To call hip-hop the underbelly of the Korean music scene may be a bit overdramatic, but given their penchant for theatrics, it only seems apt. Although their most popular exports are those emotionally charged K-drama soundtracks and bubblegum K-pop beats, hip-hop has actually been around for a few decades now in the land of the “idol” pop groups. And with the advent of reality talent shows looking for the next big Korean hip-hop artists like Show Me the Money and its exclusively female spin-off Unpretty Rapstar, it seems K-hip-hop is finally getting its long-awaited moment.
So if you’re looking for some Korean tunes you can get down with (and you and your girl can maybe get down to), check out these artists.
(Disclaimer: Some of these MVs are pretty NSFW, but to be honest, so are their lyrics. Given they're in another language though, you’ll probably get away with some of those explicit bars, so score!)
Also known as Park Jaebum, this former K-pop group member has long since traded in those matchy-matchy boy band getups and choreography to create his own hip-hop record label. Since founding his company AOMG (Above Ordinary Music Group a.k.a. Always On My Grind), the songs he’s released (a good number of which are in English) have gotten pretty straightforward and deliciously racy.
'Oooh girl, the candles are lit
All that’s left is me kissing your lips
And let me call you mama
'Cause we about to make a baby'
For the most part, Park’s music has a more R&B vibe, but he’s also done some crunk, trap, and experimented with dancehall sound.
Catch those nods to the Biebs, RiRi, and Drake?
If you're more into hardcore hip-hop, then Park’s latest outing will give you those feels.
His 2015 collaboration with iconic rapper Tablo is a loaded commentary on what hip-hop is really about, and it only seems to prove that, as Vox predicts, the re-emergence of hardcore hip-hop is nigh.
Tablo is a Canadian rapper of South Korean descent (real name: Daniel Armand Lee). He has made a name for himself as one-third of successful K-hip-hop group Epik High, and is not one to shy away from socio-political talk.
He's been dubbed a lyrical genius (The dude graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s in English Lit and a master’s in Creative Writing!), but his relationship with the Korean media hasn’t always been smooth-sailing. He penned this track as a big middle finger to them.
He shows off his poetic side and smooth flow in this '90s R&B-flavored collaboration with Grammy-nominated American singer Gallant.
Now watch him tipsy freestyle and basically get his FlipTop on.
As for that “JK hyung” that Tablo mentioned at the 0:05 mark...
Tiger JK/Drunken Tiger
This man is OG K-hip-hop! He released his first solo album in 1995, controversially broke through the scene in the late 90s, and is so hood, he even got busted for drugs.
Here’s a taste of his earlier hits:
Tiger JK has since become Korean rap royalty and is credited as a pioneer of true hip-hop in Korea.
This lady is the Queen of Korean Hip-hop, not just because she’s married to none other than Tiger JK, but also because she’s talented in her own right. She can birit with the best of them balladeers (She actually sang on the OST of a number of K-dramas like Descendants of the Sun and Legend of the Blue Sea) and she can totally hold her own spitting bars to boot.
Being half-African-American, she’s fluent in English and Korean, and got mad flow even when switching between languages.
She notes Lauryn Hill as one of her biggest influences and it shows.
My Fans [are] Better Than Yours or MFBTY for short is a collaboration between Tiger JK, Tasha, and another notable Korean rapper named Bizzy. Check out their songs below and see why we just had to include them in this list as a collective.
Your girlfriend may recognize this guy as part of the Monday Couple on the Korean variety show Running Man, but way before all that, Gary started out as an underground rapper. He got his big break as a member of rap duo LeeSsang which has been known for their “rap ballads,” as their songs have been dubbed.
He’s got a distinct flow with his not-quite-on-the-beat rapping style that makes him interestingly unpredictable.
The way he spits out his bars combined with very deliberate breath control make his verses stand out.
And though he raps in straight Korean, his lyrics are worth checking out. The man has a unique way of making something like begging your girlfriend for some sexy time sound poetic. We can all learn a thing or two from him.