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South Korean-born Raleigh native Sangstaa making waves for North Carolina

By Jose Mujica

May 28, 2020

“I’ve been moving way too fast to see the signs.” Sangyeok Lee (a.k.a. Sangstaa) admits in his latest video, “No Control.” At 24 years old, the Korean-American rapper-singer has no shortage of tumultuous times to look back on. As a young kid, he and his family immigrated from South Korea to Raleigh, North Carolina, and describing the transition as simply a “culture shock” would be an understatement.

Sangyeok Lee a.k.a. Sangstaa

Far from wealthy, Lee’s family ran a small cleaning business and had moved to a lower-income area of Raleigh. Growing up in a tough environment, a young Sangyeok began to develop a bit of a pugnacious reputation as one to never shy away from a fight, either in or out of school. This was where he was first exposed to hip-hop, a novel American genre to which he instinctively gravitated to. With a pianist mother and a guitarist father, musicality ran deep in the family. His parents encouraged and nurtured his artistic expression, so Sangyeok’s confidence in his voice was cemented at a young age. It was after a friend’s parent caught him fighting again in the neighborhood that she jokingly called him Sangstaa, a play on his name and since he was “a lil gangsta who can sing.” The name stuck.

Now living in Los Angeles in order to focus on recording music full-time, Sangstaa’s Raleigh roots run deep in his music. One of his latest singles, “Durty Lemonade,” pays respect to his long-time friend and fellow Raleigh artist, the late Cloudy Nueve, who passed away in 2019. Sangstaa revealed how Cloudy Nueve’s death deeply shook him. Determined to keep Cloudy Nueve’s legacy alive, Sangstaa continues to use the distinct recording techniques they innovated, aiming to attract a larger audience to spread the love and knowledge of Raleigh’s arts and music scene. “We’re able to turn this pain into something beautiful,” Sangstaa said. “I know I’m going to make it. This is what I was meant to do.”

Sangyeok Lee a.k.a. Sangstaa

Sangstaa uses it as fuel for his music, revolving around themes of internal battles, resisting temptations and staying focused within a whirlwind of emotions. Whether it’s love, life, loss, the hunger for success or the perils that come with it, Sangstaa is able to illustrate these themes in catchy earworm melodies. 

“No Control” is very much in Sangstaa’s wheelhouse, as he reflects and laments on how quickly his life has changed over the past several years almost, as if he had no control over it. Despite the shifting seas of life, the artist’s single-minded focus on his craft is the North Star guiding him onwards to success. “Everytime I focus on myself, something seems to go wrong. Can’t slow down, ain’t no way I can afford to get out of my zone,” he said.

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Paranoia, Sangstaa’s latest full-length album, which was released in early 2020, shows a more polished version of the singer’s signature R&B/rap hybrid sound, and as the name implies, delves deeper into the artist’s psyche. Featuring Brody J and Trent The HOOLiGAN, Sangstaa feels it’s his best work out so far, as his upcoming project promises to be a more romantic concept inspired by his current relationship. 

Watch the music video for “No Control” by Sangstaa directed by Kevin Smith (@KosmicShots).

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