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Hip-Hop Renaissance 2014Efforts are needed to overcome the commercialization issue

     2014 is known as the year of the ‘Korean hip-hop Renaissance.’ It is undeniable to say that hip-hop has become the hottest trend recently. Compared to the past, hip-hop music can be heard more than ever on a variety of media channels such as music charts and television shows. In particular, the hip-hop survival show called ‘Show Me The Money’ has gained more popularity as every new season starts and such heated interest in show participants remains popular even after the season ends. However, ironically, as the hip-hop became popular, it is caught up in controversies. Some say the popularization of hip-hop has promoted commercialization, and because of that, it is losing its uniqueness. On the other hand, others view this as an opportunity to further develop this still,yet, unfamiliar genre. Since these two different views grow into a matter in the industry of Korean hip-hop, let us take a look; how it started, what it is and the diverse opinions on.
     “Hip-hop, a name for the four elements of the late 70’s New York City Renaissance,  includes DJ (Disc Jockey), rap music, break dancing, and graffiti.”
     The history of Korean hip-hop is not so long; in 1995, ‘Soul Train’ was the place where people share the information about African-American music on HiTEL, the first internet networking system. This turned into a group called BLEX that later creates hip-hop music and performances. Many new musicians appeared and they criticized hypocrisies and lies of Korean society.

Growing interests and demands in hip-hop

     As the hip-hop slowly enters into the mainstream media sources and as society has gone through many changes, people have shown growing interests in hip-hop through diversified ways. The first avenue is television shows. Many rappers appear on various shows, and ‘Show Me The Money’ still has one of the highest ratings of all music reality show. Additionally, this show has discovered many talented musicians such as Loco, Mad Clown, and Swings. The second one is music charts. From the past, it was unusual to see hip-hop songs reaching the highest ranks on charts. However, Dynamic Duo’s ‘BAAAM,’ Beenzino’s ‘Aqua Man,’ which are hip-hop songs, are no longer considered as non-mainstream. Lastly, hip-hop festivals such as ‘The Yangjipine Hiphop & DJ Festival,’ ‘All Force One,’ and ‘One Hiphop Festival’ have all held first, second, and third edition up to now. The success of these hip-hop festivals indicates that interest has been heightened. Moreover, this year Dongguk University invited Epik High for students. This also shows the rising demand of hip-hop music among young people.

  ▲ Many Donggukians are getting wildly excited from the performance of Epik High on September 18th at The Manhae Square.  

Arguments on hip-hop due to commercialization

     Regarding this heated interest, there are two main viewpoints; people who criticize the commercialization of hip-hop and people who support that this is good for the growth of this genre. Firstly, the criticism stems from changes in the form of musical elements and message. Like the original hip-hop in America, Korean hip-hop also has the four elements. However, only the element of rap music has become big and it has formed a new style, called ‘Ballardrap.’ It focuses on melody, emotions and sound composition while hip-hop originally focuses on creative writing technique, honest and self-protesting attitudes, and pleasure from rhymes. A rapper Weakboy considers this tendency as a major problem. He expressed, “Being popular is great. However, enjoying hip-hop culture without understanding the original form and history creates an attitude that treats the culture only as a temporary entertainment. In the long term, people would consider the new form as the original because it is more popular and turn away from the tradition.” Cho Yu-jung, an employee of HI-LITE Records agrees with him. She pointed out that this commercialization created bubbles and until they get removed, the music would be mishmash without the firm roots to produce the energy to develop. Also, messages that hip-hop tries to deliver have changed. Even few years ago, the themes and subjects were all different. Most of the recent songs, yet, deal with love or sorrow of parting like Mad Clown’s ‘Stupid In Love,’ The first generation rapper Garion sighed and said, “Now, it is very rare to find a brave rap song that unmasks and reveals the truth. Hip-hop became more of a game to get a spotlight by taking chances instead of expressing oneself.”
     Even with such sharp criticism, there are some supporters who have a positive view on this change towards hip-hop’s commercialization. They point out the increase in recognition and rising investments in the value of hip-hop interact with each other. Thanks to the popularization of the genre, hip-hop has found new ways of reaching audiences. Thus, the attitudes they have on hip-hop are not poor anymore. This has resulted in attracting more investors and, which in turns has had a synergetic effect promoting hip-hop. Hur Dong-hoon, a senior of Kyung Hee University, majoring in Department of Chemical Engineering, mentioned that since such investments do affect the original form of hip-hop, and, as a long-term fan of hip-hop, he expects a significant advance in this genre generally. For those who share such views, they also point out that this controversy results from the absence of communication. They point out that communication between the public and the artists would be helpful to overcome the differences of the ones who seek the popularity and the others who tend not to. Yang Hye-in, a freshman at Dongguk University, majoring in Mass Communication and Journalism, also mentioned that considering the characteristics of hip-hop, the commercialization is not an inevitable issue. It is more important to keep one’s style against the influences as a musician.

Foreigners’ view on Korean hip-hop

     Then what would foreigners think about Korean hip-hop? Daniel Jung, age 21, from Canada expressed, “Popular Korean hip-hop tracks have strayed away from the American style of hip-hop which is more aggressive and party-like, turning it into something more smooth and laid back. Korean hip-hop and American hip-hop, for me, are very similar to each other. The majority of the popular Korean hip-hop tracks tend to have ballad, jazz, and funk feel to it, but there are definitely tunes that have the element of raw hip-hop like ‘Bulldozer’ by Swings.” Briano Molinaro, age 26, from America has a different view. He said, “Even in the U.S., there seems to a tendency to put more weighs on following trends instead of the beats and lyrics. The American hip-hop culture and songs now revolve around sex, drugs, money, and strippers. I can only hope Korean hip-hop becomes more sophisticated and less commercial than what is trending in the U.S. now.”
     Hip-hop music has a distinct characteristic, and that is why it has rapidly attracted public attention. Kim Bong-hyeon, a music critic, pointed out that constructing an environment that pursues alteration and harmony while keeping the unique characteristics and color is the most needed effort. Woo Joong-il, the president of AJAX which is the hip-hop club in Donnguk University, rather views this issue as a trend. He mentioned, “I think it is spreading, not as an actual culture because of the TV show ‘Show Me The Money.’ Therefore, I do not consider that as a serious problem. The situation will also change again as the time passes.” As his view on this matter, it is crucial to avoid the major conflict. It is time to confront the reality of commercialization and put efforts to overcome the miscommunication within the hip-hop scene.

Lee Seo-yeon  sullylee0516@dongguk.edu

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