The Hip-hop scene, despite all the richness of its various facets, has been dominated by men for years. And although it is a male-dominated industry, one can finally see a decent change within. And while Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Foxy Brown paved the way for female rappers in the 1990s and 2000s, it took another decade or so for male artists to acknowledge the array of powerful, full-blooded, and highly skilled female rappers. Whether it’s on the American, Asian, or European continent, women are slowly becoming the powerhouse of the genre.
Despite the fact that South Korea is filled with many talented rappers, the majority are men. However, if you search carefully, you will find a few females whose lyrics, stage presence, and rapping skills can intimidate and outshine the opposite gender. The country itself can boast with rap competitions, such as Show Me The Money, Unpretty Rappers (although the show is no longer on air, it helped to elevate some female artists to greater heights), or High School Rappers, that displayed the magnificence of Korean rappers.
Jessi, CL, Cheetah, Yoonmirae, Ash-B, Yezi, Tymee, SINCE (the finalist of SMTM 10), and Lee Young-ji (the first female winner of SMTM 11) are all gems of the Korean Hip-hop scene. These ladies have grabbed my attention due to their excellent rapping and powerful song-writing skills.
The first time I heard of Shin Su-jin, a.k.a. SINCE, was when she released her debut single New Shit, followed by Tang and He Said in 2020. When, in July of 2021, she revealed her first full-length album, Since’16, she was met with critical acclaim. In that same year, she participated in SMTM 10 where she reached the finals and eventually placed second in the competition. 2022 was also a successful year for the artist as she became the first female musician to win New Artist of the Year at the Korean Hip-hop Awards. She recently released a double single NEXT YEAR which showcases her impeccable rapping and her ability to incorporate her skills with different music genres. And despite the fact that the singer has been very busy with making music, we had the privilege to speak to SINCE and chat about her journey into Hip-hop and rapping, as well as her inspiration and her latest release: NEXT YEAR.
Prior to discussing your music, I was wondering what got you into Hip-hop and how you came to realise that music was the way forward for you?
SINCE: I used to listen to Hip-hop in school and then tried out for Show Me the Money when I was around 24 just to experience it. I already knew I’d fail for sure, but what I felt back then stayed with me for a long time. So, I went back on the show the following year and felt really strongly that ‘Wow, this is what I really want to do, I need to do this before it’s too late’. So, I started doing it. I would say it was more of a desire to challenge myself with something I wanted to do before it was too late, rather than feeling that music was the path I was supposed to take. I wanted to try it out properly so that I would have no regrets later; and whether I made it or failed was what has kept me going until now.
Whenever I listen to your music, whether it’s your solo tracks or collaborations, I can easily say that you are not monotonous with your musical arrangements; each song brings something new and exciting. Although I have to translate the lyrics quite often, this doesn’t discourage me from listening to your music. On the contrary, I want to hear more. I am really curious about the creative process behind your songwriting. When you write a song, how do you get into a creative mindset? What kind of approach do you use to write your lyrics?
SINCE: When it comes to composing, I usually get the beat from the producer and then draw up a rough outline in my head. Once the sketch (outline) is somewhat complete, I keep discussing with the producer as I work on the song. As for lyrics, I listen to the beat first and then write down scenes that I envision. Sometimes, I decide on a theme and then select a beat that goes with it. When I write a song, I tell myself that I should just make it and then keep working on it until I get what I like. What I consider important when writing lyrics is to incorporate my life into it. And I try to follow the four components of composition from the introduction to the conclusion (기승전결: introduction-development-turn-conclusion).
You just released a double single, NEXT YEAR. While Next Year and Don’t Say Anything are superb songs, they are different when it comes to the sound itself. What was the creative process behind these songs?
SINCE: I wanted to make a song with a new sound that I hadn’t done before. Then I just happened to meet a producer called H4RDY who was a friend of a friend and made garage, grime, and house music. We got to talking and ended up making those two tracks.
Female rappers have always been part of the genre’s lineage, with Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, MC Lyte, and Foxy Brown paving the way for female artists to take on the male-dominated Hip-hop world. However, looking at current developments in the genre, do you feel like being a female rapper is more accepted now?
SINCE: Like you said, there were great female rappers from way back, but I think more female rappers are making a name for themselves these days.
You participated in Show Me The Money 10. You reached the finals and then achieved second place. How do you view music competitions like SMTM? Do you think they actually help artists in the long run? And what was your reaction when Lee Young-ji won SMTM 11? She is the first female rapper to win the show. Do you think her winning SMTM would encourage you to enter the show again?
SINCE: A program like SMTM has definitely played a powerful role in allowing lots of rappers to get exposure to the public. I think whether it helps, in the long run, depends on what each artist does and how they go about it after being on SMTM. First of all, congratulations to Lee Young-ji on winning! Regardless of her win, I have no desire to try out for SMTM again. I did everything I could when I was on it and I think my job from now on is to focus on my music.
How does Hip-hop music influence your confidence?
SINCE: I used to be just an average student. But when I listened to Hip-hop, it was like I felt stronger somehow. It comforted me a lot, and when I listen to songs with a message about rising from the bottom it gives me confidence and motivation that I can do it too!
How does it feel when you release music in general? Personally, I feel like when an artist exposes their work it’s like revealing their soul to the public. I have major respect for that, and I’m curious, how do you feel when you put your music out there for people to judge?
SINCE: I think I feel a great deal of relief whenever I release music. From the perspective of someone who’s exposing their work, I’m curious to see how it’s received by people and what their response will be. It’s fun for me to see their response as people have varying opinions. I also feel proud that I achieved something new!
Would you say the music that inspires your work matches what you listen to when you are a part of an audience? Or are you a fan of genres other than your own?
SINCE: The music I listen to influences my [own] music. I listen to Hip-hop mostly, but sometimes I like K-Pop from the ‘90s and I listen to contemporary K-Pop as well.
Improvisation is a large part of the creative process for many artists. How strictly do you separate improvising and composing in your work?
SINCE: Sometimes, I improvise, and sometimes, I go into it with the intention to just make any sort of song. I don’t make a strict distinction between the two, and if being impromptu or freestyling leads to a good end product, I release that.
Looking at your current life, to what extent do you think your surroundings shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?
SINCE: Growing up, I don’t think that my circumstances made it easy for me to focus on music. My family was against it and I came to Seoul by myself to figure things out when I first started making music. I went through trials and tribulations, and I’ve experienced despair, which only made me want to succeed even more. I think that telling myself to keep going until I was sure I would have no regrets made me who I am today.
My circumstances have improved greatly compared to before, but I still feel that I need to keep pushing myself. People have only recently begun to know my name, and I think I have a lot to show, so I do feel pressure to keep going forward. So, I tend to talk about those things in my songs, too.
On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?
SINCE: I would say 봄비 (‘Bombi’ = Spring Rain) is my best performance from an emotional viewpoint while HIGH RISK HIGH RETURN and Miracle are the best from a technical point of view.
What do you find are the main challenges of being a musician?
SINCE: Having to keep making good songs is my job and it’s a difficult one. I think the toughest task is to create music that is purely ‘mine’.
For the past decade, South Korea has been producing excellent quality rappers who are now making their way to Europe and the USA. What’s your opinion on your country’s Hip-hop scene?
SINCE: I feel that when Korean Hip-hop artists perform overseas, they get a passionate response just like when they perform in Korea. I believe Korean Hip-hop continues to expand in diverse forms in an amazing way. Way to go, K Hip-hop!
When you’re not writing songs or working in a studio, what do you like to do in your free time?
SINCE: I like to watch things on YouTube or sleeping. I like to go somewhere for fun sometimes, but I think I enjoy staying at home most of the time [Laughs].
What can your fans expect from you in 2023?
SINCE: In 2023, I’m planning to release a regular album and hold my first solo concert. I hope to see everyone and share great music. Please keep a look out for me! And many blessings for a Happy New Year!
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Translator / Interpreter: Roc Lee
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, 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 / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.