One does not simply talk about South Korea without ever mentioning the word “K-Pop“.
K-Pop first gained popularity in the late 1990s and eventually became a subculture among teenagers and young adults of East and Southeast Asia in the late 2000s. Before you could even study the genre, it spread to other regions of the world, turning into a pop culture sensation that is known as the “Korean Wave”.
However, beyond that glossy term, there has been a phenomenal amount of great music being produced in the Korean music scene. With the recent onslaught of pop music in Korea, these good music tend to get overlooked very easily. And if you dive deep into the Korean music scene, you will realise that it is much more diverse than you think.
I personally think that the Korean indie and hip-hop artistes have definitely grown beyond just being underground musicians. Sure, they are lesser known as compared to the K-Pop idols, but their talents are hard to ignore and we definitely want to hear more from them.
Lucky you, we managed to discover a few artistes that made us swoon over their music and we want you to be a fan too:
1. Zion.T (자이언티)
Zion. T always leaves us wanting more with his seductive and smooth R&B voice.
Debuted in 2011, Zion.T is best known for his frequent collaborations with numerous well-known Korean hip hop artistes such as Beenzino and Dok2. He was also featured on albums of several K-Pop artistes such as INFINITE-H, G-Dragon (BIGBANG), and Jonghyun (SHINee). His name derived from Zion, a place in the Bible and T which represents the cross. He released his first solo album, “Red Light”, on 9th April 2013.
Zion.T tends to give off a mysterious yet stylish vibe with his ever-changing trendy shades and sleek suits. While maintaining that hip hop aura, the dapper dandy made us swoon over his music while taking R&B and disco-funk cues from the likes of The Weeknd and Jamiroquai.
Crush is no stranger to the Korean music scene and we won’t deny the fact that we have a major “crush” on him.
The producer/singer-songwriter, who recently burst into the public radar, made his official debut as a solo artiste under Amoeba Culture earlier in April this year. It’s easy to understand why all eyes are firmly on this rising star ever since he dropped his first official digital single, “Sometimes”.
Prior to his debut, he was already known for his collaborations with several hip-hop and R&B artistes such as Gary and LOCO. He has also released a few songs under his name in the past, but he wasn’t managed as an artiste yet and there were no promotions for the songs. Yet, he still stood out on his own, “crushing” the charts through his collaboration tracks with other notable Korean artistes such as Zion. T, Gray, Dynamic Duo, Jay Park, and many more.
With his sexually charged voice, Crush has inevitably emerged as one of the strongest male vocalists to emerge within the K-Pop industry this year.
Despite being relatively new in the Korean mainstream music scene, Hyukoh’s popularity has already grown way beyond their expectations. They even experienced multiple accusations of plagiarism due to their sudden rise in fame.
The South Korean indie rock band consists of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Oh Hyuk (오혁), bassist Im Dong-geon (임동건), lead guitarist Im Hyun-je (임현제), and drummer Lee In-woo (이인우). They were the first act to sign with HIGHGRND (pronounced as High Ground), a subsidiary of YG Entertainment and a record label managed by Korean rapper and record producer Tablo from Epik High.
Before they signed with HIGHGRND, Hyukoh was already experiencing moderate success in the underground music scene with several sold out shows at small-scale venues. They eventually became widely known after participating in the “2015 Infinity Challenge Summer Music Festival” on popular Korean variety program “Infinity Challenge”.
Due to their impressive musical talent, they received mainly positive responses from critics and public, even breaking the top 10 of the Billboard World Albums Chart 2 months after the release of their 2nd mini-album, “22”.
Oh man, where do we even start with a rapper this charming and awesome?
Recruited by Simon D of Supreme Team, Beenzino (real name: Lim Sungbin 임성빈) first gained recognition when he posted his recordings to the DC Tribe website after becoming more involved in composing hip hop lyrics. He gained further recognition when he was featured in albums by Dok2, Epik High, Supreme Team, and Verbal Jint.
With his talent widely lauded by critics and public, it’s no surprise that he has been praised as Korea’s hip hop golden child after making his solo debut with “24:26” in 2012. Whether it’s his composing/songwriting skills or his impeccable flow, the New Zealand-raised rapper proved that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Beenzino is now a distinguished South Korean rapper and MC under Illionaire Records.
Fun fact: His name is a parody of American rapper Benzino’s name. He was also involved in albums as Jazzyfact with producer Shimmy Twice and as HotClip with Beatbox DG.
5. Verbal Jint
One will immediately think of Verbal Jint when they talk about Beenzino.
Verbal Jint (real name: Kim Jin-tae 김진태) is an influential South Korean rapper, lyricist, and record producer under Brand New Music. Beenzino is a fan of the veteran rapper for many reasons, one of which is because Verbal Jint was the first to successfully achieve the grammatical accuracy while creating actual rhyme schemes in Korean. Since then, his revolutionary rhyme schemes became the standard for Korean rapping within the hip hop scene.
The renowned rapper, who officially debuted in 2001 with a mini-album titled “Modern Rhymes”, is one of the first few underground musicians to have also achieved success in the mainstream market filled with K-Pop. He continues to push the boundaries and out rap newcomers with his soulful ballads in the music scene. It’s no wonder that he’s now one of the most celebrated MCs and songwriters in Korea.
15 years have passed and Paloalto is still actively writing and producing his own music.
We know for a fact that there are a lot of great musicians in Korea, but what sets Paloalto apart is how he has continuously produced music that is completely different and stands out in the music scene. Don’t let his name fool you though. He may have named himself after the Californian charter city, but surf rock definitely isn’t his musical style.
Similar to many other hip hop artistes, he is more notable for working with various other musicians who can complement his effortless sound. With more than 10 years of presence in the Korean music scene, he is now considered one of Korea’s most respected hip hop artistes.
After departing from Tiger JK’s Jungle Entertainment imprint, he upped his game by establishing his own label Hi-Lite, which has developed itself as one of the country’s premier indie labels. So far, Paloalto has released 11 singles and full albums, as well as 4 music videos. He is truly someone who keeps on giving as each listen brings a new facet of his songs to the surface.
Bumkey (real name: Kwon Ki Bum 권기범) has finally been able to prove that nothing can truly stop him from showcasing his musical talent to the world.
The hip hop musician, who spent 5 years in Los Angeles before moving back to Korea at the age of 21, has always strived to pursue a music career. He emerged in the underground hip hop scene in 2005 and was featured in the songs of both underground and mainstream hip hop figures including Dynamic Duo and Brown Eyes.
In April 2010, Bumkey made his official debut as part of the hip hop duo, 2Wins (투왼스) with Topbop of TBNY under CABA Entertainment. He has since been promoting their music actively on Korean music shows with Supreme Team and on various radio programmes. After being featured in songs from artistes like Paloalto and Dok2, he eventually signed as a solo artiste with Brand New Music.
There’s only one man in this world who can make the birthday song sounds so ridiculously good and that’s Ra.D.
Ra.D (real name: Lee Doo-hyun 이두현) is a South Korean singer-songwriter and producer who debuted in 2002 with the album “My Name is Ra.D”. But a few years later, he went on a 6-year hiatus.
During the hiatus, he was involved in producing many artistes’ albums having established his own record label, RealCollabo. 2PM, Brown Eyed Girls‘ Gain, Dynamic Duo, KeBee, UMC, Ahn Trio, and Cho PD are among the artistes that he has produced for. In February 2013, he finally made a comeback with a single tiled, “It’s Been a While”. He also produced a song called “I Hope (그랬으면 좋겠어)” for Shin Seung-hun and was featured in it.
So far, he has released 4 studio albums, one extended play (EP), and 7 singles. His latest album, which is titled “3rd Album (Soundz)”, was released last year under Loen Entertainment.
Sometimes, you’ve got to dig deep to find that one band that can make your day with their delightful tunes. How did I find out about CHEEZE? Through a random playlist from an Internet radio.
Debuted in 2011, CHEEZE is made up of vocalist Dalchong 달총 , rapper Yasu 야수, and producer/vocalist Gooreumi 구름이 (who is also a member of a band called “Bye Bye Badman”). They first started out as a 4-member band, but producer Moodi left the band in 2013. Yasu is also currently serving in the Korean army.
Under Ra.D’s music label RealCollabo (리얼콜라보), CHEEZE released their first album titled “Recipe” in April 2013. I was instantly hooked on to the song “Mango” upon discovering them. Their songs in their album can range from upbeat rhythms to nostalgic sounds that bolster story lines of love and love lost.
This year, they released “Plain”, a new album which consists of 10 songs. From “Room #501” to “Romance” to “Ticket”, “brilliant” is the only word I can use to best describe this album.
If you have no idea who Primary is, well, where you have been?
Best known for the cardboard box that he wears over his head, Primary (real name: Choi Dong Hoon 최동훈) can turn everything he touches into gold (not literally, of course). Every track that he has produced always turns out to be popular. It’s no surprise that he is one of the most sought-after producers in Korea.
The famed producer started producing in 2004 and his albums always featured heaps of artistes such as Beenzino, Dynamic Duo, Paloalto, and Zion.T. He also produced the song “Without You” for INFINITE-H. As one of the producers to fuel the rise of jazzy piano-based R&B, there’s a level of consistency in Primary’s music. Whatever he’s doing, he will make sure to keep the genre fresh and effortless sounding.
And there you have it, a list of some of our favourite Korean musicians that made us swoon. We are also fans of Korean indie bands like Glen Check and Hot Potato, but we’ll leave that story for another time. Heck, we might just compile another list of indie bands in the future 😉
For now, if you have the time, check out some other Korean artistes that may also make you swoon over their music:
- Tablo (from Epik High)
- Mad Clown
- The Quiett
- Dynamic Duo
- Jay Park
- Huckleberry P
Who are your favourite Korean artistes from the list? If they aren’t on the list, share your suggestions with us in the comments box below 😉