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In the past, there has been an obvious and clear divide between Korean Pop idols and the Hip-Hop community. In Korea, “idol music” is the work of groups and artists signed to entertainment agencies, such as JYP and YG Entertainment who manage their style, image, and sound. Historically, in the Hip-Hop and R&B community, the term ‘idol’ has been used as a degrading expression to denounce artists representing Korean Pop Music, as it is viewed as inauthentic among rappers and therefore a less valuable form of expression. However, in recent years, it has become more frequent for former and still active idols to transition into the Hip-Hop scene and garner respect from fellow Hip-Hop artists; If you would like to know more about the divide between K-Pop and Korean Hip-Hop rappers please check out our video here. Three musicians who have managed to dismiss these perceptions and rebrand themselves within the Hip-Hop community are Jay Park (2PM), JAY B (GOT7), and MINO (WINNER).
Prior to debuting as a member of the K-Pop idol group 2PM in 2008, Jay Park grew up in Seattle, USA. Park passed the time by writing lyrics and listening to Hip-Hop, Rap, and R&B, while street dancing and b-boying with the Art of Movement crew. While a member of 2PM, Jay Park confided in an American friend via MySpace about feeling uneasy in Korea due to the unfamiliar culture and language, this was mistranslated by Korean media and led to a brief controversy in 2009. A mutual agreement between Jay Park and his label JYP Entertainment brought about the termination of his contract in 2009. 2010 marked the beginning of Jay Park’s solo ventures and his emergence in the Korean Hip-Hop and R&B scene; from collaborations with Dok2 and The Quiett, to signing a contract with SidusHQ. With the release of his first mini-album, ‘Take a Deeper Look’ in 2011, Park managed to rebrand himself as a Hip-Hop/R&B artist. From then on, Jay Park continued to release a number of albums - ‘New Breed’ (2012), ‘Evolution’ (2014), ‘Worldwide’ (2015), ‘Everything You Wanted’ (2016) - which were influenced by 90s Hip-Hop and R&B artists such as Michael Jackson and Usher. By rebranding and re-debuting as both a solo singer and rapper coupled with Park's American background and musical identity, he was able to partake in the underground Hip-Hop culture, a rarity for both active and former K-Pop idols.
Alongside establishing himself as a Hip-Hop and R&B artist through his music, Jay Park saw an entrepreneurial opportunity in creating two record labels: AOMG and H1GHR MUSIC. Actively recruiting and working alongside other Hip-Hop artists, such as Simon Dominic, GRAY, and Loco - Park was able to set a new standard for Korean Hip-Hop and R&B, while creating two of the most esteemed Hip-Hop labels in the country. These companies provided a bridge for other K-Pop idols who wished to infiltrate the Hip-Hop community.
One such idol who was able to make the transition from K-Pop to K Hip-Hop was GOT7 leader, JAY B. Despite seven successful years as leader of GOT7, JAY B felt confined within idol expectations, especially musically. As a result, he created alternative personas - Defsoul (Soundcloud) and Offshore (Spotify) - as a means of producing experimental, less polished Hip-Hop and R&B. When the members of GOT7, including JAY B, decided not to renew their contract with JYP Entertainment in 2021, an opportunity presented itself to him.
With a shared love for b-boying, Jay Park reached out to JAY B in the hopes of him joining H1GHR MUSIC. Despite having differing personalities, both artists have an incredibly similar background; Jay Park and JAY B have both been firmly rooted in and influenced by Hip-Hop before anything else, as well as dedicating a significant amount of their adolescent life to K-Pop before maturing and producing music for themselves. After careful consideration, JAY B joined H1GHR MUSIC in an attempt to build his identity as a Hip-Hop/R&B artist. His first EP as a solo artist, ‘SOMO:Fume’, was released in 2021 following the success of his single ‘Switch It Up’ (featuring sokodomo), and marked the beginnings of JAY B’ commercial Hip-Hop career.
Unlike Jay Park and JAY B, MINO (WINNER) had roots in the underground rap scene prior to his K-Pop debut as rapper Hugeboy MINO/MINO. Having listened to 50 Cent’s music during his youth, MINO became enamoured with Hip-Hop. He then went on to develop his music taste through Korean Hip-Hop artists like Dynamicduo, Drunken Tiger, and The Movement. However, in 2011 MINO began his K-Pop career as a member of BoM (a ballad group) until the group disbanded in 2013. He then went on to train at YG Entertainment and debuted as part of the K-Pop “monster rookies”, WINNER in 2014.
Despite the commercial success WINNER achieved as a K-Pop group, MINO began solo activities to establish himself within Korean Hip-Hop. According to MINO his “career turning point” was his appearance on the rap survival show, Show Me The Money 4 in 2015, in which he came runner-up and produced the best-selling single of the year with ‘Fear’ (featuring Taeyang). MINO continued to pursue Hip-Hop by forming a Hip-Hop duo called MOBB in 2016 with labelmate BOBBY (iKON). Since then, MINO has released three solo albums - ‘XX’ (2018), ‘TAKE’ (2020), and ‘To.Infinity’ (2021) - all of which have allowed him to showcase his skills as a lyricist, rapper, and producer. MINO even made a return to Show Me The Money in season 10 (2021), however this time he was acting as mentor and producer to other aspiring rappers.
K-Pop idols producing solo works influenced by Hip-Hop and R&B is becoming more common, yet few are acknowledged within the Hip-Hop community. Even now, it is the same idol turned Hip-Hop artists who dominate the scene, for example, B.I, BOBBY, and MINO. While Jay Park, JAY B, and MINO have all managed to successfully establish themselves as Hip-Hop and R&B artists, the timescale differs. Jay Park has dominated the Hip-Hop scene for just over a decade; MINO has been experimenting with alternative Hip-Hop sounds since 2014; and JAY B is a fledgling with a promising future. All three artists continued to produce Hip-Hop music regardless of the “idol” title which they were originally associated with. Through hard work and perseverance, Jay Park, JAY B, and MINO have been able to gain recognition for the music they produce by both peers and the audience within the Hip-Hop community. Now we eagerly observe their musical growth and look forward to the future endeavours by these three talented musicians!
For more information on this topic please refer to Seoul Therapy’s YouTube video:
THE DIVIDE BETWEEN KPOP AND K Hip-Hop RAPPERS - From Seo Taiji to Tiger JK to BTS | KHH Meets KPop
- Catherine Parker