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Beatboxer Kenny Muhammad struggles to find justice in Korea

Beatboxer Kenny Muhammad
Beatboxer Kenny Muhammad
Anita McKay
Written by Anita McKay

An acclaimed American beatboxer has been left homeless in South Korea and struggling after his employers allegedly failed to honor his contract.

Kenny Muhammad, also known as the Human Orchestra, arrived in Seoul in June 2014 on an entertainment visa (E-6). After a year of negotiations between his lawyer in the US and the agents representing him in Korea he signed what he thought was a binding contract.

“My lawyer put together a good contract that is fair for everybody but they don’t do that over here,” Kenny told the Korea Observer.

Instead of the good deal he was expecting he said his agents consistently violated their contractual obligations, stole personal items from him, as well as photographs and videos from his computer, and caused him to lose his apartment in New Jersey.

“They had one mask in New York, but once I got to Korea I saw the mask fall off,” he said.

His signed contract, which was seen by the Korea Observer, states that his agents would make “a reasonable effort” to book Kenny on a consistent basis. However, Kenny said that he was never shown a schedule and booked his first performance himself.

From June to August he only performed twice through bookings secured by his agents, Gag Concert on KBS and Star King on SBS, both of which aired in August. Kenny said he never saw the contract with the TV stations and never received payment for his appearances.

“Right after I finished SBS they disappeared on me,” he said. “I couldn’t communicate with them. It was always a one-way situation. I had to wait for them (to contact me).”

That same month his relationship with his agents worsened when he discovered a bag containing papers with his name and some USB keys in the back of his agents’ assistants’ car. He took the files and found them filled with personal photographs, videos and contact information that was stored on his personal laptop.

“It was a straight violation. It woke me up to the reality of who I was dealing with,” he said.

That same night he noticed that information had been deleted from his email and YouTube accounts, some of which he has been able to retrieve. He later discovered the sim card from his phone had been removed.

Kenny filed a larceny charge with Songpa Police Station, but so far nothing has come of the situation.

His contract stated that he would receive a monthly payment of US$8,000 as well as 60 per cent of net earnings generated from the use of his talent. Kenny said he had to fight to get his August payment. A turning point came when he noticed he didn’t receive his September payment and he decided to seek legal help.

After finding a lawyer later that month who agreed to take his case for 1 million won($920), he said they signed a retainer contract and agreed that he would pay the fee at a later date. Kenny said the lawyer, who told him he had a “slam dunk case” against his agents, wanted to charge them as criminals.

A few weeks later he was told that the firm could not represent him because he hadn’t paid the retainer fee. Kenny said he was using his US bank account which had recently been blocked after he withdrew money at an ATM machine in Seoul. He said he made them aware of his situation.

“I even showed them my account and showed them the money was there. I just had to wait for me to get access to it.”

His relationship with the law firm ended after a heated argument with the lawyer.

During October Kenny said he had little to no contact with his agents and in early November he returned to his apartment in Jamsil, Seoul, which was provided for by his agents, to find that he had been evicted.

“I was having coffee at Starbucks and I had this piercing feeling – go back to the apartment,” he recalled. “I rode my bike all the way back to the apartment and I got in front of the apartment building and all of my bags were outside. Everything was out in the front.”

His agents’ assistant told him they would put him up in a hotel for five days and then move him into a new apartment. After one night Kenny was told by the hotel manager that he needed to pay if he wanted to stay longer. He was not able to contact his agents.

After staying with a friend in Dubai for the next month he returned to Korea in early December to fight his agents. He had one last meeting with them, who contacted him via email while he was in Dubai, in a bid to get what he is owed. The meeting didn’t work out and he found himself homeless.

“I was struggling,” he said.

While trying to be cautious with the little money he had Kenny found himself spending the night in a coffee shop.

“I would go in there, I’d maybe have enough for one small latte … I would just stay on my computer,” he said.

He spent the majority of the next five weeks sleeping in different saunas. Through the help of a friend he found a cheap room in a “goshiwon” where he has been staying since early January.

He again sought legal help in January but couldn’t afford the 3 million won upfront fee the lawyers requested. However, a lawyer from a labor law office in Gangnam reviewed his contract in January and concluded that it was hard to claim Kenny was an employee or that the contract he signed was an employment contract and suggested that he take a civil case against his agents.

While Kenny received three payments from his agents for June, July and August it has been spent on supporting his family back in the US, paying off some debts and bills, and supporting himself in Korea.

He is now living off residuals from previous work that leaves him with about $400 per month after paying his rent. He says he is owed payments for his two TV appearances, his September salary and money for living expenses.

beatboxerThis whole experience, he said, has cost him his apartment in New Jersey and personal items he kept in a storage unit in the US because he couldn’t keep up with the monthly payments.

He is still suffering from the effects of an incident in July which resulted in his knee needing medical attention. Even though his contract stated that medical expenses would be covered, he said his agents refused to pay and he hasn’t been able to receive the proper treatment he needs.

While Kenny did a visa run to Japan three weeks after he arrived in Korea, he said he never received an Alien Registration Card and does not know his ARC number. He said his agents would not provide him with their business registration details that immigration required. The stamp in his passport says his visa is valid until August.

Kenny describes this experience as traumatic and says that it has taken a physical and mental toll on him.

“It’s been really rough. There have been times, like moments of giving up, where my spirit got depleted. I got depressed where this thing almost killed my spirit.”

While he can get a flight home through the US embassy he has decided to stay in Korea to try and fight his agents and warn others who are thinking of coming to South Korea on an entertainment visa.

“I didn’t know they were bad people,” he said. “When I got to Korea they pulled the mask off their face and I saw who they were.”

For those who want to provide legal assistance to Kenny or help our investigation into his case may contact Lee Tae-hoon via his email, editor@koreaobserver.com.  

The following is the link to Kenny Muhammad’s Wikipedia page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_Muhammad

About the author

Anita McKay

Anita McKay

Anita McKay is a contributing reporter for The Korea Observer. Her articles have been featured on Groove, including "I Sell Sex and I Have RIghts Too," and "The Business of Buying a Bride."

  • KENNYMUHAMMAD

    The Names Of The Bad Fraudulent Criminal Korean Agents is “Sang Choel Kim” & “Yang MoonSung” Who were also the Crooked Managers for Eugene Park! I Don’t Know Why This was Not Mentioned In This Story. These two must be exposed at all cost!!!!! These are cultural Criminals!!!

    • markman

      Jesus man ever hear of defamation? The laws in Korea are much stricter than in the US. There is no way they could name them in this article and risk being sued.

      • KENNYMUHAMMAD

        I understand you Markman thanks for informing me of that. But they will ultimately be exposed to the highest degree not only in Korea but America and the the whole world,world wide! I have to warn all of my Black American Independent artist and musicians of the like of these Korean Agents.

  • KENNYMUHAMMAD

    “Sang Choel Kim” & “Yang Moonsung” Were literally attempting to enslave me as an artist in Korea! An that I vehemently Would not allow in any shape form or fashion, So I had to fight like Hell against their unjust criminal, fraudulent, oppressive and suppressive action. These two give a whole new name to Vulture Culture Criminals!

    • Tae-hoon Lee

      Thank you Kenny for sharing your story. All Koreans are acutely aware of the enslavement of violinist Eugene Park, who you used to perform with, by his agents. I hope Eugene is being fairly treated and you guys will be able to perform together soon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfAfUJnw1xw

  • KENNYMUHAMMAD

    Though I really appreciate this article and story being done on me and exposed on the Korean Observer By Anita Mckay and the hours that she took out to travel (Twice) to meet me in coffee shops and restaurants, to get my full story, But unfortunately This article is only a basic layout or blueprint of my story, it’s missing so many details of what the Korean Agent (Sang Cheol Kim of “Retin”) and Business Partner (Yang Moonsung) Did to me, I did over 6 to 7 hours of interview recording time with the interviewer and writer Anita Mckay. A lot of important things were edited and left out! Why? This is not the full story! The names of the Korean Agents who I did my contract with, were left out. Why? They must be exposed, their names should not be disclosed and omitted from this article. Why should these criminals be protected? They owe me $27,000.00’s Plus my payment and percentage of money I did not get from my nearly 30 minute performance on SBS TV StarKing and my performance on KBS Gag Concert as well as the damages of losses, Homelessness, pain and suffering and abandonment!! I want to make sure people know who they are and what they did. I don’t want this happening to and another Black (“African American”) Artist in America or any other Artist no matter what Creed,Class, or Color they are! Here is a Picture of me and my former Korean agent “Sang Cheol Kim” and a picture of my former assistant(Mr.Kim’s Business Partner) “Yang Moonsung”.
    Also here is a pic Of Me on SBS “StarKing”

    • Tae-hoon Lee

      Thanks for your comment, Kenny. As you are aware, Anita and I are reviewing concerned documents and will continue to pursue the story. We will make sure to address the issues that you have raised.

  • KENNYMUHAMMAD

    Here is a picture of me on StarKing.

  • KENNYMUHAMMAD

    Kenny Muhammad On SBS TV ***STARKING***

  • KENNYMUHAMMAD

    KENNY MUHAMMAD PERFORMANCE AT R16 B-BOY CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS @ OLYMPIC PARK(OLYMPIC PARK) JAMSIL KOREA!

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNzPm2ZpY1U&w=560&h=315%5D

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