2016 in Review: Day 4 – Rap and Hip-hop

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[2016 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 Crossover
9. Best Collaborative Work
10. Rookie Artist of the Year
11. Artist of the Year
12. Song of the Year
13. Album of the Year
14. Staff Picks
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

2016 didn’t bring TakeOne‘s long-awaited Green Ideology in time to make it into this series, but we did get an equally anticipated Beenzino release, as well as substantial debut efforts from hyped rookies like Nafla and Owen Ovadoz. A slew of quality work from the Show Me The Money and Unpretty Rapstar generation helped justify the rising clout of the scene. Korean hip-hop’s future is youth and diversity.

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 2016

Hwaji - Zissou

Hwaji – Zissou

There’s a certain detachment to how Hwaji tells his stories, as if he’s achieved wisdom from beyond. Much like the album cover – the rapper in a plane, enjoying popcorn while flying over a world in turmoil – Hwaji laments materialistic and hedonist pursuits (“구하소서” (“May We Be Saved”)), decries social hierarchy (“안 급해” (“I’m Not in a Rush”)), and invites the listener to “leave Seoul”, and head to more romantic, stress-free lands. And you know, if that was it, Zissou would be just another message-conscious album. But this one goes a little further. As it turns out, Hwaji can’t be so detached, after all: he bitterly claims “people change but money never does” (“그건 그래” (“That’s True”)), confesses his humble desires in the Bahamas where he’s arrived, and lays out the life he wants to live and share with others (“Irvana”). As the album grinds onward, even though Hwaji never changes his biting and dense lyricism and Young Soul‘s beats remain austere, one finds a grand heart and humanity seeping through. This is a tight, lyrically complex album that seeks to emphathize but not lecture, live but not indulge, and while at it, pay some tribute to Pimp C and Bun B. (The track “UGK” reminded me of “Front, Back & Side to Side” even in sound.) That makes Zissou an essential piece of work.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Album 2016

Nucksal - The God of Small Things

Nucksal – 작은 것들의 신 (The God of Small Things)

The God of Small Things is paved with weighty, heavy beats that VMC artists have made their name on – check out the rocking loop of “Skill Skill Skill” or the brassy funk of “I Got Bills”. Nucksal’s voice is a far cry from the charismatic bass of crewmates Deepflow or Don Mills, but the high-toned rapper packs these bars with beat-splitting speed, bursting volume, and a lot of subtleties that afford him dimension and emotion. From the little growls repeated on particular rhymes, to belted and sighed punctuation, to tentatively floated syllables, these touches are absorbing and allow Nucksal to glide seamlessly from unbridled swagger to determined manifesto to playful complaining. They also invite close listening to the narratives, in which the lyricist lays out principle and purpose with each track. Hard to ask for a better introduction to an artist.

The First Ten Out


Best Rap and Hip-hop Song 2016

Code Kunst – Beside Me (Featuring BewhY, YDG, Suran)

“Beside Me” finds itself here due in no small part to YDG spitting perhaps the finest verse of the year. Taking on the track’s middle portion, Yang immediately exudes presence with his characteristically malleable flow. He draws out his vowels in varying rhythm, groans and demands with raw yet tired emotion. (The part where he briefly breaks into dialect is a triumph.) He paints himself a martyr yet sinner, before delivering Matthew 7:3-5 twice in growing outrage. BewhY’s rigidly formed verse stands in pleasant contrast, as Suran ties it together with haunting, forlorn calls for empathy in the world. Code Kunst’s prowess as a beat producer was never in doubt, but here he shines as conductor – a vision carried out to perfection with the right voices, painstaking sound and a distilled message.

Runner-up Rap and Hip-hop Song 2016

Huckleberry P – 박상혁 (Park Sang-hyuk)

Huckleberry P won this category in 2015 with compelling storytelling; he nearly repeated this year with pure rap skill. The eponymous “Park Sang-hyuk” is, true to namesake, a snapshot of what defines Huck P. Reflecting the premier freestyle MC in him, it’s three and a half minutes of fierce, unadulterated bars uninterrupted by any hook or chorus; he spends the extra time taking his doubters behind the woodshed with acute references backing up his boasts (notably his solo sellouts in vaunted venues, his fans’ penchant for basically performing “Rap Badr Hari” in his stead every time, and, yes, “Everest”). Huckleberry P’s manipulation of syllabic rhythm is unparalleled as he melds into the switching beats. This is, at once, the best swagger rap and the most sonically entertaining rap song of the year.

The First Ten Out

Dok2 – Future Flame

Don Malik & Kima – Tribeast

Garion – Heritage (Featuring Nucksal)

Jinsil [Mad Soul Child] & Tablo – Dododo

Paloalto - Victories

Paloalto – Victories

Peejay – Moonstruck (Featuring Qim Isle, Ohhyuk)

The Quiett – Very Special

Reddy – Ocean View

Suran – 땡땡땡 (Ddang) (Featuring Hwasa)

Truedy – All Kill

Honorable Mentions


45RPM – Rappertory
B-Free – Free From Seoul
B-Soap – 짝사랑들 (Crushes)
Choi Sam – Suicide
Crucial Star – Drawing #3: Untitled
CuzD – CuzDcustik Lounge
Defconn – 맹금류 (Birds of Prey)
Don Malik & Kima – Tribeast
Don Mills – 미래 (Mirae)
Giriboy – 기계적인 앨범 (The Mechanical Album)
Grosto – Daily Food
JA – Lost & Found
Jay Park & Ugly Duck – Scene Stealers
Jdub – Distortion
Legit Goons – Camp
Louie – 황문섭 (Hwang Moon-seop)
Masstige – Brain Map
Odee – Sly
The Quiett – Q Train 2
Scary’P & Ex8er – 8
Simba Zawadi – The Stranger
Superbee – The Life is 82 (0.5)
Swings – 감정기복 II Part 3: 심리치료 (Mood Swings II Part 3: Psychotherapy)
Triumph – Day to Day
Yumdda – 살아숨셔 (Drew Breath)


45RPM – 붐박스 (Boombox) (Featuring Kirin, DJ Soulscape)
Bassagong & Arwwae – 7 (Featuring Donutman, Chaboom)
Beenzino – Imagine Time (Featuring Suran)
Beenzino – Life In Color
BewhY – Shalom
Bobby – 꽐라 (HOLUP)
Born Kim – Vibe of My Life
Brown Sugar – Vitor (Featuring Illinit, Deepflow, Kwon5Fresh, DJ Young)
Bulhandang – We Back
Choi Sam – Professional
CL – Hello Bitches
Donutman – Good
Dynamic Duo, Primary, Boi B, Crush – highfiVe
G2 – 식구 (Family) (Featuring B-Free, Okasian, Reddy, Huckleberry P, Paloalto, Sway-D, DJ Djanga)
Garion – 그니까 (For Real) (Featuring Sonnet Son)
Grosto – 졸업반 (Graduating Class) (Featuring Hoody)
Huckleberry P – 달마시안 (Dalmatian)
Hwaji – UGK (Featuring Paloalto)
Hwaji – 알 바야 (Not to Care)
Illionaire Records – Illionaire Everyday
Iron – 하남 주공 아파트 (Hanam Jugong Apartments)
Jayvito & Mood Schula – Trippin’
Jerry.K – 콜센터 (Call Center) (Featuring Oohyo)
Justhis – Sell the Soul
Keeproots – Kick & Snap (Featuring Rhyme-A-, Nachal, Huckleberry P)
Kiggen – 버려진 기분 (I’m Serious) (Featuring Eluphant, Ravi [Vixx], Esbee)
Kirin & ZEN-LA-ROCK – Purple Jack City
KittiB – Nobody’s Perfect
Legit Goons – 야자수 (Palm Tree)
Loptimist – Me (Featuring Ji Jong-hwan, Kim)
Louie & Lee Hyun-woo – 니 얼굴 (Your Face)
LX – 괜찮을거야 (It’ll Be OK) (Featuring Song Hee-ran)
Maniac – K.O. Like Tyson (Featuring Owen Ovadoz)
Nafla – Mercy (Featuring AP)
Nashow – 이겨내 (Wall)
Nuck – 넋두리 (Grumble)
Nucksal – 팔지 않아 (Not For Sale)
Olltii – 무중력 (Zero Gravity) (Featuring Dalchong [Cheeze], Jacobi Planet)
Owen Ovadoz – Hip Hop
PNSB – Olympus
Rimi – 하늘아래 (Under the Sky)
Sik-K – 랑데뷰 (Rendezvous)
Sleeq – Colossal
Sleeq – Stay With Me (Featuring Shin Ji-su)
Sool J, 40, Ultima, Jo Sung-bum – 가질래 (Want)
Swings – Your Soul (Featuring Gray)
Trippy – 자화상 (Self-Portrait)
Verbal Jint & Chancellor – Sunshine (Featuring Holyhood)
Yumdda – 그럼 (Yes)
YunB – Runaway, Pt. 1 (Featuring Paloalto)

Sources: album art and Hwaji header image from Bugs Music

Read our past series:

2015 in Review

2014 in Review

2013 in Review

2012 in Review

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