Is this the best time for Korean Hip Hop?


There are some genres that seem to transcend culture and status and hip hop is one of them.

As long as someone has something to say and a beat, hip hop will never die.

As previously mentioned the Korean Music industry seems to be a one trick pony, with K-pop being its show piece. Other genre’s merely got a look in or no attention at all.

Recent reports out of Korea have stated that the legendary Hongdae area of Seoul, famous for its clubs and its indie music atmosphere is suffering.

It seems that not that many indie groups can make a successful living as they cannot get the same recognition as their K-pop cousins. Better yet, they cannot get the same level of funding as their record companies are smaller.

It seems that that being an alternative musician/artist in Korea is not a great career choice unless you enter the idol system.

Hip Hop in Korea has not always been a good friend of society, unless it is sanctioned and put through a K-pop filter.

Countless Idol groups have a dedicated ‘rapper’ who says a few lines to increase the ‘street credibility’ of the song. It doesn’t help that when you Google the words Korean Hip Hop the idol group Big Bang appear.

What does this mean for bona fide hip hop artists who have something to say that isn’t about falling in love or relationships?

Only a few groups have managed to gain massive success e.g. Epik High and have gone on to be respected by those in the underground and commercial world.

However other groups have suffered from censorship and from society and industry backlash.

Industry legends Drunken Tiger suffered from censorship and even abuse from members of society (racial abuse directed towards Yoon Mi Rae a.k.a Tasha due to her mixed black American and Korean heritage). In their music they dealt with the gritty and realistic face of Korea and many fans could relate to the issues they spoke about.

They are now regarded as being the grand masters of the hip hop scene in Korea along with groups such as Leesang (who gained their fame for their ability to localise the hip hop genre in Korea with their strong basis in Korean story telling).

But what now for the current industry?

There are so many groups and record labels that have emerged and created their unique sounds.

Many people in Korea are beginning to feel tired of K-pop and the saturation of idols it produces (it seems there are new groups every week) and are looking for alternative music.

When I think of the hip hop scene at the moment I am reminded of artists such as: Crucial Star, Verbal Jint, Mad Star and others who have managed to carve a niche for themselves in the industry.

Of course they do not have the same resources as their idol counterparts but the movement is growing.

As previously mentioned in my previous article, G Dragon’s latest album features hip hop fraternity members Dok 2 and Tablo of Epik High. Although G Dragon stands out of the crowd in the idol sphere for his eccentricity when it truly comes down to it he is still lacking compared to true hip hop artists.

So his need to supplement his rapping ability by attaching two key figures could be his attempt to show off his hip hop status and also bring in more recognised rappers into the forefront of the industry,

Not a bad move by the Dragon. But the question remains do we need more of this in the industry?

Essentially it works, the underground rappers get the attention they need from the industry and they can showcase their talent. However it also takes away their freedom to make their own decisions and creativity.

We all know that if a sound or a group is hugely successfully the K-pop industry tries to replicate it. Remember the success of Super Junior’s Sorry Sorry and the identical singles that followed.

It is a double edged sword and a fine balance is required.

With more and more musicians and hip hop acts coming out and the turn away from K-pop by a large population of the Korean public I sense a change is going to come.

This could be Korean Hip Hop’s opportunity to not only get itself noticed but to retain its identity and creativity,

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