Music has no limitations, not even in regards to culture. South Korea is the perfect example of a country that produces music that you do not need to know its specific language in order to get hooked up on it. In this sense, there is no surprise that Korean artists have received a lot of exposure internationally, starting with the takeover of K-pop (Korean pop) through former popular bands, such as BigBang and 2ne1, to recent ones, such as the worldwide sensation BTS. It is amazing how even the visual and digital communication has no boundaries in relation to culture when it comes to K-pop stars. They would appear on tv shows, Vlives and concerts appreciated by eager international fans, that would go all the way to translate in their own language the regarding different content. However, much like K-pop found a solid audience in the music industry, there is a recent wave that was often seen as underrated, but has been put more and more in the spotlight nowadays. This genre is called Korean R&B and has caught the attention of many Western artists, such as Gallant, Honne and Zak Abel.
The influence of Korean R&B has its roots deeper and from an earlier stage than K-pop has. There would be no Korean pop bands if it was not for Seo Taiji & the Boys, that embraced the United States scenes of hip-hop and R&B back in the days. It has been years since the two waves have separated, each continuing their own road to success. The difference in this sense is that the R&B wave truly embraces the “soul” of Seoul at this moment. The scene has started to mix itself with existing sounds of the city and embraces styles, such as hip-hop, minimal synth, jazz and soul resulting in a completely different and new genre of music.
There are many influential Korean R&B artists that dominate the industry at the moment and will continue to do so. DEAN is one of the most successful R&B artists and has collaborated with Western names, such as Syd from The Internet, Zak Abel, Eric Bellinger and Anderson Paak. He is considered one of Korea’s finest voices that can convey genres from bass-heavy raps through collaborations with Zico and Crush in Bermuda Triangle to smooth soul. His adaptability is truly remarkable and has known to produce amazing covers, such as Uptown Funk, together with Zak Abel or Get you by Daniel Caesar.
There are artists that even Billboard has taken notice to, such as Zion T, who peaked at number two in their best US Album chart. Zion T is the perfect example of how R&B can become an experimental genre, where you have the chance to hear jazzy and soulful sounds that are out of this world. He finds inspiration in simple and day-to-day activities mentioning that “From these events in my life, I write and release music of the experiences that I don’t want to keep to myself ”. By using such inspirations, his pieces can lead up to becoming emotional songs with touching messages.
Hip-hop has been thriving for years in South Korea and has now been renewed by artists, such as Keith Ape, Rich Chigga, Joji, Sik-k, and Psy, who are not afraid of sharing their opinions on Korean society and be rough in their language. Another completely different direction Korean R&B takes is its combination of hip-hop creating a place where rappers can truly shine. Artists, such as DPR Live, who stands out through the amazing visuals of the music videos directed by Christian Yu or Jay Park, who recently signed with Jay-Z’s label, both give more of a gangsta vibe to the smooth and groovy R&B sounds.
Despite the genre’s success, perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of this wave is that it created a new space for underground musicians. Jay Park after distancing himself from the Kpop world due to various issues, he created his own independent label, which its main focus was to give a voice to those underground talented rappers and R&B singers and spread multicultural open-mindedness. In this sense, a new trend has started even in the digital world, where there are endless Youtube channels and playlists dedicated to new underground artists waiting to be discovered, such as Offonoff, Rheehab, Bevy Maco, MISO and Summer Soul.
More Underground Korean R&B and Hip-hop: