Where did it all start? When did hip-hop music make its way into the limelight and become a Korean music staple? Let’s go back thirty years and see...
A 90s trend
During the 1988 Seoul Olympics, communities who had been living in areas of America, like Los Angeles, brought their knowledge of R&B, hip-hop and soul to Korea. In the beginning, it was predominantly rock musicians who dabbled in rapping – for example, Hong Seo-beom with "Kim Sat-gat," Deux, and Seo Taiji and Boys, who featured rap verses in their 1992 hit, "I Know" (Nan Arayo).
The 90s saw the emergence of many MCs in the underground circuit, including MC Sniper, Defconn, Joosuc and groups like Garion (including MC Meta), Master Plan (with Vasco), and Uptown (with Tasha, now of MFBTY). This pushed ‘hip-hop’ as a standalone genre into the mainstream gaze. Of particular note is Drunken Tiger, with members Tiger JK (currently of MFBTY) and DJ Shine. With DJ Shine living in New York and Tiger JK having spent his teenage years in Los Angeles right in the thick of the hip-hop movement, and also through the 1992 Los Angeles race riots, the duo brought an unadulterated American hip-hop style over to Korea and paired it with their mother tongue as a form of social expression and to demonstrate the harmony possible between the two ethnic communities.
Verbal Jint changed the Korean hip-hop game again in 2001 with "Modern Rhymes," where he significantly revamped rap rhyming schemes in the Korean language. Following this, hip-hop-oriented artists such as Dynamic Duo, Leessang, Epik High, and Supreme Team adopted and adapted these rhyming schemes, establishing themselves as key performers in the hip-hop genre.
Reality sells: Mainstream boost through rap survival shows
The most recent growth of K-hip-hop can be attributed to two rap survival shows: Show Me The Money, and Unpretty Rapstar. Show Me The Money premiered in 2012, calling upon the underground hip-hop community and rapper wannabes to audition for a chance to join the team of a more well-known MC in the industry, and battle it out for the winning title and cash prize.
The competition format and versatility of the show (with guest features, collaboration tracks between unlikely artists, and new songs available in music stores each episode) was a hit and quickly saw more seasons being produced, alongside a ‘female-only’ version of the show. Unpretty Rapstar gave a platform for female MCs who were sometimes disadvantaged in a male-dominated scene.
It’s K-hip-hop, not K-pop
For people not familiar with the music that comes out of Asia, there's a stereotype that all music form South Korea sits under the ‘K-pop’ umbrella. But, just like Western music, Asia's music covers a wide range of genres; rock, ballads, indie, metal, reggae, R&B, and hip-hop.
A large portion of BIGBANG, Block B, BTS, and MONSTA X tracks are musically inspired by hip-hop roots and former underground rappers are moving to ‘idol’ labels (such as Epik High).
The growing consciousness of Asian hip-hop has opened up more collaboration opportunities in the West. CL has worked with Diplo and Lil Yachty, G-Dragon has collaborated with Missy Elliott, BTS' Rap Monster with Warren G, Krizz Kaliko and Wale; and R&B singer DEAN has created tracks with Eric Bellinger and Syd Tha Kid – just to name a few.
Australia’s thirst for K-hip-hop
The demand for hip-hop has reached Australian shores. Jay Park performing in Melbourne and Sydne,y to promote his album ‘New Breed’ in 2012, was one of the first K-hip-hop concerts in Australia. Following that, rappers Beenzino and DOK2 from ILLIONAIRE Records made an appearance in Sydney. Hip-hop artists of Show Me The Money fame, Microdot and BewhY, performed in Sydney in 2016. And earlier this year, C-JAMM (also of Show Me The Money fame), held a mini-concert in April.
For the first time in Australia, there will be a multi-artist K-hip-hop concert in July. The RAPBEAT SHOW, coming up on July 1, 2017, features a line-up including Jay Park, Zion T., Loco, Heize, and VIXX's Ravi.
It’s never been a better time to delve into the world of K-hip-hop!
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