2014 in Review: Day 4 – Rap and Hip-hop

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Don Mills

[The 2014 in Review Series]

1. Introduction and 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. Staff Picks
16. Storylines and Other Recognition
17. Concluding Remarks

With the commercial success of Show Me The Money and mainstream pay dirt found by 1llionaire, Brand New Music, Amoeba Culture and other recording labels, Korean hip-hop was more visible than ever in 2014. The transition during these last few years has seen more than a few former underground stars accused of “selling out” (fair or not), even as new indie faces sprang up to replace them in numbers and strong showings came from unexpected sources (such as overseas and the idol scene). These are growing pains; the scene is still expanding and maturing, perhaps faster than any other in K-pop, and we are charting brave new territory. The strength of the works below speak to the fruits of that labor.

Important: same as the last two 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 hip-hop album that isn’t being recognized on this page because it’s the album of the year. Also, note that all “Next Ten Out” and “Honorable Mention” picks are sorted by artist name.


Best Rap and Hip-hop Album 2014

B-Free - Korean Dream

B-Free – Korean Dream

It just so happens that every year when I do this, there is a total no-brainer pick in some category. Korean Dream is that pick for 2014. I consider it the best hip-hop album of the year by quite some margin, and that’s a little surprising even to me. B-Free’s third album was sleekly produced and nicely polished (tracks like “Hot Summer” and “Fly” delivering that thick Hi-Lite groove in droves), but not enough to earn it this distinction. Free is a competent emcee, but I wouldn’t say his lyricism and wordplay here were the best of the year. No, what makes Korean Dream memorable is the humanity behind it. It tells stories from the heart: listen to the conviction of a man remembering his humble roots in “On Fire”, the hope-filled dream chase of “It Ain’t Easy”, the touching dedication to family in “Song For My Mama” (which seems like a sequel of sorts to 2012’s “New Year’s Eve”). Korean Dream is grounded, coherent, and believable. More than any other hip-hop artist this year, B-Free found a way to be vulnerable to the listener; to invite us into his life and show (not tell) it to us. Now that’s a no-brainer.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Album 2014

Qim Isle - Boylife in 12

Qim Isle – Boylife In 12″

2013’s V*$*V may have been that year’s most underrated hip-hop single. In that debut single, as one reviewer put it, “Qim Isle showed that it’s possible to make a rap song out of a bunch of female names.” Boylife In 12″ took that quirkiness and ran with it, and so ended up as the year’s weirdest hip-hop album. If we’re being honest, we couldn’t make any triumphant proclamations about Qim’s lyrical or rapping prowess here; the strength of this debut is on originality and on-point production. Bad news for purists, perhaps, but it’s hard to deny the attraction of dreamy “사과를 깨무는” (“Biting The Apple”) and indulgent “D.A.I.S.Y.”. Shin Se-ha‘s smart synthpop production is unlike any other, and Qim’s tone – maybe a little similar to Born Kim – never wears out its welcome.

The Next Ten Out


Best Rap and Hip-hop Song 2014

P-Type – 반환점 (Turning Point)

The best kind of beat samples are the unexpected ones. For “Turning Point”, MC Sungcheon (now going by “Fascinating”) sampled three Sanullim classics and turned them into a difficult yet remarkably powerful beat. The extra offbeat tom-toms characterizing many Sanullim tracks add ponderous deliberation to an already weighty sound, while the band’s distorted keyboard turns into makeshift synths. It’s a gorgeous beat, certainly one of 2014’s best if not the best, and P-Type’s rigid, structured flow and precise rhyming are as appropriate as ever. We didn’t see P-Type’s fourth album this year, but this was a hell of an appetizer.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Song 2014

E-Sens – Back In Time

Our runner-up selection is no slouch in the beats department, either. Dampened synth pads soldier on in the background, as E-Sens returns to his hometown and memories of a fledgling future rapper. His conversational delivery (a lot like that in Primary‘s “Poison”, our 2012 category winner) is gripping as he tells this story, as is his particular penchant for effortless groove. Legal troubles notwithstanding, a post-Amoeba and independent E-Sens possesses insane potential, second only to maybe Beenzino. “Back In Time” is the tiniest glimpse into what could be the future of the scene.

The Next Ten Out

B-Free - Korean Dream

B-Free – Hot Summer

Chaboom - Original

Chaboom – 안산 느와르 (Ansan Noir) (Featuring Ringo Jay)

Dead'P - What's Good

Dead’P – What’s Good

Dynamic Duo & DJ Premier - A Giant Step

Dynamic Duo & DJ Premier – AEAO

1llionaire Records - 1111

1llionaire Records – 연결고리 (YGGR) (Featuring MC Meta)

Jerry.k - Realistic

Jerry.k – 먼지 쌓인 기타 (Guitar Collecting Dust) (Featuring Jung Cha-sik)

Loco - Hold Me Tight

Loco – 감아 (Hold Me Tight) (Featuring Crush)

Mild Beats & JayT - Daily Works

Mild Beats & JayT – Daily Works

Verbal Jint - Rare Breed

Verbal Jint – 희귀종 (Rare Breed) (Featuring YDG)

YDG - Jajaja

YDG – JAJAJA (Featuring Crush, Dynamic Duo)

Honorable Mentions


A June & J Beat – Jazz Nature Vol. 2
Chas – Man From Beat
Don Mills – Young Don
Dwang – DWANG
Huckleberry P – gOld
1llionaire Records – 11:11
Louie – 靈感 (영감) (Inspiration)
Reddy – Imaginary Foundation
Rhythm Power – 월미도의 개들 (Dogs of Wolmido)
Swings – 감정기복 (Mood Swings) II Part 2: 강박증 (Compulsion)
Ven – The Vgins


Aev – Now Is Good (Featuring Satbyeol, Huckleberry P)
Andup – The Way You Are (Featuring Rico)
Beenzino – Dali, Van, Picasso
Beenzino – Jackson Pollock D*ck
B-Free – 불타 (On Fire) (Featuring Cokejazz)
Born Kim & Artisan Beats – Jimmy Chu
Chas – 안단테 (Andante) (Featuring Garion)
Crucial Star – Pretty Girl (Featuring Lovey)
Crucial Star – 꿈을 파는 가게 (Dream Store) (Featuring Mayson the Soul, Bob James)
Deepflow – Deadline (Featuring Ven)
Don Mills – 강백호 (Kang Baek-ho)
Dwang – Caffeine Overdose
Dynamic Duo – Summer Time (자리비움)
Epik High – Born Hater (Featuring Beenzino, Verbal Jint, B.I., Mino, Bobby)
Epik High – 헤픈엔딩 (Happen Ending) (Featuring Cho Won-sun of Roller Coaster)
Gaeko – 화장 지웠어 (No Make Up) (Featuring Zion.T, HA:TFELT)
Gary – XX몰라 (Zotto Mola)
Giriboy – Camp (Featuring Swings)
G.Minor & KG – 8386
High Flies – C.U.I.O.
I11evn – Hometown
Jolly V – Cognac
Liwon – Wake Up
Louie – Where You At (Featuring Young Luffy)
MSG – Lonely Night (Featuring Fana)
Nam Soo-rim – 변하고 있어 (Changing)
Okasian – Damn Thing Funny (Featuring Paloalto)
Okasian – Fashionably Late
Paloalto – Good Times (Featuring Babylon)
Pe2ny – 해, 너도 (Do It, You Too) (Featuring JJK, Olltii, Yena)
Pinodyne – Let Me See That Tattoo (Featuring Deez)
Qim Isle – Girlslike (Featuring Jung Yoon-hee)
Qim Isle – SAMO© 아우토반 (Autobahn)
Rhythm Power – 왕좌의 게임 (Game of Thrones)
Swings – 불도저 (Bulldozer)
Swings – 이겨낼거야 (Going To Win) 2 (Featuring Gray)
Swings & Ailee – A Real Man
Swings, Giriboy, and C Jamm – Rain Showers
Swings, Giriboy, and Chunjae Nochang – hongkiyoung #2
Ven – 너의 몸에 벤 (Ven On Your Body) (Featuring Beenzino)

Sources: Photos – Don Mills from R.O.K. Hiphop and album covers from Daum Music; Videos – YouTube

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