The Rise of Korean Rap Culture

Rap has been a part of the Korean music scene for quite a while now. Korean Rap & Hip-Hop came to be in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Now, 30 years later, Korean Rap is breaking boundaries and gaining fans all over the world.

Pictures courtesy of Highsnobiety

1989 was the year when Rap first appeared in Korean music. In that year, a groundbreaking Korean Pop song that involved certain elements from Rap music was released. The song was called “Kim Satgat” and was performed by the Korean Rock musician Hong Seo-beom.

“Kim Satgat” is considered to be the song that started the Korean Rap movement but really it was Seo Taiji and Boys who made rap commercially viable during the 1990’s. The band was heavily influenced by early 1990’s American Rap and Hip-Hop and became successful really fast. Members of the group became real idols in Korea and showed to a lot of young people that in Korea rappers can also be stars.

Now almost 30 years later, building upon the worldwide awareness of K-Pop, Korean Rap is emerging into the mainstream. There are a range of different styles and trends from which fans can pick their favourites. Some examples are Jazz-Rap and Trap, and even the latest global rap trends like Mumble-Rap are making their way into Korean Rap. There is literally something for everyone. There is also mainstream, radio-friendly music but with a quick search, all the music nerds out there can find underground artists as well. There are also more and more collaborations between Korean and American artists.

Rap seems to be moving towards K-Pop and big Korean Pop Stars like G-DRAGON are also being influenced from other genres. In a way that is the beauty of Korean music. It doesn’t have boundaries. It isn’t scared to be different and it does not fit in one mold.

A big thank you for the worldwide success of Korean Rap is owed to Mnet’s Rap competition show “Show Me The Money” which aired for the first time in 2012 and became an instant hit. Now after 6 seasons it is not only appreciated because of its entertainment value, but also because the series is credited with increasing the Korean public’s interest in Hip-Hop. Each season of the series is different, but basic idea of the show is that there are rookie rappers who go head to head in different kind of challenges. At the end, only one rapper remains and he or she becomes the winner. The rookies are guided by more experienced rappers who serve as producers and mentors and also as judges of the show. “Show Me the Money” has a lot of similarities with other famous television singing competitions like “X-Factor” and “Pop Idol”. Usually, the winner of the show gets heavily promoted and rises to stardom in Korea.

Korean music in general is no longer aimed only at local markets but it also attracts a lot of fans from all over the world. But what has made Korean Rap & Hip-Hop music so popular that, in 2016, the Korea Foundation cited Korean Hip-Hop as a new trend in the Korean Wave? One of the reasons can be the subjects and issues that Korean rappers address in their lyrics.

The themes in Korean Rap vary from politics to American media and trends in pop culture. The rapper Keith Ape said, following in an interview earlier this year,I get inspired from my experiences. For instance, ‘Swanton Bomb’ was obviously inspired by Jeff Hardy from WWE, which I used to watch a lot as a kid”.
Rapper Keith Ape. Pictures courtesy of Highsnobiety.

In a way the topics in Korean Rap are very similar to American Rap, varying from social and political issues but including aspects of Korean culture. And alongside more serious subjects, Korean rappers also know how to rap about money and the honeys. After all, rap is nowadays more about having fun and expressing yourself and your feelings through music.

Korean Rap is now bigger and growing faster than ever before in the Western world. Some of its appeal is due to the fact that there is something genuinely different about Korean music, specially Korean Rap music. Even when you get the usual trap beats and boom bap sounds, there is still something original to its sound. In a way music is very much like the rest of Korean culture. It is kind of familiar, but at the same time it is also very different, exotic and intriguing.

Korean Rap is not going away anytime soon. There seems to be no end to its success and growth, thus it will be fascinating to see what kind of turns the culture will take in the future. For a long time now , Korean music has been taking influences from its American counterpart. It would not be so surprising though if the rest of the world would some day start to take notes from their Korean colleagues if they are not doing so already.

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