Recent events have turned South Korea upside down, and a few rappers have released tracks about the issue. Read about the effects the “Choi Soon-sil Gate” has on Khiphop, the role of political hiphop in the scene, and why Iron will probably be saying “I told you so.”
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not represent HiphopKR.
“Do not talk about politics” is something most people are taught when going to South Korea on business. And in fact, there are few rappers who do political hiphop (yes, this is an actual subgenre of hiphop) in Korea. In other parts of the world, especially in America of course, political hiphop is one of the central subgenres. From Tupac over Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay-Z to B.O.B., they all had/have something to say about society and politics. And rap is the perfect means to speak one’s mind in great detail.
Now, we have to distinguish between political hiphop and politically/socially conscious hiphop. The latter is not as strongly opinionated and often just wants to raise awareness for a certain issue, without convincing the listener of one point of view. In Korean hiphop, several of Fatdoo‘s songs belong to the conscious hiphop genre, for example the track ‘딸을 만지는 아버지 (The Father Who Touches His Daughter)‘ which is based on actual events. The artist thoroughly researched the topic and wants to remind people of the cruelty of child sexual abuse. Another example would be Iron‘s ‘Turn Back (Feat. Gang Heo Dalim)’ that simply depicts the inhumanities that took place during the Japanese colonial rule, without commenting on them (not that there is a need, in this case). Political hiphop is much more aggressive, more explicit in expressing an opinion, as for example B-Free‘s ’46’, a track in which he underlines the need for the unification of North and South Korea, i.e. peace, and which he has named his favorite verse.
We cannot not mention the foremost representative of political Khiphop, who is no other than Jerry.k. The CEO of Daze Alive readily steps forward when a social or political issue is bothering him and he usually conveys his views with a lot of sarcasm, wit, and attention to detail. Many Korean listeners do not seem to appreciate that, maybe because Koreans only like to hide behind computer screens, as Owen Ovadoz put it in his track ‘Hypocrite’. Which brings us to the current issue.
“I bet there are many who get envious when US-American or European hiphop artists rap and talk about political and social issues without reserve, right? Why does this rarely happen in Korea? That is because everyone, the media, the artists, and the fans are the problem.
the media does not speak up because it’s scared of the government,
the artists do not speak up because they’re scared of the media that does not speak up because of the government, or they are not interested in society and politics.
The fans tell artists to stop talking about politics and make them stay put.”
(Source: Il Kwon Kang’s Facebook)
However, now that the upmost entity in this hierarchy is breaking down, the entities below it are breaking free.
Choi Soon-sil Gate
In case you do not know what the Choi Soon-sil Gate is, do read up on it (for example here) before you continue with this article.
While this is just what conspiracy theorists have been waiting for, the scandal is naturally having a huge impact on the Korean people who are demanding Park Geun-hye’s resignation. Netizens are expressing their opinions everywhere (even in completely unrelated places like comment sections of webtoons) and have already created a number of memes to ridicule the president. Rappers are shocked and outraged as well and take it upon themselves to speak up in their own name, making the headlines. The first to do so was Detempo with his track ‘우주의 기운 (Energy of the Universe)’.
The addictive hook goes “Cheer up, Avatar!” and in verse one Detempo further makes fun of the president and Choi Soon-sil, here aka Siri (실이):
An Android bot waiting for the oracle from Germany
Bastards who have to taste both shit and soybean paste before being able to tell A from B
Thanks to them I ate it too, damn shit
I’m a rapper who has never asked his friends [for an opinion] when writing lyrics
Maybe that’s why I can’t become famous, I know that,
but who knows what will happen from now on
Gotta ask (Please answer soon) Siri
Next up was Jerry.k with his track ‘하야해 (HA-YA-HEY)‘ which translates to: ‘Resign!” Listen below or head over to YouTube for the lyric video.
Pretending to be a white knight, you threw our country down the drain, uh
We tighten, tighten, and tighten our belts
Those banknotes pile up in the storages of chaebols
Then, in those chaebols’ bank accounts
the commas f*cking, f*cking, f*cking increase
He also makes fun of Choi Soon-sil choosing the president’s clothing. The photos that prove Choi choosing Park’s clothing show her eating chicken and then touching the outfit for the president (click here to view them).
We too will eat chicken now and then wipe our hands
that are dirty with grease at those clothes
Then, Owen Ovadoz of MKIT RAIN came out with ‘Hypocrite‘ which has been music-wise highly acclaimed by fans. He mentions in the lyrics that his mother did not want him to publicly voice his opinion and he apologizes to her for doing so after all, saying that she knows her son is someone who has to say what he’s got to say.
I need trust, consideration and understanding
not the public play, what we need is to understand
I quit university, there’s not a lot I know
I already passed middle and high school education when I was in the basketball club
so here I am as a rapper talking politics
who’s the real hypocrite that only talks the talk can’t you tell?
Last but not least, Deegie Kheem (김디지) released ‘곡성 (GOOD PANN)‘, its title being the Korean name of the horror movie ‘The Wailing’ which includes a shaman and a mysterious woman …
This track contains by far the most swearwords, thus begins with a warning. Deegie Kheem has released a political hiphop track before, ‘No Bullets But Ballots (Feat.UMC/UW)’ which tackled the citizens’ duty to vote and in which he indirectly already expressed his antipathy towards Park Geun-hye. In ‘GOOD PANN’, he makes the following reference to Illionaire’s ‘YGGR’:
Soon-SIRI, PGhye, connecting link, this is the sound of [y]our corruption rotting
He also clarifies the reason for all the profanity in the track:
It’s those assholes who are at fault, why do we have to be careful and hold back?
I Told You So
As the media are investigating, the conspiracy about the mysterious Choi Soon-sil widens further and further. According to this article, major agency YG Entertainment is suspected of being involved with the Choi Soon-sil gate via Cha Euntaek who has directed several music videos for Big Bang, PSY and 2NE1. The article is speculating that thanks to their connection, YG artists G-Dragon, Daesung and Park Bom have been let off easily by prosecutors in their respective cases. This revelation moves the spotlight once again to Iron who depicted a conspiracy in his track ‘System‘ where he also dissed several YG artists. Especially interesting are the following lines (although, mind you, they were referring to the music scene):
Behind business masked as loyalty,
there’s a mistress that lives off it
In this scene, the tail wags the dog
Schemes hidden behind the curtain of the press
So using the term “politicking” in hiphop was not that wrong after all. It refers to tactical, profit-oriented actions that rappers or other people in the scene take, for example (supposing the claims are true) Tablo disqualifying Superbee in SMTM4 to keep Incredivle on the show who had already agreed to join Tablo’s label HIGHGRND. Several rappers (especially Swings) have been constantly denouncing “hiphop politics.”
At the end of the day, we should applaud those rappers who dare to cross the line and speak about politics, be it actual ones or hiphop ones, even more so if they convey their opinions in the form of dope headbangers.
Deegie Kheem has made the instrumental version of his track available for download, inviting others to use it for their own “diss tracks” against the president. So, while we are waiting for those potentially upcoming tracks, let us not just listen to their music but to what they are saying. Let’s talk about politics!