From a Kenyan music fan: Exploring South Korean Hip hop, K-pop

psy in korea

By Kevin Gitau

Before delving any deeper into this article,i first want to point out a few things – about 3months ago, through a challenge from a friend and also from a personal observation, I chose to take a step into experimenting with new music miles away from what comfortably soothed my ears.

This meant clearing my car’s flash disks and replacing them with new music; I had no attachment to taking down any swaggy J.Cole or Kendrick jam on my phone and forcing my ears to accept this new development whilst I sat at my desk every day.
I soon found that experimenting didn’t last that long considering it’s really hard especially if Jon Bellion puts out a new song, or I get a notification that Cassper just uploaded his new video. But through that experimental period, I have learnt that sometimes we are accustomed to listening to the same artists so much so that we forget that there’s an ocean of amazing talent doing even more amazing things.

This has created what I call the “blank Youtube effect-(def.” You open your Youtube channel to check out new music videos but it’s the same as you left it yesterday and probably last week, and what’s new is a vlog or two, so you go back to listening the same playlist you’ve been listening to.

That said, I have been trying to go out of my way to try to understand musical cultures from different parts of the world and their representation. I have sampled music from the jazzy German streets to the very hardcore hip hop music from Scotland, but nothing caught my ear as did the South Korean music scene.

I’m not talking about the traditional folky music from the Joseon dynasty, but rather what’s ‘popping’ right now. It was hard to believe that capital of South Korea, Seoul, had so much music to offer that it’s even more than Billboard-worthy. We can start from anywhere: 1977 born Park Jae-Sang, who is well known to many as PSY thanks to his world record breaking tune ‘Oppan Gangnam style’. The Berklee School of Music dropout in 2012 released his debut album Psy 6(six rule), which became famous after its 3rd single went on to become the most viewed video online garnering more than 2.5 billion views on Youtube. It’ll be out of pure ignorance to assume that he’s the only legit artist coming from South Korea.The most amazing fact about this phenomenon was/is that the most viewed video since Tim Berner’s incepted the World Wide Web comes not from its country of origin or even Hollywood. Of course we have seen pop artists like Katy Perry, Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift rack-up numbers, but what’s funny is that these numbers have still not surpassed Gangnam Style! This type of success got Psy signed to Scooter Braun’s Schoolboy Records that houses great artists such as Black Eyed Peas, Carly Rae Jepsen and Academy-nominated singer Tori Kelly.

psy bored

From the influence of Psy and sudden international attraction towards his country comes the emergence of other artists who have gone to get major record label signings. Take for example multi-platinum singer song writer DEAN, who’s signed to Universal, was born in Hongeun Dong in the capital. DEAN developed an interest in Hip hop and Rap whilst still in middle school and at the age of 20, he premiered in the U.S with his single ‘I’m not sorry’ that was in collaboration with Grammy-winner Erick Bellinger.

DEAN on the same year went on to collaborate with singer Mila J on “Here and now” and Aftermath-signee Anderson Paak on “Put my hands on you.” The artist who just recently received a Korean Music Award for “Best RnB and Soul” for his single “Pour up” that features Block B’s rapper Zico also became the first Asian artist to perform at SXSW Festival.

My stereotypical human brain led me to think that the minute I clicked on of these songs, it’d be one of those pop songs – but heck it was Legit!. For example and you will agree with me on this, when I ravaged through DEAN’s Youtube channel, I stumbled onto this song which is currently is my favorite tune. For a second I had Kanye and Jay out of my head and i didn’t have to think about Bryson Tiller – it was like “he got me.” DEAN’s mergence of trap -soul and RnB-was beyond commendable and the attachment was already built ,just from that one song.

In the same context, last year January 1st surfaced a video on Youtube of a now 22 year old Keith Ape. “IT G MA” was the name of the 808 heavy trap song from the South Korean rapper. It went on to be listed on Billboard K-Town as number 5 on the K-pop 2015 top list of songs. The influence of trap music had spread so fast and was taken on by many. Keith who was born in Dongheon Lee attracted great attention from all over the world and even rappers from his hometown as well.

Kim Nam-Joo who’s stage name is “Rap monster” also has contributed heavily to South Korea’s Hip hop and music culture. The 21 year old rapper who’s hit single ‘Do you’ received international recognition for his mad rap skills and a catchy beat that sounds like a fusion of Wale’s ‘Slight work’ with production that sounds Like Major Lazer. His expressions from his lyrics are free and one can clearly tell that he’s not afraid of speaking his mind and his confidence oozes easily. Rap Monster is also the lead singer of the South Korean group BTS also known as the Bangtan Boys. This seven-member boy group has perfected the art of ‘K-poping’ and has quickly gone to win several awards and huge international accolades from their diverse music.

I can’t however bring to a close this article without emphasizing how well thought out and structured the South Korean music culture feels like from where I’m sat and we can only watch as they win more hearts all over the world.

I’d however feel proud if either of these artists and many others, who’s art I haven’t had a chance to appreciate yet also receive recognition in not just Asian countries, but be put in the same pool of competition as everyone else; and contest for the same awards that are sort of music validations for many.

If talent and music skills are what we focus on, then I think these South Korean musicians are more than fair competition and probably bring more game than what we listen to.


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