Ryan Yoo, who makes introspective, uncompromising music as boylife, has never boxed. Growing up in a Korean-American family in southern California, he tried taekwondo and kendo, but didn’t step into the ring. Still, the sport fascinated him. “Two people come into a ring and give permission to hurt each other,” he says. “That’s insane.” It’s also, he explains, a useful analogy for the struggle at the core of his art. “The goal of boylife is to be very naked,” he says. The pressure to posture, to conform to some stereotypical American masculinity, or the prejudiced constraints of Asian-American maleness—Ryan has squared off against those things for years. You can hear the struggle in the juxtapositions in his music, the way he moves between genres. The tension between a blunt line sung in an R&B croon against beautiful acoustic guitar, or a manic chopped-up sample making way for pummeling drums and percussive language.

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