These days, it seems nearly impossible to be a true musician and maintain mainstream appeal. The odds against it are even more staggering if you happen to be an Asian rapper facing all the real world pressures of a college kid. Yet MNOVA (born Howard Lee) has put out music that manages to come across both refreshing and accessible to his listeners.

Born in Seoul, Korea, raised in North Carolina, the 22-year-old has been active in music throughout his entire life. His passion can be traced as far back to his childhood when he learned to play the piano (like many other ambitious Asian five-year-olds). He continued to play the piano, being introduced to jazz music in high school, and even earned All-State Jazz Band distinctions. Around the same time, Howard's older brother had been managing a hip-hop group called C4. What began as casual recording sessions and small performances with the group turned into a serious passion and continued dedication. MNOVA was born.

Upon entering the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, MNOVA found ways to channel his music and also develop as an artist. He hosted his own radio show on WXYC student radio and formed a live hip-hop band called MetaForce. As if that didn't keep him busy enough, MNOVA also joined Pi Lambda Phi fraternity and began to perform live shows in the party scenes across the campus. And another small note, he also obtained his business degree and managed to secure a full-time banking job on Wall Street upon graduating in the winter of 2010.

With almost seven months to wait before officially entering the real world, MNOVA decided to work on his music and release a two-part album - one that would be eventually titled State and Soul. The album title is derived from the Greek philosopher Plato's most profound work, The Republic, which discusses not only political constructs of the state but also the intrinsic desires and tendencies of the human soul. The album serves as a 21st Century update to the historical document. Furthermore, as the name indicates, the album is split into two sides: Stateside and Seoulside. Having lived half of his life in the U.S. and the other half in Seoul, Korea, MNOVA shares his personal narrative by comparing and contrasting the two cultural identities and lifestyles. Characteristically, the tracks in Stateside will be all English and Seoulside will be all Korean.

Teaming up with the prolific producer Simtraks (Camp Lo, Pete Rock), MNOVA covers a variety of topics, ranging from the anxieties of a nine-to-five job ("Great Escape"), the ups and downs of relationships ("Only Girl", "Last"), to celebrating excessive drinking ("SOTB"). Musically speaking, State and Soul delivers a versatile repertoire of smooth jazzy tracks, club anthems, and K-pop electro music. Featuring producers and collaborating artists include XV, Joe Tann, Tim Lee, J-choi, Mechi, Tay Minah, and more.

MNOVA recognizes the challenges of an Asian-American musician vying for exposure in a heavily saturated market. But despite the rarity, there has been a steady rise of Asian-American artists (see: Bruno Mars, Far East Movement). MNOVA hopes to leverage this opportunity and channel music that will transcend cultural differences and preferred musical tastes. "Basically, I wanted to cover all grounds. My music is for everyone, whether you are Asian or American, familiar with hip-hop or not. The songs are very accessible, energetic, and of course, eco-friendly."

State and Soul is a digital album containing seven songs, all of which will be available as free downloads for the first month of release, and two bonus tracks. MNOVA shares his perspective, "Hip-hop has changed and grown to something bigger, and I want to showcase that in this album. I enjoyed making these songs, but sharing them with the people will be the part I find most rewarding.