Recently, Lizzie Parker addressed an important question in the Beyond Hallyu website: what is "real" in Korean hip hop?
The question of authenticity may pop up in any given genre of Korean pop music, because every genre of K-pop is an import. Yet the question of authenticity is particularly pressing in hip hop, because no other genre of pop music cares so much about "being real," to a point that authenticity is the genre's raison d'etre, as hip hop does. Indeed, even in the birthplace of hip hop, the quest for authenticity is elusive. (Is Jay-Z still real, even though he went corporate?) When hip hop is exported to a different cultural sphere, the hurdle of authenticity becomes ever higher.
Parker's article did a great job in identifying the elements of what is considered "real" in Korean hip hop. Consider this post a companion piece, about how the idea of authenticity evolved in Korean hip hop. This inquiry is necessarily a historical one. So let's jump right into history of Korean hip hop, and start with the pioneers.
I. Pre-History: Early 1990s
The very first piece of K-pop that may be considered "hip hop" appeared in 1989. Hong Seo-beom [홍서범], a moderately popular rock musician, recorded a song called Kim Satgat [김삿갓].
Even by today's standards, Kim Satgat's rapping, overlaid on funk beat, has held up surprisingly well. But Hong's attempt was clearly an experimental one. Hong never aspired to be a hip hop musician; Kim Satgat was a one-off, avant-garde take at the new form of music that was gaining ground in the U.S. at the time. In the popular recount of Korean hip hop's history, Hong name is rarely mentioned.
Instead, the K-pop artists who came after Hong, such as Seo Taiji [서태지], Hyeon Jin-yeong [현진영] and Lee Hyun-do [이현도] are usually considered the pioneers of Korean hip hop. But even with this corps of artists, the label "hip hop musicians" would be a stretch. Seo Taiji's first album in 1992 , for example, definitely caused a sensation with a historical rap number, I Know [난 알아요]. But hip hop was just one of the many musical styles that Seo Taiji played with; in his later albums, Seo drifted toward his original love, i.e. rock music. Lee Hyun-do and his group Deux showed more dedication to the genre, but Lee's creativity (at least for the music that he himself would perform) was cut short when Kim Seong-jae [김성재], Lee's partner in Deux and the animal spirit of the group, passed away under mysterious circumstances at the tender age of 23.
(More after the jump)
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