2017 In Review: Day 4 – Rap and Hip-hop

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2017 In Review

1. Prelude (Best Album Art)
2. R&B and Soul
3. Rock and Alternative
4. Rap and Hip-hop
5. Dance and Electronic
6. Pop and Ballad
7. Folk and Country
8. Jazz and Blues
9. Crossover and Other
10. Best Collaborative Work
11. Rookie Artist of the Year
12. Artist of the Year
13. Song of the Year
14. Album of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

2017 was a rich year for hip-hop. Not only did we see several long-anticipated studio debuts of hyped musicians but the scene’s reach also broadened internationally. Some of my toughest calls happened here, as I went back and forth picking the top couple of albums and songs, and there are really three or four of each that could have claimed the top spot.

Important: as in previous years, the Album of the Year and Song of the Year (and their runner-ups) are not included in the genre categories. That means that, for example, there could be a rap album that isn’t being recognized on this page because it’s the album of the year. Also, note that all “First Ten Out” and “Honorable Mention” picks are sorted by artist name.


Best Rap and Hip-hop Album 2017

TakeOne – 녹색이념 (Green Ideology)

There are no English words to be found anywhere in Green Ideology. That’s an intentional choice from a skilled English lyricist and a very noticeable bucking of the norm in Korean hip-hop. This and everything else about the album – the similar abstention from interjections and swearing, keeping the all-star cast of featured artists hidden – are emblematic of TakeOne’s commitment to meaningful lyricism. With feverish focus, the emcee writes about his faith, his experience as an immigrant child, his frailties and triumphs; tensions rise further towards the end of the album, as the boundaries between fiction and introspection begin to blur. His trademark delivery, high-tone and slightly off-beat, are charged with raw emotion, and expertly builds suspense for climactic verses (see “Cannabis”, “Desk”). Even the production of Green Ideology, which is decidedly plain and doesn’t really have scene-stealing beats, doesn’t feel like a detriment. Given this focus, the album feels like a small, intimate chamber performance. I think it was the rap album most worthy of repeated listens in 2017.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Album 2017

Dok2 – Reborn

Dok2 turns over his usual production duties to GroovyRoom for this celebratory album released on his birthday, and the resulting beats are predictably diverse. Their boom-bap is piano-based, hits heavy down low and carries visceral rhythm (“Reborn”, “Ambition and Vision”); their tropical and R&B-based beats (“On & On”, “In My Whip”) add that modern sheen. Thus fully locked-in on rapping, the prolific emcee does a little bit of everything here, from ominous gravitas to tightly-wound, breakneck rushes, and does it with flawless gusto. (And of course, there are few in the country more natural on trap beats.) The 28-year-old seems to acknowledge his changing stature in the industry: he’s very much the banner-carrying veteran in his spirited defense of the culture in “Hiphop Lover” and plays the mentor’s role in the album’s numerous collaborations with Ambition Musik protégés. Reborn is probably the best rapping performance of Dok2’s illustrious career, and in many ways, it also represents an even brighter future.

The First Ten Out

Chaboom – Sour

Code Kunst – Muggles’ Mansion

Epik High – We Made Something Beautiful

Fana – Fanaconda

Nafla – Angels

Jazzyfact – Waves Like

Kim Ximya & D. Sanders – Moonshine

Owen Ovadoz – Problematic

Pe2ny – Alive Soul Cuts Vol. 2 “Stereotype”

Viann X Khundi Panda – 재건축 (Reconstruction)


Best Rap and Hip-hop Song 2017

Dok2 – Ambition and Vision (Feat. Beenzino, Changmo, Keem Hyo-eun, Hash Swan, The Quiett)

First, let’s talk about the beat: a crescendo of lush piano chords and rich bass work herald the trademark “Groovy, everywhere”, at which point the arrangement opens up to a big, bold three-note brass motif. An intricate tapestry of brass programming, Hammond organ, and piano back the main melody. It’s rousing and sophisticated, confident and satisfying, and it might be GroovyRoom’s best work of the year. So that might have been enough to make this good, but then the whole 1llionaire and Ambition crew raps their hearts out on it. I enjoy the song’s dynamic of mentors and juniors, done without explicit framing. A hunger for greatness and youthful passion drip off of Changmo, Keem Hyo-eun, and Hash Swan’s verses, while the three established rappers talk about the view from where they are. (Beenzino’s retrospective: “Tiredness couldn’t stop me, I gave up on sleeping // And so I came to be here.”) They’re not exactly going anywhere, but it feels like a passing of the torch to the generation of rappers that will carry the coming years.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Song 2017

Code Kunst – 향수 (Perfume) (Feat. Nucksal) (bonus live version here)

You could cut this atmosphere with a knife. “Perfume” begins on a congested intersection of sounds, as a mellow beat of soft keyboards and drums tries to plod on in spite of a ringing background synth and a cacophony of voices that laugh, grunt, sigh, and converse like in those movie theater PSA clips. Nucksal takes odor as the Süskind-ian metaphor for other people’s perception of oneself. He raps of days before fame, when money was tight, family was strained, and therefore the body odious; he says “What I needed in this world that laughed at me // The greatest perfume on my body”. But then came success: as Code Kunst switches up the beat to a soulful yet wistful jam, the voices quiet down. Nucksal sharpens up the flow a notch, and notes that he nowadays seems to have a more savory scent. It now draws the crowds and he shares this intoxicating aroma with them, but “Sometimes I wonder if we always were fragrant // Or if we’ll become lonely again once the bees all leave”. “Perfume” is a great example of compact, to-the-point storytelling that combines sonic devices to devastating effect. No less is expected from this longtime duo.

The First Ten Out

Bill Stax – Sushi (Feat. C Jamm, Genius Nochang) (link)

Don Malik – Touche (link)

Huckleberry P – Human Torch (Feat. G2) (link)

Jazzyfact – Cross the Street (link)

Justhis & Paloalto – Brown Eyes View (Feat. Cifika) (link)

Loco – A.O.M.G. (link)

Owen Ovadoz – 2005 (Feat. DJ Tiz) (link)

Sleeq – Ma Girls (link)

Superbee – Pattern (Feat. Tiger JK, Double K, Junoflo, myunDO, Yoon Mi-rae) (link)

TFO – 원뿔 (Cone) (link)

Honorable Mentions


ACACY – Friends Only
BewhY – The Blind Star
Bill Stax – Buffet Mixtape
Bobby – Love and Fall
Changmo – 돈 번 순간 (Getting Money Moment)
Changstarr – Highdigger
Double K – Green Wave
DPR Live – Coming To You Live
G2 – G2’s Life
Grack Thany – Grack Thany Presents ‘8luminum’
GroovyRoom – Everywhere
Ignito – Gaia
Jerry.K – OVRWRT
Kebee – WATER
Loco – Bleached
The Quiett – Millionaire Poetry
Sama-D – SAMADhi
TFO – ㅂㅂ
VMC – Visty Boyz
Wavisaviroom – Vibe
Wutan – Dope Boys Club


Chaboom – 리빠똥 (Lord of the Flies)
Dead’P X Tapi – Cypher
Deepflow – Sofa (Feat. Sumin, Nucksal)
Django – 서울재즈 (Seoul Jazz) (Feat. Loco, U Sung-eun)
Don Malik – 모글리 (Mowgli)
Donutman – Never Change
Dopflamingo – Changed (Feat. Verbal Jint, Justhis)
Double K – That Boi (Feat. Justhis, Ann One)
DPR Live – Know Me (Feat. Dean)
Epik High – 난 사람이 제일 무서워 (People Scare Me)
Epik High – 노땡큐 (No Thanxxx) (Feat. Mino, Simon Dominic, The Quiett)
G2 – Knockin’ at the Door
Gary – 고민 (Gomin)
Giriboy – 바보상자스타 (TV Star) (Feat. Kim Seung-min) (Prod. by Minit)
GroovyRoom – YNF (Feat. Nafla, Verbal Jint)
Han Yo-han – 300km (Feat. Justhis)
Huckleberry P – One of Them (Feat. Justhis, EK)
Jazzyfact – 하루종일 (All Day)
Jeon Soyeon – Jelly
Jerry.K – Mercy (Feat. Horim)
Jerry.K – 알약 (Pills) (Feat. Don Malik, Sleeq, Saza) (Prod. by Room306, First Aid)
Jung Joonil – 우리 (We) (Feat. YunB)
Jung Min-hyuk – Holy-Day (Feat. Wheein)
Just Music – Sushi (JM Remix)
Kim Ximya – Career High (Feat. Cautious Clay)
Kumapark – Starlight (Feat. G2, Justhis)
Mad Clown – 나쁜 피 (Bad Blood) (Common Cold Remix) (Feat. Justhis)
Maniac – Black Tear (Feat. Lee Michelle)
Millic – Paradise (Feat. Fanxy Child)
MKS & Fana – 빙점 (Freezing Point)
Myundo – Ghood Life (Feat. Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy)
Nafla – Gra Gra (Feat. Loopy)
Owen Ovadoz – Youth
Palooza – Time
Pe2ny – Kid With a Mic (Feat. Basick, cut by DJ Wreckx)
Punchnello – Worth It (Feat. Hoody)
Rhythm Power – 방사능 (Radioactivity)
San E – 카운셀러 (Counselor)
Sleeq & Don Malik – 이륙 (Takeoff)
Skull, C Jamm, Jah Vinci – Killa Dreads
Somdef – Ring Ring Ring (Feat. Verbal Jint, Paloalto, DPR Live, Car the Garden)
TakeOne – 입장 (Entrance)
Viann X Khundi Panda – Ms. 808 (Feat. Sumin)
Wavisaviroom – Vibe
Woo Won-jae – 과거에게 (Loop)

Sources: album art and Dok2 header image from Bugs Music

Read our past series:

2016 In Review

2015 in Review

2014 in Review

2013 in Review

2012 in Review

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