There is no denying that the Korean music industry is mainly associated with K-pop, which often draws on Hip-hop whether this is obvious to listeners or not. What’s more interesting is that Hip-hop has now become an indispensable part of K-pop and, while the latter is the one with the most popular tunes around the world, Korean hip-hop has become the fastest-growing scene in recent years.
While many think that Korean Hip-hop is a young genre, that kind of thinking would be wrong. Although it might have been a reinterpretation of American Hip-hop, Hong Seo Bam wrote the first song where rap took central position in Kimsatgat in 1989. And it was 015B’s —a music duo that was known for their experimentation with Pop ballads, Electronica and Hip-hop— The Story I Want To Tell You that gained wider recognition, and their sound has become the foundation for today’s K-pop.
While many Korean Hip-hop artists have performed in the UK already, we have never seen an outdoor festival that celebrates several K-rappers at the same time. So when MIK Festival opened its doors for its 2nd day on July 31st (the 1st day was all about K-pop) it wowed fans with its one-of-a-kind Hip-hop line-up. On the day, 8 incredible artists, each different in their own right, appeared on stage, no wonder the crowd went wild. I had the pleasure of witnessing live performances from pH-1, GRAY, Lee Hi, Loco, JESSI, Epik High, DOK2 and Jay Park, who closed the festival with the hottest set of the night.
So, let’s recap what happened on Sunday afternoon. Park Jun-won, known better by his stage name pH-1, was the first artist to kick off the festival. pH-1 is a fascinating rapper; he always has a lot of interesting things to say and, in terms of his signature sound, his music clearly stands out. He performed many of his big hits, including Cupid, Nerdy Love, 365&7, and Different Summer.
pH-1 took a few minute-long breaks in-between to say thank you to the people who gathered in Southwark Park. His lovely personality really added to the pleasant atmosphere of his show. While performing Achoo, the crowd joined him in rapping and, until the end of his performance, they did not stop jumping and shouting “pH-1, pH-1, pH-1”. It’s not every day that Boomers, Millennials, and Gen Z have fun at the same party, but MIK Festival gathered hundreds of die-hard hip-hop fans from all over the UK, and beyond. However, this was just the beginning.
DOK2, probably one of the most controversial figures of the Korean Hip-hop scene, was the second performer of the day. While many hip-hop fans have a love-hate relationship with the rapper, there is absolutely no disputing that when it comes to his creativity and talent DOK2 shines with his own style; he combines fast rap with smooth melodies very well, which was also highlighted during his performance at MIK Festival. He came up on stage with Puffy Santana, a producer, and rapper, and began the show with Beverly 1lls. He performed many of his powerful songs, including Spooky Asian. He fired verses off like a machine gun at times and was able to consistently rap for a decent period of time. The crowd responded to DOK2 with deafening screams.
At least, they did until he said things that shouldn’t have been said, things that weren’t necessary to say when this wasn’t a battle between rappers from the East and West Coast. One has to know that most K-rappers do not compete with each other over charts and spots on stage. They seem like one big, happy family who support each other with collaborations and other projects, so why would DOK2 put a damper on all of this? This question ought to be answered by the artist himself.
The mood quickly changed when JESSI entered the stage. What a star, what a talent. Dressed in a white top, trousers, and long laced red boots, she set fire to the stage straight away. JESSI is truly an incredible woman, she empowers us in every way possible. Her journey to becoming a singer and rapper wasn’t the easiest, but she proved many times over how much that stage belongs to her, and that she belongs on it. She is lighthearted and fun but she becomes feisty when she raps about important topics. Her songs have always been lyrically and musically powerful — she is a master of her profession.
JESSI turned the entire festival upside down in a good way, if you ask me. She performed hits such as Gucci, Drip, What Type of Ex, Cold Blooded, and NUNU NANA, just to name a few, and ended the show with Zoom. Jessi took her sweet time between songs as she wanted to engage with the fans, chat to them, take selfies and simply be a friend to everyone that was at the festival. “We have to move on, who is next… Epik High, I feel sorry for them,” said Jessi before performing Zoom. In all honesty, Epik High should have performed with her if she was still on stage rapping – imagine that show!
If you are familiar with Korean Hip-hop, there is no reason for me to introduce Epik High to you, a trio that has been rocking our socks off since 2003 and who became one of the first major Korean artists to perform at Coachella. They have released a staggering 10 albums and there is no sign of them slowing down.
The moment Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz walked on stage we not only got a hip-hop show, but a comedy show too— entertainment at its best! Tablo made everyone laugh with his fun introduction of Mithra and DJ Tukutz with Boyz II Men’s music in the background. Epik High performed Fan, Born Hater, and their 2007 hit Love, Love, Love from their album Remapping the Human Soul. The group also played New Beautiful and Don’t Hate Me, all while they kept the crowd “hydrated” by throwing water into the masses which kept many on their feet in the hot weather. After almost an hour, Epik High left the stage to give room for the next artist, Lee Hi.
The singer first gained recognition after participating in K-pop Star 1 and later debuted with her single 1, 2, 3, 4, which sold over half a million copies in its first week of its release. During the concert Lee Hi candidly said “It is a hip-hop day, right? […] I don’t have Hip-hop songs. But I will sing for you,” and what a show it was! She sang with the full strength of her voice, and while she sounded very nervous at the beginning of her show she quickly pulled it off and delivered a beautiful performance. The crowd grooved to Red Lipstick, ONLY, Savior, Bye as well as 1, 2, 3, 4.
While Lee Hi’s concert wasn’t as energetic as the other artists, it was really good to catch a breath for a moment as GRAY, Loco and Jay Park were still to play. The next act that followed was GRAY, who debuted in 2012 with the incredible single Blink. Although it took him 9 years to release his 1st album, Grayground, he has recorded over a dozen singles and has featured on other artists’ singles and albums. GRAY is also known for being a note-worthy producer, he has over 100 songs under his belt – he produced music for Wanna One, Jay Park, Loco, BewhY, Dynamic Duo and Simon Dominic, just to name a few.
Dressed in a white long sleeve top and black shorts, GRAY rocked the crowds the moment he appeared on stage. He performed songs such as In My Head, Stay, and Change with TMI swaying people off their feet too. Whenever I listen to GRAY, I see an artist who knows how to handle the beats and music very well; his flow, the way he combines rhyme and rhythm, is absolutely fluid.
While people couldn’t get enough of GRAY’s music, it was time to welcome Loco, an artist who came to light in 2012 when he won Show Me the Money, a rap competition. Loco is known not only for his superb talent, but also for his sweet and composed stage personality. There was not a single second where Loco wasn’t smiling; with a good command of English, the artist chatted to the crowd and showed his gratitude that he was finally able to come to London again. The rapper performed OPPA, Too Much, It Takes Time Don’t and Hold Me Tight, among other songs. One thing is for sure, Loco, like GRAY, has become one of the masters of rhythm, rhyme and flow.
After several hours of listening to Hip-hop, it was time to say goodbye with the last artist of the night, Jay Park, a rapper, producer and singer-songwriter. Known for his charismatic and —let’s be honest ladies— irresistible stage presence, Jay Park kicked off his set with DNA. In an hour or so, the rapper performed a whopping 18 songs, including Need to Know, Me Like Yuh, Forget About Tomorrow, Iffy with pH-1 (yes, he came back on stage to perform again), and Purge (with pH-1 one more time), to name just a few. However, the biggest screams could be heard not when Jay Park took his t-shirt off, but when AOMG family joined him on stage to perform Who You – Remix.
Although I can’t say I am a fan of Jay Park, I do listen to his music sometimes, one might wonder why? It’s simple, the rapper carries an authenticity within his music and he always shows versatility in each and every one of his releases. You don’t have to be his fan to appreciate his music. While his set was filled with blistering energy, including incredible dancers, everyone had to go home at 9 pm. Shame, as thousands of people wanted more… Perhaps next year folks!
Korean rappers strive for their own scene, and rightfully so, the amount of talent that the country has to offer is mind-blowing. Someone once said, “Hip-hop has no bounds, has no real form, and it’s open to anyone that wants a piece of it — those that want to critique, create, enjoy, or detest.” So let’s open the door to more Korean Hip-hop! With K-rappers’ incredible self-expression and their own style, they will surely bridge the gap with their sounds.
Written by Maggie Gogler
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts, and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.