BH Discuss: B Free, BTS and the relationship between Korean hip hop and K-pop
Korean underground rapper B Free caused a bit of a stir this week when he interrogated amateur-underground-rappers-turned-idols Suga and Rap Monster of idol rookie group BTS. The rapper (as well as the MC of the event) questioned BTS about their place in the music industry and whether, being part of the idol system, they could consider themselves hip hop artists. They were also asked about whether they were comfortable wearing make-up and if this conflicted with hip hop’s historically macho culture. You can watch the full discussion below.
B Free’s negative feelings towards idols and idol rappers is not something new. He spoke of his lack of respect for K-pop groups in an interview he did with us a few months ago, criticising their manufactured nature.
I really have no respect for any K-pop groups or idols because they are all products and an image of what their companies needed and wanted in order to sell them. I don’t respect pretty boys or girls for this matter and the fact that they are making money off of music and an image they didn’t create themselves. To me idols and most K-pop singers are just slaves and puppets for their companies.
As an artist struggling to make money while staying true to himself this is a completely understandable stance to take. And, in fact, much of the criticism towards him has focussed not on what he said but how he said it, as Radio Palava explains:
On one hand, hiphop culture depends and thrives on critique, both of society and of itself . On the other hand, though, hiphop as I know it (and this may be different from the underground khiphop scene) demands that if you bring a critique, you need to “come correct,” with enough knowledge to make the critique you want to make, as well as an understanding of what the appropriate way is to make that critique. In my view, B-Free did not come correct: he co-opted an event that was not about him, and not about BTS, to attack BTS; he did not give Rap Monster and Suga an adequate chance to respond to his attacks; and he dissed them with no knowledge of their work (which he admitted).
Other criticism might also be shown about the negative remarks made about women. First was a condescending remark about idols as ‘icons for girls’, the implication being that a having a primarily female audience is an inherently bad thing. Later he went on to criticise them for wearing make-up and dressing ‘like women’ in a way which made it clear that he thought it was a bad thing. It was also remarked a couple of times that that wearing make-up makes you look ‘like a gay person’. What does this say about the position of female and queer rappers in the Korean hip hop community? Are they welcome or is their music inherently less valuable?
What do you think about the relationship between Korean hip hop and K-pop? Can idols make hip hop or do they forfeit the chance to be called that when they become idols? Is the Korean hip hop scene inclusive of women and queer folk or does this need to change? Was B Free justified in what he said or did he act out of line? Tell us what you think below!
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