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 [3]. 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!


Related links from Beyond Hallyu and around the internet:


Korean Hip Hop Interview: B Free

The elitist nature of some Korean Hip-Hop fans

Scandals and the Underdogs of Hip-Hop

Breaking K-pop’s Fourth Wall: What idols can tell us about ourselves

Korean Hip Hop Interview: Wutan


On B-Free, BTS, and the kpop-hiphop nexus – Radio Palava

RANT: Mainstream Vs Underground – BTS & B-Free – Smiling Seoul

Rap Monster – Too Much lyrics (his response to the situation)

Further discussion on the kpop-hiphop nexus – Radio Palava

On B-Free, BTS, and the kpop-hiphop nexus (response) – Angry K-pop Fan

  • Eddie

    Sounds like an asshole.

  • Terri

    Interesting that he refers to women in a less than kind manner… tbh, I get that while this wasn’t a rap battle, at the same time, RapMon and Suga should have made their responses there, esp if they want to hold onto the hip hop image they have… but I really dislike how he responded to the BTS fans who reprimanded hiim on twitter with “Suck a dick”. That really got my goat.
    But yeah, this issue seems to be stirring up discussion everywhere

  • sharaysabel

    maybe he’s like that cause he’s old school. Maybe he’s offended that the music that he does, hip hop for that matter, has evolved in a way he cannot catch up. I mean, come on. Music modernize at the same time as people do.

    • sasha_BH

      I really hope he learns this year from last years mistakes.

    • 3rdunited

      Yeah bfree has an old school way of thinking about gender and hip hop in general. From what he said, it seems he thinks that hip hop is about being manly and hungry/poor. If you go mainstream and become an idol, then you’re going against that. Yes hip hop started from people that were on the low socioeconomic side, but hip hop is about being real and anyone can be real. If you’re not manly and poor, then you shouldn’t portray yourself like this in your hip hop music.

  • intoxicatia

    LOL the fact that he brought up Lady Gaga on his twitter account subsequently undermines his entire discussion. She is in charge of a lot of her image, and wrote every single song in every album that she has released so far. So that derails his entire “argument” of “idols that are replicated etc.”

    B-free if you want to diss, I suggest you put some money behind that mouth of yours.

  • Whisperingnotes

    I know this is late, but that guy really needs to check out a history text book because he has absolutely no idea about what Hip Hop is. And if he does really check out the history of hip hop he will hopefully, come to a realisation that hip hop isn’t what it was anymore. Hip hop like everything else is this world, even language god dammit, has been molded into something different and it will forever be evolving into something else. Just like what BTS is doing. For heaven’s sake, he himself is abiding by an industrialized image of hip hop. Just like how the idol phenomenon is in Korea.

  • violette

    The hell. does image matter that much when they produce good lyrics and rap like a pro? I rather despise those pretend to have typical rapper style but rap like shit.

  • shannon byrd (sweetanjell)

    b free has no respect for bts or any other kpop music and to me he very rude and very unkind person for that.rapmon and suga should spoke up more.but know matter what b free say about bts or any other kpop group or idol i will not stop listening to there music or dramas

  • Icyicy00

    Just shows how different BTS is from most idol groups