Rapper-poet DANIEL LEE returns to Stanford to clear his name

Daniel Lee, photographed by JoonAng Daily
Daniel Lee, photographed by the JoongAng Daily

DANIEL LEE, better known as the rapper-poet “Tablo” of the Asian hip-hop group Epik High, was on campus last week with a crew from the public broadcasting corporation MBC in Seoul, South Korea. The visit is part of Lee’s continuing effort to prove that he attended the university and to clear his name.

Lee, who graduated from Stanford in 2002 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, has been the subject of Internet rumors among so-called netizens who accuse him of lying about his Stanford degree. (Stanford magazine wrote about Lee and his soaring career in the July/August 2009 issue.)

The rumors continue despite the efforts of TOM BLACK, university registrar, and TOBIAS WOLFF, the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor in English and Lee’s former teacher. Both Black and Wolff released letters in early June verifying that Lee was, indeed, a Stanford graduate.

Black expressed his frustration with the rumors and the volume of email his office received from Korean netizens in an interview with the English-language JoongAng Daily in June.

“My document has a legal bearing here in the United States,” Black was quoted as saying. “I could go to jail if I were to falsify the document. The ignorant mob, I’ll call them, is just spewing poison for no reason.”
Despite those assurances – and threatened legal action by Lee – the netizens persist. In fact, officials throughout campus continue to be contacted by members of Korean Web forums asking questions about Lee, his credentials and his citizenship, among other subjects.

Black was among those interviewed by the MBC broadcasters on Thursday and had the opportunity to talk further with Lee, 29, who says the controversy has been exhausting and discouraging for him and his family.

“I think Daniel is doing very well,” said Black. “He feels very reassured. He saw how we received him – as did the film crew – and he found friends that knew him even while walking around.”

During the conversation, Black said he discovered that Lee worked at the CoHo during his time at Stanford, making sandwiches and handling the cash register. “His poster is still on the wall in Tresidder of the time when he was performing in a play on campus,” said Black.

“I had an intimate exchange with Daniel about Korean society and his music,” Black said. “I asked him if he had any controversial lyrics, perhaps themes of reform. He said yes. He said he was speaking, through his music, of that which he had learned at Stanford. For example, he said that sexism is so ingrained in his society that they aren’t even aware of it. Thus, he was touching some raw nerves. No wonder he has detractors!”

The continuing controversy and the prevalence of cyber hate campaigns have been big news in Seoul.

Wrote the chief editorial writer at JoongAng Daily, “Tablo’s travails are a story of the Internet in Korea, and how a country that likes to call itself the most wired place on earth has created, with fiber-optic cables, networks and rampant animosity, an out-of-control character assassination machine.”