old Lee Seunghoon, more commonly known as TRADE L, is proof. The South Korean rapper is the youngest member of H1GHR MUSIC’s eclectic lineup of artists and a rising star thanks to his one-of-a-kind ambition, musical abilities, and earnesty. Over a year after signing with the Korean hip-hop label, TRADE L finally released his long-awaited debut mini-album, Time Table – The Trip, in late November.

EnVi had the opportunity to ask TRADE L about the six-song EP, his growth in music, and goals. Here’s what he shared. 

Navigating Personal Growth In His Debut EP 

In 2021, TRADE L acquired over 13.4 million streams on Spotify, proving his status as an up-and-coming global star. This comes as no surprise. After all, he won last season of High School Rapper, released numerous collaborations, and finally dropped his long-awaited debut solo album. When Time Table –The Trip came out, TRADE L teased his ability to tackle diverse genres. Not only did he explore new music styles, but this album was a test of his lyrics and story-telling abilities, capturing different moods with each track.

The EP plays like a coming-of-age story for the young artist. TRADE L shares various feelings through each track. “Time Table – The Trip is about the young kids who do not have an adult or mentor to guide them in the right directions,” TRADE L explained. “It’s a unique story for myself, because everyone finds their own roads and directions differently.”

His EP leads with the tracks “Direction” and “Tango”—a show of his multifaceted artistry. While “Tango,” featuring CAMO and Ourealgoat, is a confident love song on a strong trap beat, “Direction” is more subtle, with an introspective meaning. In his sing-song rap, TRADE L overcomes uncertainty and feelings of aimlessness alongside well-known rapper GARY

While the lead singles are no doubt impactful, the B-sides are no joke either. His album opener has a more traditional style of rap over an addicting Spanish-style guitar. He recounts his wins and gratitude, making himself the protagonist of this song. Among the strong lyrics, is a shout out to his mentors. He raps, “I was recognized by CHANGMO and Park Jay Bom at the age of 18.” He continues, “Even if you were born again, you couldn’t do what I’ve done.” 

TRADE L discusses a complicated romance in R&B track “I HATE U” alongside soloist JAMIE. He closes the album with slower songs  “Linger On” and “Light Out,” expressing some of his shortcomings and desire to do better.

To reflect the album’s overall theme of overcoming hardship, the cover art features a picture of the young rapper in mid-air. “There’s only one way to go and that’s up,” TRADE L shared. “That was the concept of my EP cover as I’m flying up into the sky.” 

Time Table – The Trip is his mini-album, yet the artist credits fans for this project as well. TRADE L thanked fans, stating, “This album was a collaborative project between me and my fans. It’s a piece of memory like a diary that we wrote while growing up together. I couldn’t have made this album without all of you guys. <3”

Becoming “TRADE L”

Music is an artform that TRADE L holds very dear to himself. His journey began in middle school, where he was facing depression, needed an outlet, and music was there. “I found solace in music and it gave me strength to overcome my depression,” TRADE L said. “That was when I discovered my passion for hip-hop because I thought it was the best way to express my emotions and feelings.”

Eventually, the young artist adopted the stage name “TRADE L” for his musical persona. The “TRADE” part came about when he and his friends were brainstorming potential names. The “L” is short for “Lee.” 

TRADE L began posting his music on SoundCloud, where he built his initial following. Thanks to his increasing popularity, TRADE L was discovered by H1GHR MUSIC’s founder and former CEO, Jay Park. The then 16-year-old rapper was swiftly signed onto the label in June 2020.

Even though TRADE L is now signed onto H1GHR MUSIC, he reflected on his SoundCloud days and acknowledged his new privilege that comes with being part of an established label. For underground artists, there are less resources available to help with music, branding, and exposure. However, now, he has support for each part of the creative process. TRADE L continued, “I’m just so thankful to be surrounded by such talented artists. It’s an honor to be able to get advice, talk about worries and receive support and encouragement from them.” 

Although his debut EP came out in November, that was not his first time releasing music under H1GHR MUSIC. TRADE L previously participated in the label-wide albums H1GHR: RED TAPE and H1GHR: BLUE TAPE. The young rapper also featured in a number of tracks, including fellow High School Rapper 4 contestant D.Ark’s “FEEL MY FEEL.”

Another notable project was his entry for the Korea Tourism Organization’s “Feel The Rhythm of Korea” campaign. TRADE L released a hip-hop track “View (Suncheon)”  to compliment a video illustrating the beauty of Suncheon. The single re-interprets the song “Sae Taryeong.”

While TRADE L is still relatively new to music, he feels like he has grown tremendously since joining H1GHR MUSIC. “I honestly have a hard time listening to my verses on the H1GHR MUSIC compilation album. I can’t help but cringe because I think I would do my verses much differently now,” he reflected. “It’s amazing to look back and see my development as an artist. I can hear and feel the difference in my voice now than eight months ago. I want to be an artist who carries their own weight and helps others at H1GHR MUSIC.”

Telling His Story through High School Rapper

Last spring, TRADE L had the opportunity to flaunt his talent by participating in the intense rap competition show, High School Rapper 4. He competed with other teenagers in numerous rap and composition challenges to see who would be the last man standing. 

Although he joined the lineup of the show with experience, it was no walk in the park for the youngest H1GHR MUSIC artist. He was constantly pushed by his mentors throughout the program to perform better with each stage. Due to the demanding nature of the show, TRADE L revealed that there was short preparation time between performances. Working on short time frames was a challenge, but it was not anything he could not manage. However, an even more difficult challenge was harsh comments and criticism from online communities. 

“There were many people that had a hard time reading those comments. It was painful to read those and to see their reactions. To those people who hide behind a computer screen saying that stuff, one day it’s all going to come back and bite you.”

In spite of the challenges, TRADE L emerged victorious in April 2021. The 17-year-old artist swayed the hearts of viewers with his compelling piece, “Ooh Wah,” joined by rappers CHANGMO and WONSTEIN. He won 10 million won and the chance to drop a single

TRADE L had many other valuable experiences from competing on the show. He got to make his parents and fans proud by winning the competition. He also established many meaningful relationships with people like CHANGMO and Way Ched, who mentored him along the way. 

In fact, some of his newly-found companions joined him for his post-competition haircut. In the final episode of High School Rapper 4, TRADE L promised to shave his head if he won. Reluctantly, he kept that promise. His hair was shaved off by mentors Way Ched and CHANGMO as well as some of his fellow contestants in the “WE H1GHR” YouTube series. 

Overall, TRADE L is grateful that he was able to tell his story through High School Rapper 4. It gave him both a wider audience and platform on stage. 

On His Muses and Creativity

Finding a muse is not hard for the rising star. TRADE L shared that a lot of inspiration for music comes from the mundane. He spends a lot of time watching movies, series, documentaries, artist interviews, and simply trying out new things in his daily life. Some of his “go-to” platforms are Disney Plus and Netflix. 

While TRADE L takes his music very seriously, he revealed that he tries not to let goals and objectives guide his process. Instead, he approaches music-making playfully like a hobby. 

“If there’s something I want to say, I just say it and vice versa. I found that thinking too much is counterproductive to my creative process,” TRADE L said. “I take things one by one, thinking of my music, album and projects. The fame and money will come as long as I continue to put out music that best represents me.”

Even so, the young rapper does have ideas he would like to try. One of his goals is to release a short film. TRADE L stated, “I want to shoot it in Paris and use my music for the background music. I also want to write the script myself and be the leading role.”

In addition to creating his own film, TRADE L expressed interest in shooting his own music video for a love song created by him. Though these goals feel more distant, his ultimate goal is and will continue to be to “make good music for everyone to listen to.”

“In 10 years, I’m going to be a much bigger artist and I want my legacy to represent that.”

Hope For The Future

Over the past few years, TRADE L has matured into the artist we see today. In spite of his young age, TRADE L is rapidly improving with every track he works on. Each challenge he has faced and has overcome through trial and error. He highlighted his turbulent journey, sharing that he hopes others can learn from his experience.  

“I want young artists in the future to look up to me, TRADE L, as an artist. Although people identify me as a hip-hop artist, I mainly listen to pop and R&B. In 10 years, I’m going to be a much bigger artist and I want my legacy to represent that.”

Something that TRADE L repeatedly emphasized throughout the interview was his growth mindset. He is an artist that is always looking for ways to improve and grow, whether it is through his music or his transition into adulthood. His quest for growth is one of his many charms, and is a testament to his effort over the years. 

Some of his motivation comes from his supporters. He formed a sense of community with his fans and firmly believes that he has grown up alongside them. “To all my fans, from high school students, college students to adults, we are all going through the same struggles, whether it’s exams, homework or work. So let’s continue to support each other and help each other grow.” 

Never forgetting to give his thanks, the 17-year-old expressed his utmost gratitude for the positive messages he receives. TRADE L shared, “I look forward to 10 years in the future and to look back at how much I’ve grown. Every DM, text and comments of encouragement that these fans leave me are all part of my development and I’m so happy to read each and every one.”

Graphic by Alex.

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