2013 in Review: Day 4 – Rap and Hip-hop

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[The 2013 in Review Series]

0. Prelude – Best Album Art
1. Introduction
2. R&B and Soul
3. Rock and Alternative
4. Rap and Hip-hop
5. Dance and Electronic
6. Pop, Ballad and Folk
7. Jazz, Crossover and Other
8. Best Collaborative Work
9. Rookie of the Year
10. Song of the Year
11. Artist of the Year
12. Album of the Year
13. Staff Picks
14. Miscellanea and Loose Ends
15. Concluding Remarks

The talk of the hip-hop scene in 2013 was undoubtedly the “Control” diss battle launched by Swings, the largest and most widely hyped saga in Korean rap history. More on this on Day 14, but I think the shake-up was a net positive; there was some noise and digressive commotion but the real conversations sparked by the battle will only benefit this maturing scene. The year was also marked by a large boom in crossovers into mainstream pop by longtime indie rappers and producers (continuing a trend started in earnest about two years ago), an issue just as contentious as the diss saga. None of that stopped the following artists from making it another nice year in hip-hop, however.

Important: same as last year, 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 honorable mention picks are sorted by alphabetical order of artist names.


Best Rap and Hip-hop Album 2013

P-Type - Rap

P-Type – Rap

Today, P-Type’s reputation as a premier rhyme-maker is almost eclipsed by his stature as a scene stalwart. Both sides of the rapper coexist in Rap; his lyricism remains intricate and tight, if not as revolutionary as 10 years ago, and there is a sense of veteran presence and swagger in the collaborations, particularly the three “OST” themed tracks where he works with younger artists from 1llionaire, Hi-Lite, and the now-dissolved Standart Music Group. Powerful lyrical themes like those of Highway Trucker and 불 꺼 (Turn Off the Lights) implicitly and explicitly tell the story of more than a decade of dedication to craft. There’s very little fluff here: P-Type is instead heavy on substance, and austere ones at that. Twelve tracks of bold themes, solid rhyme-work, and weighty beats later, Rap was the year’s most straightforward and satisfying hip-hop release.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Album 2013

Mild Beats - Beautiful Struggle

Mild Beats – Beautiful Struggle

It’s sort of a mini-renaissance for producer albums these days, as shown in the great work being done by Primary, Soriheda, Kimparkchella, Jinbo, and more. Mild Beats’ studio comeback after eight years is distinguished by a more vintage sound-set. The samples come from all strands of soul, jazz, and funk, and they’re not technically flashy: there’s more focus on loops than on lengthy instrumentals, and the drums and bass are workmanlike. And it’s all fantastic. This austerity is the album’s greatest strength, giving volume to the jazzier and groovier tracks and lending serious gravitas to the composition as a whole. Taking on the beats’ (and producer’s) persona, the all-star roster of guest emcees also put in solid, hustle-play bars with no empty showboating. This breed of hip-hop is increasingly rare in the Korean music scene, and Beautiful Struggle is a wonderful change of pace.

Honorable Mentions

Dynamic Duo - Luckynumbers

Dynamic Duo – Luckynumbers [read our review]

Fana - FANAttitude

Fana – FANAttitude

Giriboy - The Fatal Album II

Giriboy – 치명적인 앨범 (The Fatal Album) II

Kamaal - Paper Mache

Kamaal – Paper Mache

Kimparkchella - Love, Peace, Revolution

Kimparkchella – Love, Peace, Revolution

Paloalto - Chief Life

Paloalto – Chief Life

Pinodyne - PINOcchio

Pinodyne – PINOcchio [read our review]

Twangstar - Below the Surface

Twangsta – Below the Surface


Best Rap and Hip-hop Song 2013

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Yankie – 이놈 (I.N.D.O) (Featuring Tablo)

In a year full of insane beats (see the list below) I.N.D.O stood out with an addictive Korean-traditional loop and interesting embellishments. As you may notice, the theme is Korea’s monarchic era, and both Yankie and Tablo nail this: from the appropriately condescending speech level to archaic diction to copious cultural references, the whole thing is a case study on how to do thematic hip-hop right. The show-stopping verse belongs to guest Tablo, as he naturally weaves in things like the maehwateul (the royal toilet… seriously) and ilwulohbongdo (the folding screen set behind a Joseon-era throne) into some outrageous punchlines and manages to make puns while maintaining the gravity required to wield the speech level that he employs. To me this was the most entertaining hip-hop track to listen to in 2013, and it wasn’t particularly close.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Song 2013

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Garion – 거짓 (Falsehood) 2013

It’s been 15 years since the original Falsehood, and neither Naachal nor MC Meta are the same people they were then. With new lyrics, new message, new beat, new main refrain, and a different set of voices and flow, about the only similarity between the 1998 and 2013 versions of the legendary debut single is the original chorus. Whereas the original was characterized by youthful energy and rebelliousness, the new edition is supplemented with experience and a more focused message. Naachal sets the stage with an abstract verse, before Meta delivers the heat with sharp verses lashing out at the negative sides of Korean hip-hop. The frustration and anger are genuine, and while similar things have been said for years and even during that diss battle, the message gains more in the light of Garion’s experience and reflections. In that context, I really like what Meta adds to the chorus: “A fake real thing is a fake, a real fake is a fake, but a real real thing is for real…”

Honorable Mentions

Basick – 김치 (Kimchi)
Bulhandang – 불한당가 (Song of Hooligans)
Born Kim – Show N Prove (Featuring Shaun of The Koxx) [read our album review]
Double K – Rewind (Featuring Lee Michelle)
Factory Boi – Why So Serious
Fame-J – 섬 (Island)
Gaeko – 될 대로 되라 해 (느낌 So Good) (Rhythm Is Life)
G&D – 아무리 생각해봐도 (No Matter How Much I Think) (Featuring Jazzmine)
G-Dragon – R.O.D. (Featuring Lydia Paek)
Giriboy – 다른꼴 (Different Shape) (Featuring Crucial Star)
Gray – 위험해 (Dangerous) (Featuring Jay Park)
Isaac Squab – Welcome Song
Jebag – Bang!!! (Featuring San E)
Jerry.k – 곡선 (Curves) (Featuring 40)
Jerry.k – 삐에로 (Pierrot) (Featuring Kim Jae-suk)
Kimparkchella – And the Story Goes On (Featuring Fana)
Masta Wu – What’s Up (Featuring Swings)
MFBTY – 살자 (The Cure)
Mild Beats – 부르라! (Call) (Featuring MC Meta)
Mild Beats – Man on Fire (Featuring Dragon AT)
Nuol – Where’d They Go (Dub Remix) (Featuring Beenzino)
Okasian – 소문내 (Spread the Word)
P-Type – Highway Trucker
P-Type – 불 꺼 (Turn the Lights Off)
PNSB – 노란색 (Yellow) (Featuring Sawakeedub)
Qim Isle – V*$*V
Rphabet – Black Suit (Featuring San E)
San E – Rap Circus
San E, Ultima, Sool J, Effect, Scary P – Freestyle Town
Sleeq – Lightless
Supreme Team – 그대로 있어도 돼 (You Can Stay) (Featuring Crush)
Swings – No Mercy
Twangsta – 뿌리 (Roots) (Featuring Hwaji)
Vismajor – The Vgins
Yong Jun-hyung, Feeldog and LE – 어이없네 (You Got Some Nerve)

Sources: Photos – Vismajor from Hiphoplaya and album covers from Daum Music; Videos – YouTube

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