I grew up in a very musical family, and have played music since I was 5. I started actively listening to music for leisure when I was about 16, and when I was about 20 I started listening to hip-hop. And I mean a lot of hip-hop. J.Cole, Drake, Jay-Z, Pusha T, Kendrick, Vince Staples; I was amazed by their lyricism, the message(s) they tell or don’t, the vivid imagery they can sculpt through words. And just how damn cool they sound whilst doing it. Around this time I discovered S.Korean artist Zion.T.
His smooth vocals and his sexy and funky RnB sensibilities really appealed to me, and it stood out amongst (at the time) a predominantly “plastic pop” sound of the famously more popular S.Korean Kpop artists at the time (talking Girl’s Generation, Big Bang and Wonder Girls). His sound was more in line with the Justin Timberlake’s of my preferred era of pop, which I link to my upbringing in Australia listening to the So Fresh Hits compilation albums of popular music from the early 2000’s (shout out to So Fresh tho).
I fell in love with KHipHop through discovering the South Korean talent show, Show Me The Money. It’s like X-Factor or American Idol, but for S.Korean rappers. I grew up watching talent/variety shows with my family (they’re super popular in China) and Show Me The Money resonated with me because of that. If anything, Show Me The Money is a culmination of my investments and interests in Asian media today as an Australian Born Chinese person; Asian representation within media, hip-hop, talent shows, and just really excellent music.
However, this is drawing an interesting conversation of culture and the ownership of culture. Keith Ape was accused of cultural appropriation in his viral hit song “It G Ma”, claiming it was appropriating black culture in the US.
And to be honest, those claims aren’t unfounded either. Cornrows/dreds, grills and ice (chains/bling) proliferate not only the music video of It G Ma, but of the hip-hop culture in S.Korea. Check out G2’s dreds that he’s quite infamous for:
One can push the argument further to say that the fact hip-hop exists and is being created in Korea is already a form of cultural appropriation too. The line between “cultural appropriation” and “cultural appreciation” is a murky one, and I’ll be honest, is not one I’m comfortably well-versed enough to answer. I doubt many are.
I don’t want to end on a note of “well we should all accept that transaction of culture is a great and beneficial thing for all of us” because I don’t believe that to be true, at least within the confines of how capitalism works. There are people and key stakeholders who gain from the transaction of culture, and not everyone is invited to have a slice of that pie’s profit. With hip-hop succeeding pop as the most consumed genre of music in the American charts for the first time ever in 2017, it’s not a surprise that it’s made waves in Asia. But out of that success, who are the ones to benefit from it? Has hip-hop transcended itself to be a cultural product beyond a single culture? I want to say yes. But I also acknowledge that I don’t have the right to.