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Hello, and welcome back to Silver Linings where I give a voice to the maligned, forgotten, and ignored.
The Korean music scene has been on a hot streak for the last few years. This is attributed entirely to the genre known as "K-pop," South Korea's equivalent of the "J-pop" that Japan had pushed into anime fans' iPods for decades now. One of the biggest successes in music video history came thanks to Park Jae-sang, known to the world as "Psy," whose music video for the song "Gangnam Style" went viral to the point that, as of this writing, it has been viewed 3.2 BILLION (that's with a "B") times, making it one of the most watched videos in history. While subsequent international success eluded Psy, the group known as BTS took the ball and ran with it, becoming the most successful Korean act ever.
While that is all impressive, why should interest in the Korean music scene stop at the admittedly very sugary K-pop? As far as I'm concerned, it shouldn't. With the help of my always-reliable, Korean-speaking significant other Ally, a list of acts from outside the k-pop sphere has been compiled. Fortunately, most of these acts do perform in English to certain degrees; I know that can be a concern for those who are looking for music that's more than just catchy. -In Order of First Release-
Natasha Shanta Reid, known as Yoon Mi-rae, is the definition of a cultural mix. Born in Texas to Black and Korean parents, she is regarded as one the Korea's best female rappers. Her style is very evocative of late 90s acts like Mary J. Blige as demonstrated in the track "Black Happiness" and Salt-N-Pepa as shown in "KawiBawiBo."
Humming Urban Stereo
Often Korean music seems to hearken back to styles outdated in America, and Humming Urban Stereo shows that. This electronica act consisting of composer Lee Ji Rin and a rotating collection of singers actually has more in common with 80s New Wave acts like Men Without Hats than modern electronica. Songs like "Like" and "Hawaiian Couple" definitely remind me of the fun New Wave songs I always enjoyed.
No, I'm not talking about Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects. Kim Jin-tae, AKA Verbal Jint, is one of the most innovative rappers in the Korean music scene. Tracks like "You Deserve Better" and "You Look Good" basically blazed the trail for subsequent Korean rappers to follow with their sing-songy rhythms (similar to Nelly) that were perfectly built for the Korean language. I'm sure the rappers RM, Suga, and J-Hope of BTS count Verbal Jint as an influence.
For those more into traditional electronica, the duo named HEO is for you. Consisting of Junhyeok Heo and Boyeong Kim, their tunes are less for dancing and more for falling into a trance that most people would need to get high to experience. To get what I mean, listen to "Sleep Tight" with your eyes closed. It's trance music guaranteed to provide an out-of-body experience.
Kiha & The Faces
While American indie rock acts try too hard to be serious or topical, Korean indie rockers Kiha & The Faces are about having fun. Led by Chang Kiha, this group uses funk and surf rock motifs to produce some of the most upbeat rock in recent years. Tracks like "The Smell's Gone" and "Some Kind of Relationship In Between" remind me of The B-52s, and that's always a good thing.
While a lot of Korean music can be accused of being pure fluff, that can't be said of the raps of Park Seong-man, better known as Dumbfoundead. Born in Buenos Aires and raised in LA, his raps tackle tough social issues but use lots of humor as shown in tracks like "Safe". However, he can also kick back and have fun as shown with "Water". A great rapper all around.
Seattle has produced more rappers than just Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Park Jae-beom is one of the best. Known as Jay Park, he's found ways to appeal to fans of both hard American rap (like with "Soju" featuring 2 Chainz) and the upbeat Korean rap (like with "Yacht"). Just try getting "Yacht" out of your head after listening to it.
Ever wonder what a mix of The Grateful Dead's acid rock and Green Day's punk rock would sound like? It'd probably sound like the band Billy Carter. The trio consisting of Jiwon Kim, Jina Kim, and Hyun Joon Lee started as an acoustic act before going in a punk direction. Tracks like "You Ate My Brain" and "Silence" combine spacey instrumentation with hard lyrics to produce a raw sound missing from the overly-polished Korean music scene.
Women doing electronica solo, i.e. NOT just providing vocals, are very rare, and Aseul Lee is one of the only ones doing it. Her techno tunes run the gamut from upbeat and poppy like "Fill Me Up" to harder edged stuff like "Fisher". Even though I tend to dismiss American techno which is largely just noise, Aseul makes hers stick in the brain like nothing else.
Kwon Hyuk, also known as DEAN, is basically South Korea's answer to the greats of 90s R&B like R. Kelly. His smooth vocals put current American hitmakers like Chris Brown to shame. He's also not afraid to experiment. Listening to "D," "Bonnie & Clyde," and "Put My Hands On You", it's hard to tell that they're all from the same guy.
Hong Da-bin, known as DPR Live, is one of the newest rappers tearing things up in the Korean music scene. Listening to tracks like "Martini Blue" and "Playlist" easily show why. His flow is very impressive, easily switching from smooth rhythm to rapid fire without missing a beat. His skills at the mic could probably impress the greats here.
Looking at New York native Jessica Hyun-ju Ho, better known as simply Jessi, she's instantly seen as the Korean Beyoncé. While most female Korean stars play it safe with their content due to the country's conservative nature, Jessi isn't afraid to get a little dirty as shown with her songs like "Down" and "Gucci." Honestly, we could use more Jessi and less Nicki Minaj.
What do you think? Any other Korean music acts that deserve a spot on Spotify? Let me know, and rock on!