Most outsiders believe the Korean music industry can be summed up with a single word: K-pop. However, avid listeners of Korean music would also know that the music industry in Korea goes far beyond just K-pop alone. The Korean music scene offers many other genres and features talented big names, with collaborations across the various genres creating some of the most sensational tracks in modern-day Korean music.
Korean rap and hip hop is one such genre; especially popular among locals, the local rap scene has seen many talented individuals pop up as they eventually carve out a name and niche for themselves. There are also plenty of reality shows to help aspiring rappers gain their footings in the industry, such as Show Me The Money and High School Rapper.
Korean culture plays a huge role in shaping the local hip hop culture; societal issues are frequently discussed in a candid yet poetic manner through the avenue of rap. The lyrical content is one of the most important aspects of Korean rap; the best rappers of the decade have mastered the balance between lyrical expression and a creative palette of various musical elements. If you’re keen on lending your ears to some of these talented musicians, here are five of the most interesting rappers to look out for in Korean hip-hop.
This list starts strong with Nafla, a Korean-American rapper. His first full-length album, ANGELS, was released in 2017 and featured his fellow labelmates Bloo and Loopy. His main audience also enjoys 90s hip-hop groups such as Wu-Tang Clan, whose influence is apparent in his old-school production and boom-bap style.
Nafla’s music has since shifted to include heavy R&B influences and lo-fi in his two-part project u n u part. 1 & 2, but his emphasis on lyricism is still a central part of his identity as a musician. In 2018, he won the seventh season of the rap reality Show Me The Money, earning him even greater recognition among newer listeners of Korean hip-hop.
2. DPR Live
No list of Korean rappers would be complete without DPR Live, whose birth name is Hong Da-bin. His debut album Coming To You (2017) features multiple big names such as Jay Park and Loco, and its mainstream commercial success instantly catapulted his career. Alongside his teammates in the hip-hop collective Dream Perfect Regime (DPR), his popularity soared with every new release. His latest song, ‘Yellow Cab’, is a funky, upbeat tune with snare drums and catchy guitar riffs, and it’s something you definitely need to check out!
In 2016, Changmo signed under the independent music label Ambition Musik founded by rappers Dok2 and The Quiett. Changmo was almost a student in Berklee College of Music and got accepted on two separate occasions, leaving no doubt that his talent spans far and wide across the various branches of music. If anything, being a pianist only enhances the fluidity of his identity as a rapper. Beyond sentimental lyrics and slower R&B tunes, he can also turn a whole 180 degrees to churn out aggressive, rhythmic verses on trap-heavy beats, as seen in the duality of his 2020 EP BIPOLAR.
4. Jvcki Wai
In a male-dominated scene, Jvcki Wai has carved out a niche of her own as a female figure in Korean rap. Even with a blurry, edgy, and almost disconcerting aesthetic that swerves between Y2K influences and the e-girl subculture, her fashion statements do not detract from her talent as a musician.
As an independent musician who started in the underground scene, Jvcki Wai often collaborates with larger labels such as Indigo Music. With a heavy focus on mumble rap and glitchy hyper pop beats, the contrast between her masterful use of whiny autotune and the lower, raspier tones of her male collaborators on her many tracks has generated much excitement in the scene.
HAON may only be 21 this year, but this young rapper is already a big name in the Korean music scene. He first participated in the survival show High School Rapper Season 1 and eventually won the second season of the same show. He is currently signed to H1GHR MUSIC, an international hip-hop music label based in South Korea.
HAON’s only EP to date is Travel: Noah, and consists of smooth, easy listens with a raspy flow that is gentle on the ears. Even as a newcomer, he has already won multiple awards, such as Digital Music New Artist at the prestigious Gaon Chart Music Awards in 2019. As he slowly becomes one of the most prolific rappers in the industry, his artistic range will simultaneously expand as he experiments with a wider range of subgenres within hip-hop.
Korean rap music has been growing in popularity around the world alongside Kpop, so don’t miss out on this genre as you explore other hidden gems that South Korea’s music industry has to offer!
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