With Korean hip-hop garnering interest from fans and listeners worldwide, Korean rappers are steadily becoming global trendsetters. Be it the all-time favourite ‘OG’ Tiger JK expanding Korea’s rap scene or digital music streaming services such as Spotify launching K-Hip-Hop +82 (2017), the inclination towards the genre is clearly visible.
K-Hip-Hop +82, Spotify’s official global Korean hip-hop playlist which got rebranded as KrOWN in 2022, acts as a bridge to introduce Korean hip-hop culture to music fans. And, keeping this in view, it can be said that rap artists from Korea (both solo and those belonging to groups) have successfully cemented a space for themselves in the global music industry and beyond.
According to a report by allkpop, authentic rap, which is rhythmic speech set to music, was brought to the mainstream by Hong Seo-beom, who gave Korean hip-hop its first ever rap song — the 1989 hit “Kim Sat Gat.” Since then, the Korean rap scene has been blessed with a rapid inflow of powerful rap tracks delivered by some of the best Korean rappers of all time. Be it K-pop group rappers such as J-Hope from BTS releasing individual music, or solo rappers such as Jessi spitting intense bars, each Korean rapper has been delivering numerous meaningful and authentic rap songs consistently. So here’s a peek into some of the legendary rap artists hailing from Korea.
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(Main image credit: BTS Official/Twitter; Featured image credit: drunkentigerjk/Instagram)
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Tiger JK aka Seo Jung-kwon, is known as the godfather and Jay-Z of hip-hop in South Korea, with his iconic tracks “I Want You” and “Do You Know Hip Hop?” being credited for bringing the authenticity of underground rap into the Korean mainstream music scene.
The Korean-American rapper turned record producer and entrepreneur, made his solo debut on 27 July 1995 with the album titled Enter The Tiger. In 1999, he formed the group Drunken Tiger with DJ Shine (who left in 2005). In 2006, he went on to establish his own hip-hop label titled Jungle Entertainment which represented Drunken Tiger along with other prominent Korean rappers such as Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy.
Soon after, the rapper left Jungle Entertainment and teamed up with his wife Yoon and artist Bizzy in 2013, to form the group, ‘My Fans are Better Than Yours’ (MFBTY), which currently releases music under his new label, Feel Ghood Music.
With a career spanning over 20 years, Tiger JK was labelled as the “most popular Korean rapper in America, Asia and the world” by Los Angeles Times in 2011. He was also invited by the GRAMMY Museum on 27 April 2022, along with Yoon, for a personal conversation on Global Spin Live, to discuss their artistic process, musical inspirations and legendary careers in music.
(Image credit: feelghoodmusic/Instagram)
Known as the queen of Korean hip-hop, Yoon Mi-rae, also known as Tasha Reid, was offered to step into the industry while accompanying a friend for an audition, for the group called Uptown in 1995.
However, it was only in 1996 that a young 16-year-old Yoon made her debut through the group. Later, the American-Korean rapper went ahead to become a solo artist in 2001 and released her first solo album, As Time Goes By.
In 2006, she joined Tiger JK’s record label Jungle Entertainment, but soon left it and followed her rapper husband to join their new group called MFBTY.
From releasing powerful raps such as “Rap Queen” and “Pay Day” to featuring in popular drama OSTs such as Master’s Sun (2013) and Descendants of the Sun (2016), Yoon has had one of the most wholesome careers in the Korean music industry.
(Image Credit: drunkentigerjk/Instagram)
Kim Jin-tae, popularly known as Verbal Jint, has established himself as a legendary rap artist by introducing his groundbreaking rhyme scheme raps into Korean hip-hop. He debuted in 2001 under Brand New Music, with a mini-album named Modern Rhymes EP, and has been on the scene as an underground rapper since 1999. He was a member of Show N Prove, a Korean hip-hop crew also known as SNP. Some of his underground solo music releases of 1999 are “Big Brag”, “How High School” and “Foul.”
The rap artist also owns an independent label called Otherside. His standout accolades include the 2004 Featuring Artist of the Year, 2011 Single of the Year, 2011 Music Video of the Year, 2014 Video of the Year, and 2014 Collaboration of the Year from the Hiphopplaya Awards.
(Image credit: freevjfreevj/Instagram)
Korean-American rapper, singer and performer, Jessica H.O. aka Jessi, had a claim to fame after her participation in season one of Mnet’s hip-hop show Unpretty Rapstar (2015), where she earned the second position.
Inspired by hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z and Biggie, Jessi made her official debut in South Korea with the single album, Get Up, in 2005, and in the following year, she became a part of the hip-hop crew Uptown. The next group she joined was the hip-hop trio Lucky J and continued to be its member for two years since 2014. Post that, Jessi finally decided to go solo once again.
Additionally, Jessi has five Top 10 entries on the Gaon Digital Chart — owing to the charting skills of her global fandom ‘Jebbies.’ Her Gaon entries include 2020 highest-charting solo single titled “Nunu Nana,” and a 2020 single titled “Don’t Touch Me,” which she worked on as a member of the seasonal South Korean supergroup called Refund Sisters (formed on the MBC variety show Hangout with Yoo).
Her prominent rap recognitions include the 2021 Best R&B/Hip-hop Artist from Korea First Brand Awards and the 2021 Best R&B Hip-hop Award from Seoul Music Awards.
Currently, the rap artist is riding on the 2022 successes of her hit digital single “Zoom,” and her collaboration with singer PSY for the track “Ganji” from his ninth studio album titled Psy 9th.
Jessi also had an iconic European tour last year that started on 8 October in Berlin and was wrapped up on 19 October in Barcelona.
(Image credit: jessicah_o/Instagram)
From being cancelled as a K-pop idol of the group 2 PM to being one of the major rap artists responsible for the global spread of Korean hip-hop, Korean-American rapper Jay Park is also the proud owner of two record labels, Above Ordinary Music Group (AOMG, est. 2013) and H1GHR MUSIC (est. 2017).
The artist delved deeper from K-pop to authentic hip-hop with his November 2015 album, Worldwide, which had his experimental hit “Mommae.” His 2019 raw hip-hop style album, The Road Less Traveled, alongside popular tracks such as “Feng Shui” and “Twilight” featured over 29 global artists, including popular Korean rappers such as Kim Hyo Eun and Chaboom, and stylish Korean-American rapper pH-1. With powerful wordplay, the 2021 album named Twist The Plot was another masterpiece delivered by Park.
A three-time winner of the Artist of The Year title at the Korean Hip-hop Awards (2017, 2019 and 2021), Park is also the first Asian artist to be signed for Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label.
Currently, Park is sailing high on the success of his single album, Yesterday, which consists of two new tracks — lead single “Yesterday” as well as B-side “Love Is Ugly,” featuring MAMAMOO’s Hwasa. Released on 13 February at 6:00 pm KST, the new album marked the rapper’s first music after his last 2022 single “Need To Know.”
(Image credit: moresojupplease/Instagram)
Popularly known as LOCO, South Korean rapper Kwon Hyuk-woo of the AOMG label, became the first champion of the first season of Mnet’s rap competition titled Show Me the Money in 2012.
His major ventures include multiple global hit soundtracks such as the 2021 digital single, “Just Like This,” and the 2022 collaboration for “Be Ready” with South Korean singer Gray and composer Code Kunst.
LOCO is also the winner of the KBS Entertainment Awards’ Hot Issue Entertainer Award, alongside popular K-pop artist Hwasa.
(Image credit: satgotloco/Instagram)
BTS leader and rapper, Grammy-nominated RM started in the industry by rapping in hip-hop circles as an underground rapper and was known by multiple names such as The Nexist and Runch Randa. During his early years, the rapper worked on a lot of freestyle. In “Rap Monster Freestyle 3”, which is available on BangtanTv, RM mentions his love for rap and BTS and openly raps about his struggles during his trainee years and future worries.
RM made his official solo debut with his studio album, INDIGO, released on 2 December 2022. However, before his debut, RM made sure to release two solo mixtapes, the first being RM (2015) and the second being Mono (2018).
The rapper has around 200 KOMCA credits under his name and holds the title of the youngest and the most credited Korean artist on the Korean Music Copyright Association.
(Image credit: bts_bighit/Twitter)
Agust D aka Suga, the lead rapper and composer of BTS, started his musical journey as an underground rapper and was popular as ‘Gloss’ — a wordplay on his Korean name, Yoongi, which means ‘to shine.’
Agust D has released two mixtapes, Agust D (2016) and D-2 (2020), until now, with the rapper spitting hard-hitting bars on mental health and psycho-social disabilities in tracks like “140503 at Dawn” and “The Last.” The rapper is also extremely popular for his diss tracks, mostly his masterful creation “Daechwita” from D-2. With the track, Agust D went ahead to become the first South Korean artist to ever hit number one on the Billboard Rap digital songs chart.
With respect to combined projects, Agust D got lucky to collaborate with his role models such as Tablo, Tukutz and Mithra Jin for their 2019 song “Eternal Sunshine.” Meanwhile, his latest rap collab includes the 2022 hit single, “That That,” for “Gangnam Style” famed PSY’s full-length album, Psy 9th.
The rapper is also set for his first-ever solo world tour — starting on 26 April in New York. The tour spans Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Japan and finally ends in Seoul on 25 June.
(Image credit: bts_bighit/Twitter)
One of the most popular South Korean rappers belonging to an iconic group, J-Hope is also a songwriter and record producer. The artist was first a member of the underground dance team Neuron, but after his debut with BTS, J-Hope cultivated a liking for rap, trained for years, and finally debuted as one of the three rappers of the group.
As a solo artist, J-Hope has already released his first mixtape titled Hope World on 2 March 2018. The album peaked at #38 on the Billboard 200 chart and made him the highest-charting solo act in K-pop. As a part of the mixtape’s three-year anniversary, J-Hope released a three-minute long version of its closing track, “Blue Side (Outro),” on 1 March 2021 for free on BTS’ official Soundcloud page.
This was followed by his official solo debut — the studio album titled Jack In The Box being released on 15 July 2022. Not to forget, J-Hope’s new solo song, “On the Street,” featuring the legendary American rapper J Cole premiered on 3 March 2023, and has hit no. 1 on iTunes Top Songs charts in at least 80 different regions including Hong Kong, Canada and Italy, as per BTS Charts. The single also debuted at No. 16 on Spotify’s daily global chart after racking up 3.294 million streams on the first day of its release, as per a tweet by Chart Data.
(Image credit: bts_bighit/Twitter)
Along with being the founder of the independent music label HIGHGRND, popular Korean-Canadian rap artist, lyricist and composer, Tablo aka Daniel Armand Lee, is also the leader and producer of the renowned Korean hip-hop group, Epik High.
Additionally, Tablo is considered Korea’s first rap artist to employ the ‘rhyming rifle’ method. His first solo album, Fever’s End, was dropped in 2011, which was followed by the release of ten full-length albums and one EP by his group, Epik High, with almost all the tracks of the albums being produced and co-written by Tablo. The group’s new album called Strawberry was released on 1 February 2023.
Currently, Epik High is busy with their ongoing All Time High Tour that started in Manchester on 6 February 2023 and will be wrapped in Las Vegas on 14 April 2023.
(Image credit: blobyblo/Instagram)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: According to various reports and GRAMMY Museum, Tiger JK is known as the 'godfather of Korean rap' and that probably makes him the best Korean rapper of all time.
Answer: There is no rap trio in Korea officially. However, looking at the smooth ten-year long relationship of the three BTS rappers RM, J-Hope and Suga (Agust D), one can definitely consider them the best rap trio to exist in Korea.
Answer: The rap queen of K-pop, according to GRAMMY Museum and various other Korean news outlets, is Yoon Mi-rae.