2021 In Review: Day 6 – Rap and Hip-hop

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2021 In Review

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

The hip-hop albums category was the most difficult to pick of any genre in 2021. There was just an absurd amount of quality throughout the year, with several albums that would have been shoo-ins in other years – Owen’s P.O.E.M. III, QM’s Money Breath, Khundi Panda’s MODM, Verbal Jint’s Inflection Point – being crowded out of the top 12 and many other excellent albums not even coming close.

The scene also had the runaway pick for label of the year, with Dejavu Group not only releasing a sublime compilation album but also having every single member release independent work worthy of a year-end list. Show Me the Money had its usual news-making run with Hellokpop’s 2020 Rookie Artist of the Year Gwangil Jo taking the big prize, and SMTM sensation Northfacegawd – who made a heck of an impression on his solo work and Don Mills’ album even before that – might turn out to be the best discovery in years if his future work shakes out well.

Note that ChoiLB – 독립음악 (Independent Music) (the album, not the song) will not be listed below, since it was our runner-up Album of the Year on Day 3. The “Next 10” and honorable mention lists are alphabetically sorted by artist name.

The 2021 Rap and Hip-hop Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Rap and Hip-hop Album 2021

Kid Milli & Dress – Cliché

2021’s most ambitious sonic venture in hip-hop. The Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak inspirations and Kid Milli’s breakneck pace of the first half make for an effortlessly chilled-out package, but the rock and soul soundsets harnessed by Dress in the second half (and the moxie to bring in artists like Sunwoojunga and In the Endless Zanhyang We Are) open up Cliché‘s scope even further into a class of its own.

The Runner-up

Changmo – Underground Rockstar

The arrival of Changmo as a true auteur. From the lush scale of “Moraesigye” to the Brooklyn drill-infused “Beretta” and tortured, fractured soundscape of “Chronic Love”, the album constantly surprises in its polish; meanwhile the pervasively dark themes – from a struggle with alcoholism to the self-destructive side of stardom – are elevated by Changmo’s roaring delivery, having found its outlet at last.

The Next 10 (Alphabetical)

30 – The Frost on Your Kids

BewhY, ChoiLB, Khundi Panda, Son Simba, Une, and Viann as Dejavu Group – Dingo X Dejavu Group: Wrote This Tomorrow

Don Malik – Paid in Seoul

Don Sign. – Born Under a Bad Sign

Jaedal – Bomb Head

Khundi Panda – The Spoiled Child: 균

Nafla – Natural High

TakeOne – 상업예술 (Commercial Art) (read our review)

Unofficialboyy & Haifhaif – 그물, 덫, 발사대기, 포획 (Net, Trap, Launcher, Capture)

Viann & Son Simba – 전설 (A Tale About the Legend)


Best Rap and Hip-hop Song 2021

BewhY, ChoiLB, Khundi Panda, Son Simba, Une, and Viann as Dejavu Music – 지금으로 (Hereby)
Written by Khundi Panda, Son Simba, ChoiLB, BewhY
Composed by BewhY
Arranged by BewhY, Viann

There are certain things a crew can only do when every emcee is a top lyricist, such as the densely built “Hereby” where four rappers trade barbed verses and coiled ambition while their individual stories grow to intersect. Atop Viann’s intricate electronica, the melodic chorus that’s become somewhat emblematic of all these guys (except maybe Khundi Panda) pulses ominously, and at last takes flight in a glorious symphony of modulating melody, dramatic hits and Une harmonization. Dejavu is here to stay.

The Runner-up

Tiger JK – 호심술 (Love Peace)
Written by Tiger JK
Composed and arranged by Park Jae-sun

A thundering anthem of resistance, channeling simmering anger against rising anti-Asian hate crimes. The beat is frenetic, JK’s delivery pounding, the lyrics ferociously violent; and the visceral experience of it all his outlet – and maybe ours –  to find center amidst the chaos. And so Tiger JK shouts love and peace in his own way into the “age of hatred”.

The Next 10 (Alphabetical)

Alive Funk – 없어도 돼 (That’s OK) (Feat. Don Malik, Soovi)

BewhY – Celebration

Changmo – Chronic Love (Feat. Jibin of Y2K92)

ChoiLB – 독립음악 (Independent Music)

Don Malik – Not an Ambition

Keith Ape – Orca Walk (Feat. Okasian)

Kid Milli & Dress – Bittersweet (Feat. Ron)

Kid Milli & Dress – Face & Mask (Feat. Ron)

Owen X Ourealgoat – 각광 (Limelight) (Feat. Dbo)

TakeOne – 녹색이념 (Green Ideology)

Honorable Mentions


99′ Nasty Kidz – Nasty Cinema
Aite – MOLY
Ash-B – Brat of the Year
Baehyuni – 위위 (Wewe)
BewhY – 032 Funk
DPR Live – Iite Cool
Don Mills – F.O.B.
Epik High – Epik High Is Here 上
Fyve – Nine to Fyve
Giriboy – Avante
Jayho – Locals Only
Khundi Panda – MODM: Original Saga
Lil Cherry & Goldbuuda – Chef Talk
Los – Skandalouz
Loxx Punkman – N.E.O
Luci Gang – Lucifer’s Therapy
Mild Beats – Fragment
Monsoon Nui – Monsoonnui 4
Owen – P.O.E.M. III
Owen X Ourealgoat – Brotherhood
Q the Trumpet – Yellow Flower
QM – 돈숨 (Money Breath)
Seshin & M3chvnic – Badboyz on tha Streetz
Since – Since 16′
Sokodomo – …—…
Unofficialboyy – 이수린ackermann (Unofficialboyyackermann)
Verbal Jint – 변곡점 (Inflection Point)


30 – 凸 (Yeot)
30 – 골로가 모텔 (Motel Gologa)
99′ Nasty Kidz – Hitman
99′ Nasty Kidz – Slam Dunk
Aite – I Will
Ash-B – Part-Time
B-Free – 멸종 (R.I.P.)
B.I – Alive
Baehyuni – 알바비 (Part-Time Job)
Balming Tiger – Just Fun!
Betta – Aquarium – Intro (Feat. Haki)
BewhY, ChoiLB, Khundi Panda, Son Simba, Une, Viann – Beyond The
BewhY, Khundi Panda, Son Simba, Viann – 아마도 어제 (Maybe Yesterday)
Chamane & Greenbeige – 할푼리 (Percentage)
Changmo – Beretta (Feat. Ahn Da-young)
ChoiLB – 복수전공 (Double Major) (Feat. JJK)
ChoiLB – 최엘비 유니버스 (ChoiLB Universe)
Don Malik – 네비대로 가주세요 (Navi) (Feat. Youra)
Don Malik – 마천루 (Skyscraper) (Feat. Justhis)
Don Malik – 칭칭칭 (Chingchingching) (Feat. DeVita)
Don Mills – 다이나믹 듀오 (Dynamic Duo) (Feat. Nucksal)
Don Mills – 대박인생 (Daebak Life) (Feat. Northfacegawd, Uneducated Kid) (Prod. Imeanseoul)
Don Sign. – Holy Water (Feat. pH-1)
Don Sign. – 황혼에서 새벽까지 (From Dusk Till Dawn) (Feat. Hangsuk, Nucksal, Kim Oki)
Epik High – End of the World (Feat. G.Soul)
Fyve – 휘잉 (Hwing) (Feat. Kaogaii)
Giriboy – 그리고 돌아섰다 (You Turned Around)
Greengrim – Walk on By 2 (Feat. Sosa)
Han Yo-han – 이게 나야 (This Is Me) (Feat. Changmo)
Hwaji – See You in the Metaverse
Illson – Last Laugh (Feat. Styliztikjones)
Illson – On & On (Feat. Isa, Cole)
Jaedal – Shut Down
Jaedal – 너에게 (Love Letter)
Jnkyrd – Intro (Feat. Omega Sapien)
Justhis – Star
Kebee – Sunroof (Feat. Tamiz, Huckleberry P)
Keebomb – Rap (Feat. Paloalto, Don Mills)
Khundi Panda – 원시의 힘 (Ancient Power) (Feat. Fana, Gaeko)
Khundi Panda – 진짜를 보여달라니 (Do Not Cross the Fence)
Khundi Panda, Son Simba, Une – No More Chances
Kid Milli & Dress – Bankroll (Feat. Okasian)
Kid Milli & Dress – Kitty (Feat. Miyeon ((G)I-dle))
Kid Milli & Dress – Leave My Studio (Feat. Sunwoojunga)
Kid Milli & Dress – Midnight Blue (Feat. In the Endless Zanhyang We Are)
Leellamarz – Catch Me If You Can
Lil Cherry & Goldbuuda – 하늘천따지 (1000 Words)
Loxx Punkman – thE feAR (Feat. Deepflow, Mckdaddy)
Luci Gang – Beef
Luci Gang – Rap Care
MC Meta & DJ Tiz – Under
Mild Beats – Do Your Own
Mild Beats – Signs
Minit – Party (Feat. Skinny Brown)
Mirani – Lambo! (Feat. Uneducated Kid)
Nafla – Run! Remix (Feat. Kaeoh626, J-Tong, Huckleberry P, Soiree, Dok2)
Owen – Members Only (Prod. Xrface)
Owen – 아침 (Bright Side) (Feat. Chaeree) (Prod. Cribs)
Owen – 흰 눈 (Snow-White) (Prod. The Quiett)
Owen X Ourealgoat – 쓴웃음 (Bitter Smile)
Reddy & Swervy – Tag
Rohann – Dial (Feat. Deepflow, Dsel)
Rohann – 어디에 (Where) (Prod. Fredi Casso)
Skinny Chase – City of Angels (Feat. DJ Vamos, James Keys)
Sokodomo – Pegasus (Feat. Huckleberry P)
Tabber – Adrenaline
TakeOne – 상업예술 (Commercial Art) (Feat. Ha In-ae, Verbal Jint)
Uneducated Kid – Uneducated Arirang
Unofficialboyy & Haifhaif – 그물, 덫, 발사대기, 포획 (Net, Trap, Launcher, Capture) (Feat. Yanghongwon)
Untell – Wake Up (Feat. DJ Wegun)
Viann & Son Simba – 그들의 말로 (The End of the Road (In Their Words))
Woodie Gochild – Jackson (Feat. Changmo)
Wutan & Buggy – LA에서 왔대 (She’s from LA) (Feat. Hwaji)

Lyric translations by author. Album cover images from Bugs Music. Dejavu Group header image captured from Dingo FreeStyle YouTube.

Read our past series:

2020 In Review

2019 In Review

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review