Thursday, February 21, 2013

Korean Rap and Hip-Hop

Have you ever heard of the Korean group Garion (가리온)? Probably not-- but that group probably brings out the best rap in Korea. I was reminded of them while reading an article by Um Hae-kyung in the journal Popular Music discussing Korean hip-hop and reterritorialization. I discovered them several years ago shortly after this video was released (and I'm sure you'll see why it caught my eye).

But as I was reading Um's article I decided to check Youtube for any newer releases. I found several. One is this beautiful piece demonstrating the members' serious musical skills-- djembe, guitar, and piano are played to accompany the rap.

One of the things I appreciate about Korean rap is that in general it can have the same sorts of messages as non-rap songs. It is not more sexist, more profanity-ridden, homophobic, or full of hate. There are conventions in rap that appear in Korean rap as well, such as posturing about who is a better rapper. But I find it so hard to listen to most Western rap, because it can curdle my stomach. And in Korea, as my friend Hyun wrote in a conference paper that she really should publish, rap and hip-hop even appear in (family friendly) private karaoke rooms called noraebang (don't knock it till you've tried it).

One of the points that Um makes that I think would be surprising to most of you who aren't acquainted with just how odd things can be in Korea:

Since its inception in the early 1990s, South Korean hip-hop has always been associated with the middle-class, educated, moderate and religious (e.g. Christian) elements of society. The rappers’ religious orientation is often made public by including their ‘Thanks to God’ in performance or on their CD sleeves. In many ways, as with Korean punk (Wise 2008, p. 97), Korean hip-hop embraces aesthetic and ethical themes rather than political controversy (2013: 59)

Quite different from the US rappers, right?

While I'm at it, I might as well introduce some other groups~ Hyydra has a few songs I really appreciate, like this one.

But as Um makes clear, it is hard to know quite what is "underground" or "indie" in Korean music, and what is mainstream. Um writes:

The artistic and technical merits of underground hip-hop and their associated authenticity are duly recognised by the mainstream music industry as the key market strategies for this musical genre. Therefore, the underground label ‘YG Underground’ was launched in 2005 by YG Entertainment to create ‘alternative’ music within the mainstream framework. The five-piece boy band Big Bang was created in 2006 through a reality talent show by YG Entertainment. Since their debut, the individual talent and creativity of the band members – for example, G-Dragon as a confident producer and rapper – has been continuously promoted. In fact, the boundary between the underground and ‘overground’ or the mainstream and indie is not always clear. It is sometimes down to the self-identification of the artists rather than the stylistic features or the characteristics of their music consumption (2013: 57). 

That is why I feel justified to share a few other videos.

Historically speaking, Seo Taiji (should be Taeji) was one of the most important figures to the development of rap and hip-hop in Korea-- this is one of his most famous songs. I know the video is a little dated-- it was the early 90s.

In discussion of Korean hip-hop it's impossible to avoid mentioning Drunken Tiger (mentioned in Um's article, too, of course). This is a newer release, about three years old now. I happen to like the video, so here you go. There is an English version, too (as both members of the group lived or in one case were even born in the US).

I can't resist sharing this one, too. I love this video by San-E because it's hysterical, and if you listen carefully you'll hear him dissing Drunken Tiger, too. He criticizes the plastic surgery and autotune of other K-Pop performers, but he's a JYP Entertainment performer-- in other words he has major backing and this video (his first release) had a ton of money poured into it and he was thoroughly promoted. There are just so many good parts of this song-- I particularly like where he sings "These days even my grandma knows hip-hop. "Rap? You just have to talk fast. (he repeats himself even faster)." "No!"

But the hype around San-E died out pretty fast, whereas one of the YG Entertainment performers, who is also a member of the group Big Bang, G-Dragon, is relentlessly promoted and widely respected (at least he purportedly writes some of his songs). (He's mentioned above in the Um quote). 

Personally I am willing to love his craziness, but I have quite a few problems with the above video and some of his other work as well. I'm more partial to his band-mate and label-mate, T.O.P.

But I'm going to leave you with this song, which really is three different artists coming together briefly in a way that I think is just too fun (and there is SO MUCH to analyze in this video). I particularly like Gilme, the woman in this group, Clover.

I know there are a lot of other rappers I could mention-- and while I appreciate Miryo (Brown Eyed Girls) and Amber (okay, I only really like Amber from f(x) because of her image), and understand that Verbal Jint is pretty talented, I'm sick of working on this blog post which is distracting me from what I really need to do. So if you are worried that I missed a really talented person (yes, I know who Dumbfoundead is), please tell me in the comments section so I can check out your favorite.


Unknown said...

if you are talking about korean rap, then i don't think you can miss Baechigi, Leessang, Epik High, Dynamic Duo, Supreme Team who all have really good material. Baechigi made it big this year with their song Shower of Tears, which I really enjoyed. I myself am a fan of Big Bang and 2NE1 music and I found it really interesting that their label was founded by a member of Seo Taeji and the Kids.
In regards to female rappers, member of Drunken Tiger Tiger JK's wife, is considered the Queen of Korean Hip Hop Yoon Mi Rae (aka Tasha). An interesting thing about her which I really appreciate is the fact that she really embraces her culture, being half Korean half African American which did receive a lot of flack from the general public but I think that they have learnt to accept it now, her song Black Happiness outlines this nicely. The two of them have formed a group with another great rapper Bizzy called MFBTY. They only have one song, Sweet Dream but it is a gem. In YG, 2NE1's CL does a pretty good job, her recent song The Baddest Female showcases her rapping I guess but I enjoyed her features in previous projects, like with Teddy and G-Dragon in his song The Leaders and YGMA's song What.
I do see the trend in many of these rappers who for a lot of them, their music carries great profound messages which is hard to find unless you dig deep into American hip hop. Many idol groups nowadays also do use raps and hip hop to give off an arrogant feeling, similar to that of G-Dragon in One of a Kind, but hey, anything is better than discriminating slurs that don't make sense unless you have the lyrics in front of you.
PS. Just a personal favourite that I still like to this day: Outsider's Alone. Outsider is probably on of the fastest rappers in Korea if not the world, with a record of like, 24 syllables a second which he showcases in the song. One of the things in the song that I really like about it is the fact that it incorporates orchestral instruments in it, which is not usually something you hear in hip hop...

CedarBough said...

Thanks for the detailed reply, and sorry I was so late to see it. I am spotty and inconsistent at my blogging at best! I'm really glad you pointed out some good stuff so that other people stopping by can be referred to it (and also hear another point of view)

CedarBough said...

Thanks for the detailed reply, and sorry I was so late to see it. I am spotty and inconsistent at my blogging at best! I'm really glad you pointed out some good stuff so that other people stopping by can be referred to it (and also hear another point of view)