17 Korean Hip Hop Artists To Jump Start Your New Decade
As much as I love me some BTS, UP10TION, ATEEZ — just about any idol group, really — as of late, my Spotify library seems to be full of Korean hip hop and nothing else. Getting ready in the morning? Put on some hip hop. Churning out Excel spreadsheets at work? Play some hip hop. In bed for the night? Listen to some more hip hop. If this trend continues, I might even contemplate auditioning for “Show Me The Money 9.” (Just kidding, I have the stage presence of a cactus and the flow of a leaky faucet.)
So naturally, I felt the need to make sure everyone else’s ears are just as blessed as mine in 2020. Whether you’re a hip hop head or just starting to explore the genre, here’s a list of artists who are sure to help you start the new year, and new decade, off with a bang.
If you’re new to hip hop, I highly recommend starting with pH-1; otherwise, I assume you’re already jamming to him on the regular because what’s not to like? Seriously, it’s hard to not feel good when listening to pH-1’s music, and his playfulness on stage makes his live performances a real treat too. That said, while most of his songs fall into the category of pop-rap, with their melodic bars and often lighthearted lyrics, he’s also been known to throw down hard and heavy from time to time.
I usually have the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to watching long performance videos like this, but I simply couldn’t tear my gaze away from Leellamarz the first time I watched his Killing Verse. Talk about talented. Aside from his vocal quality, I really appreciate the diversity of Leellamarz’s musical choices, ranging from Super Mario World inspired beats to classic boom bap vibes. In other words, he’s got a song for pretty much any mood you may be in.
Not to be confused with the semi-amorphous character from “Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends,” Bloo is the perfect accompaniment for any night out, especially if it involves drinking. After all, he has songs called “Drink Slow Henny” and “Hennessy.” Plus his songs just groove pretty hard in general. Though, I must say, despite the badass persona he adopts while performing, I kind of have to agree with one YouTube commenter who said Bloo’s really just “a cute hamster pretending to be scary.” Still, that doesn’t make his music any less dope.
Evidently, I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for Kid Milli, as “#KidMilli” was one of the most followed K-pop hashtags among Korean Instagram users last year. So why is it that Dingo FreeStyle is disrespecting us like this and has yet to release a Kid Milli Killing Verse? And no offense to Giriboy, but Kid Milli is the best part of “northbutsouth” (skip to 2:11 above to hear his part — it’s fire). He may not have won “Show Me The Money 777,” but he’s a winner in my heart.
Paloalto’s deep, rich voice can elevate any song to a whole ‘nother level. Whether it’s a track fit for summer or a sick trap beat, he seriously never disappoints. The fact that he’s been active since 2002 might also have something to do with his versatility. And I know this isn’t related to his musicality in any way, but it turns out that Paloalto is a big lover of dogs, which makes me appreciate him that much more as a person (fellow dog lovers unite!).
The thing I most hope to see from Penomeco in 2020: another collaboration with pH-1 because every time they get together, a bop is born. Rest assured, however, that his music is fully capable of standing on its own too. From upbeat pop-rap to sensual jams, Penomeco has a nice variety of styles in his wheelhouse, which I’d like to see him even further expand upon. Not only that, but he’s a member of Fanxy Child; that fact alone should speak volumes about his abilities.
Before anyone gets confused like I was at one time, yes, Bla$e Kid and Blase are the same person, the former being his original stage name. While some might label him a Playboi Carti wannabe, it seems like he’s started to develop more of his own style since changing his name — a trend I hope to continue to see this year. Then again, if the music’s good, I don’t really care whose style he chooses to imitate or be influenced by. Although Blase might not be making waves in the hip hop scene, he’s still definitely got something to offer, so go check him out.
I may never know when or why people started using a lowercase V to represent the letter A, but I do know that Jvcki Wai makes some pretty catchy tunes. And don’t let her cotton candy pink hair and pretty face fool you; given the themes of some of her music videos, she might also be a bona fide anarchist, or at least an impassioned rebel. Jokes aside, she really is someone to have on your radar if she isn’t already, assuming you don’t mind Auto-Tune.
Chaboom might not have HAON’s youth or Gray’s dashing good looks, but what he does offer is hip hop with an old school sensibility that will transport you back to the ’90s even if you weren’t alive at that time. In fact, though he wasn’t actually working the Korean hip hop scene back then, he does have a lot of skin in the game, having been around for about a decade now. And thanks to his unique style and originality, Chaboom has become quite the legend over the years.
A quick word of caution: The above music video is a bit gory (here’s an alternative video that contains no blood). Anyway, I’ll admit that Nafla first stood out to me because of his visual appearance alone, what with his eyebrow piercings and bright red hair. It didn’t take long for me to realize, however, the extent to which he’s mastered his craft. Much like Chaboom, Nafla has an appreciation for boom bap and old school hip hop, and he, too, has a unique vibe that distinguishes him from other rappers.
Maybe it’s just me, but JUSTHIS feels like a mix between Leellamarz and Kid Milli, which I’m in no way mad about, seeing as I’m a huge fan of both. And although I only recently started listening to his music, I can already say I dig it. The collaboration album he did with Paloalto, “4 the Youth,” is particularly praiseworthy, offering a multitude of sounds from track to track to keep your ears entertained.
Hash Swan is so effortlessly cool, no? Diamonds on his wrist? Gucci on Gucci on Gucci? Forget that stuff. Give him a mic and he’s set. Also, the more I listen to his voice, the more deeply I fall in love with it. Or maybe I’m just falling in love with Hash Swan at this point. In all seriousness, though, his distinct vocal quality sets him apart from many other popular hip hop artists, and I often find myself listening to his music as I unwind at the end of a long day.
If you thought Yuk Ji Dam was talented for a high school rapper, then you’re going to flip out when you hear this girl. While most of us look back on our high school years and cringe, Sandy certainly won’t need to feel any shame. At 17 years old, she’s less than half the age of the oldest rapper in this list, but by no means is she lacking in terms of skill or swag. I’m so impressed by her stage presence and flow, actually, that I just might have to finally watch “High School Rapper” one of these days.
If I could see only one hip hop artist perform live this year, I would choose Coogie in a heartbeat. As much as I love the studio versions of his songs, they hit differently live. Besides, he was my most listened to hip hop artist last year. While he didn’t release a solo EP in 2019, he did enough collaborations that you could probably construct a full length album from his parts alone. Critics of Coogie may say he’s not really anything special and/or that he sounds like a certain American rapper whose name starts with the word “Lil,” but he’s still relatively new to the music scene, so I’m sure he will only keep improving and shaping his own style over time.
I swear I’m not a MKIT RAIN shill (for the uninitiated, Nafla, Bloo, and Loopy are all part of the same label). The man posted on Instagram this week that his first LP will be the “BEST ALBUM” in 2020, though, so how could I not include King Loopy here? It truly was a pleasure to watch his progression on “Show Me The Money 777,” and he’s continued to impress and entertain ever since. But if his LP is not in fact the album of the year, he might have to be demoted to Prince Loopy. I’m kidding, of course — it’s undoubtedly going to be fantastic.
Add Leellamarz to a track and I’m sold, but put him on a Giant Pink track and you know you’ve got a hit. Out of all the “Unpretty Rapstar” contestants, Giant Pink is the one who’s stuck with me the most, and not just because she won (to be honest, I didn’t even finish that season). She exudes confidence, and her husky voice adds a rich color to any song. Here’s to hoping she releases a full album this year because, girl, we need more of your music!
There’s something about OLNL’s voice that always puts me at ease. His lack of pretentiousness, to the point where he winds up just acting cute and goofy instead, also adds to his appeal as a hip hop artist on some level, differentiating him from many of his peers. At times, I can see him developing into the next Paloalto, as he certainly does give off some of the same vibes (their collaboration for “Pina Colada” was a match made in heaven). But for now, he’s just OLNL, doing his own OLNL thing, and I’m enjoying it.
Which Korean hip hop artists are you most excited about in 2020?
seheee is a software engineer by day and an avid K-pop concert goer by night. She now exceedingly rarely makes an appearance on Twitter (@_seheee).