Korean Hip-hop as we know it right now, has a lot of history behind it, starting from the late 1980s where Korea’s first-ever rap song was released by an artist named Hong Seo Beom. It was his hit track, ‘Kim-Sat-Gat’, that eventually led to the foundation of Korean Hip-hop and its first evolution by the hands of OG artists like Epik High and Drunken Tiger.
Carrying this history forward on their pursuit of great music, K-Hiphop artists of 2020 have yet again released a barrage of top-notch music singles and collaborations; displaying commendable lyricism, versatile musicality and courageous experimentation which forms the basis of every musical evolution. Keeping all these factors in mind, our team at KHIGH combed through 2020’s K-Hiphop Treasure Trove and compiled a list of our Year-end’s top picks of K-Hiphop tracks.
The releases however are not ranked and are listed below in alphabetical order.
‘Acrobat’ – Gwangil Jo
“It’s better for my mental health to just accept what you guys rate me as”
Acrobat is one of those “real” golden tracks that one comes across just once or twice in a year. It is a track that shows the music industry scene through the lens of an outsider entering into this commercialized world and how Gwangil Jo as this newcomer in the industry will not compromise his true self for a fabricated persona just to please the public.
It is really incredible that a rapper that debuted just a year ago in 2019, can produce such a track as this which portrays a meaningful message of selfhood, an impressive cadence, and heavy hard-hitting bars on an intense old-school beat. The fact that he is a “Chopper” (a rapper who raps numerous syllables very fast) and still does not settle for lesser lyrics and message, quite typical of choppers, is what seals the deal of Gwangil Jo being a future prime mover of the Hip-hop wave.
‘Everything’ – Way Ched (ft. ASH ISLAND, Coogie, BIBI, CHANGMO)
“I’m rich it’s my life facts facts come on girl/ Love me just one day/I -I -I got EVERYTHING”
Bringing to the table the voices of four great artists, Ambition Music’s famed producer, Way Ched incorporates their individualistic flows and capabilities into this one track while managing to keep the essence of their distinct musicality intact. The track weaves together talks of different love stories enunciated by each of these artists in their own verses, which adds freshness to a theme that otherwise might be regarded as too platitudinous and common.
The highlight of the track is the smooth transition to BIBI, the female R&B singer’s verse which stands out amongst its male counterparts’ verses as its rich and drawn-out vocals add a much-needed depth to the track.
‘Fadeaway’ – Jvcki Wai, Coogie, Paloalto, The Quiett & Bassagong
“Like Michael J, ballin’ fade away overhead.”
When trendsetter powerhouses like these come together for a collaboration and Jvcki Wai takes charge of the hook, it comes as no surprise that the track meets every criterion of being a banger looping over and over in your head all day long!
Fadeaway also seems to be a special tribute to the greatest Basketball player alive, Michael Jordon. The lyrics include various references to him, right from the title itself referring to the player’s iconic Fadeaway shot, to the Jordon shoes, and the constant appearance of Jersey number 23 in the music video.
JOKE! – CODE KUNST (Feat. C JAMM, Simon Dominic)
“There are not a lot of albums nowadays that you consider “an Album”. So, I want to make such an album that makes people think ‘it’s an Album’!” – CODE KUNST on making of LP ‘PEOPLE’
CODE KUNST is one of the leading producers held in high esteem for his artistic crafting of sonics and perfect matchmaking of the artists’ voices with the instrumentals. In 2020 he released his LP titled ‘People’ which featured a massive number of 19 gifted artists; two of which are K-Hiphop’s heavyweight rappers, C JAMM and Simon Dominic who featured on the 8th track of the LP titled, ‘JOKE!’.
The clean (as-if-sliced-by-a-knife!) and hard-hitting rap of Simon Dominic, and the overall vibe-setting verses of C JAMM come together like a beautiful bewitching potion brewed by the Magus Producer, CODE KUNST. The producer is seen making an appearance in the music video as a Bartender as if alluding to this magic show of his only!
PACKITUP! – pH-1 (prod. BMTJ)
“Empty-headed critics, please pack it up/All them hateful comments born of jealousy, pack it up/Everyone around you already knows about your bots running numbers/ And you still playing innocent, pack it up”
Addressing the deteriorating music standards of the public and the fake, clout-chasing artists who gain out of this superficial environment, pH-1’s calm attitude gives way to his vanguard alter-ego in ‘PACKITUP!’. Narrating his own journey from rapping in New York to South Korea and calling out the fakes to “pack it up”, pH-1 delivers not only his listeners a great track to listen to, but also urges all of them to listen to “Real Music” rather than the ones crafted just to top the music charts!
‘SWOOSH FLOW’ – CHANGMO
“If I endure time of eternity/In the end, I can swoosh flow”
‘SWOOSH FLOW’ seems to be CHANGMO’s special show of love for the Drill music that exploded worldwide after originating in the 2010s as a sub-genre of Hiphop, quite similar to trap. The lyrics and beats are raw and heavy and the fast-paced music video has a dark UK Drill-inspired setting; all characteristic of the booming Drill and Grime Music.
The track talks of the rise of the D-town underground rapper, CHANGMO to the Ambition Musik star that he has become now: “The boy who became the star of the game that is only star play”. Various references of Nike and its Swoosh sign are also included in the track which interestingly witnesses more than 20 cameo appearances of famous artists like Munchman, Kim Hyo Eun, ZENE THE ZILLA, etc. This is probably the greatest number of cameos in any Korean track till now.
‘The Purge’ – Jay Park, pH-1, BIG Naughty, Woodie Gochild, HAON, TRADE L, Sik-K
“RED TAPE is for the culture. BLUE TAPE is for the fans. Both of them together are for legacy and to make history” – Jay Park
As part of the H1GHR: RED TAPE, the first of the two compilation albums of H1GHR Music label, ‘The Purge’ features all the artists of the label, led by its Founder, Jay Park. The music video is set in a dystopian anarchic world and the H1GHR artists are quick to gain dominance over it, just as they are, over the current Hip-hop scene of the World.
The track itself is one that hypes up the listener. The high-spirited track hence shines a light on the unique individuality of each artist, as they pay homage to the hip-hop culture that they have always fought to uphold.
‘Veteran’ – Bryn (feat. Paloalto, JUSTHIS, Leellamarz & Verbal Jint)
“Only the sky’s the limit, not the ceiling”
Experimenting a lot with the sonics that commingles and enriches the voices on the track in her second album of the Moth Series, SILKMOTH, Bryn comes together with an array of seasoned K-Hiphop artists to produce this track titled ‘Veteran’.
The track features a catchy hook by Bryn who is quite known for her singing abilities, a rap verse each by the powerful hard-spitters, JUSTHIS and Paloalto, a uniquely vocalized verse by Leellamarz who gives a shoutout to ‘1llyAmbition’ (his label), and a clean, witty end verse by Verbal Jint, to tie it all together. The eccentric sound arrangement of the track however still manages to hold its own against all these exciting verses and ends up being the unforgettable element out of all the other well-arranged ones of the track.
‘VILLAIN’ – SWINGS (ft. LEE HI, Simon Dominic) (Prod. By CODE KUNST)
“If honesty is a sin, I’m not sorry at all”
‘VILLAIN’ is a track that not only racked up points to promote SWINGS to the TOP4 in the rap reality show, Show Me The Money 9 but is also a track that has quite an interesting back story and message to communicate to its listeners.
For this track SWINGS, the so-called “Troublemaker” of the hip-hop scene got on board with AOMG’s newly signed singer, Lee Hi and Simon Dominic, a powerful rapper who had engaged in a wild diss battle with SWINGS back in 2013. This unexpected collaboration between them hence garnered much attention to the track which speaks of being a Villain in the Hip-hop scene, hated and judged by others but still being a person who is honest to his own self!
The powerful lyrics, “I am better than the ones who act all nice, be honest/ If honesty is a sin, I’m not sorry at all”, voiced by SWINGS and Simon in a conversational-style rapping, portrays this message efficiently as they commend each other and all those listening, who stay true to themselves despite the disapproval and hate they might be getting from others.
‘VVS’ – Mushvenom, Miranni, Khundi Panda & Munchman (Feat. JUSTHIS) (Prod. by GroovyRoom)
“I need to show them/ The guys who said I was going to fail/Even you, who said I was going to succeed”
VVS is a ‘Perfect All-Kill’ soundtrack composed especially for the reality rap show, Show Me The Money Season 9, where it was performed for the first time by two of the artists only: Mushvenom and Miranni. It is an interesting and electrifying fusion of Rock and Trap elements with a really addictive hook by mentor JUSTHIS and lyrics that bring out the scintillating wits of all these rappers.
The title, VVS itself is a witty inclusion since it is a slang used by various rappers in their tracks, meaning “Very Very Slightly Included” as is the case with VVS diamonds which have almost negligible impurities in them and are hence highly valued and flexed by the Hip-hop community. The rappers on this track however use it in a distinct manner (as a simile) singing: ‘My life is shining like a VVS, VVS!’