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The popularity of K Hip-Hop has proven itself to be a lucrative business, as seen through the rapid commercialisation of the genre as a form of entertainment to be exploited by mainstream media outlets.

When we look to other areas of media, it's not difficult to see that the aesthetics, culture, and attitudes of the Hip-Hop community are regularly co-opted by brands and companies, who recognise the current social influence of K Hip-Hop artists on the minds of the youth. These brands and companies lock on to this social influence as an avenue for public outreach, while the artists develop an interesting take on their musical identity that doubles up as product placement.

Image: Adidas Originals x DPR (2021)

The list of branded collaborations is large and continuously growing, with big names in K Hip-Hop being the highlight of these projects. Amongst these, legendary producer GRAY, and creative collective DPR made significant artistic contributions to these brands.

Just last year alone, the legendary producer GRAY released ‘GET #myway’ for Lotte Department Store (2021), and ‘Connected’ for Samsung (2021). And December of 2021, saw the release of ‘Best of the Best (BOTB),’ also produced by GRAY for Nike, becoming one of the largest collaboration projects for a brand in Korea. This track featured rappers Gaeko, Changmo, Don Mills, Los, and vocalists DeVita and SOLE, along with Show Me the Money 10 contestants SINCE and BE’O, all wearing items from the brand's latest collection. Expanding on its cast, the song’s music video showcased a troupe of renowned dancers who recently entered into the mainstream media spotlight following the popularity of the dance survival show Street Woman Fighter.

A project like this brings a landslide of exposure to less mainstream and up-and-coming artists. For a number of former Show Me the Money contestants, featuring in branded deals is all part of the buzz; another business move that comes with signing to labels or collaborating with other artists.

Branded collaborations become a space to explore the full extent of creative freedom that K Hip-Hop artists are afforded, since most are actively and openly involved in the creative decision-making and production. Such is the case for the creative collective DPR, who have had several opportunities to showcase their otherworldly, hallucinogenic, and dynamic style of videography alongside stellar instrumental production. DPR LIVE and CREAM produced 'Just Dream It', accompanied by a special visualiser video by DPR +Ian for Nike (2017), followed by ‘Ozweego’ (2019) and a special ‘SYNC PACK’ product collaboration (2021) both in partnership with Adidas. DPR crew show how K Hip-Hop’s creative contributions can extend outside of music, adding depth to their artistic identity.

These branded collaborations eventually serve a wider purpose and cultural impact that is more than just face value. They play a part in recalibrating the social perception of the genre. With the basis of Hip-Hop being counter-cultural and foreign amongst Korea’s climate, the stigmas and stereotypes about the lifestyles of these artists as rebellious and delinquent were quite pervasive amongst the general public until recently. Part of this shift in perception is due to the branded collaborations, showing these artists as having achieved an abundance of success and wealth that comes with their artistic freedoms. Thus, while an artist’s individual style may be compromised, the culture at large benefits from being cleaned up as a media-friendly image under the mainstream spotlight.

The public doesn’t seem to be tired of seeing their favourite K Hip-Hop artists working on branded deals and collaborative projects, and even consider this as a measure of the artist’s success and status. Some even choose to emulate the style, aesthetics and attitudes of K Hip-Hop based on the projected images in media, buying their way into hip-hop by buying into affiliated brands.

- Nina Ito

Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]


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