Rather than talking about the album as a whole in this piece I’m going to focus on their 2nd Cypher: Tripiych. First of all, take a look at the translated lyrics by Popgasa.
The cypher starts with a bit of empty gesturing as one would do if this was freestyle. J-Hope shouts “because of whom”? and goes on to take responsibility along with bandmates Rap Mon and Suga. But responsibility for what? We could take them literally and assume that they mean to be the leaders of the rap world, but I’d rather convert what they’ve said previously outside their music. For Rap Mon and Suga at least, there is some want to be a bridge between underground hip-hop artists and the mainstream, which in Korea’s case is the idol industry. I certainly can’t be against the idea of there being more actually talented rappers and artists in the industry, though it is slowly getting easier to get access to indie Korean music. What I believe these two former underground artists really want is for there to be a carved out niche in mainstream Korean music for real rappers to put out good music and make sufficient money off it. Perhaps, or more likely, outside the standard idol machine. We have to start somewhere right?
For more insight into the lyrics, and to make it more personal, refer to the B-Free incident that occurred last year. I won’t paraphrase it, but there is a video from the actual event which should suffice to bring some extra meaning to the lyrics.
There were two main themes that got me thinking in this cypher, particularly within Rap Monsters turn. Repeated mentions of Korean musicians that have built a reputation and gained international fame are mentioned: specifically Psy and Rain. Knowing that getting the Rookie award was their goal last year(achieved), Bangtan must now set their sights on another loftier goal. “I’m the man who sits a top the flying man”, “I’m badder than Rain”, Bantan aim to out do their sunbaes and gain more fame, recognition and respect than them. That much is obvious. They are aware that this goal will require work and they must give up much to attain this goal. Let’s hope they do not take a Kanye approach to fame: publicity stunts and a bad attitude a great rapper does not make.
Getting Back to B-Freak and the lyrics, it is without a doubt that much of Suga and Rap Mons lyrics are inspired from that incident[not in order]:
I play with big boys, I ain’t spittin low sh
On the CD or the TV, you can see me, envy me, it’s a pity, gee gee
Hyungs who are sick with pride and strange beliefs get lost after 8 measures
You old catepillars, I’ll give you this beat, give it a try Hey, start talking when you can start rapping
There should be a law restricting you from rapping
When you were playing underground, BTS was playing at ground level
Hey you brats, your crappy rap is a burden to others
Take a break and wait, just go to Hawaii, go home
Envy and pride, both displayed by B-Free, but in the larger scape of things, by most older males. From what I can ascertain from my aloof position far, far away from S.K, pride is very important. Age is taken pride in and your juniors showing you up is very much an affront to your pride. More than that, when your juniors are gaining recognition greater than you’ve ever held, envy comes into play. How applicable this would be if Suga and Rap Monster were still underground artists?
Are the “strange beliefs” then the attitude underground rappers have towards rappers-turned-idols? Often times artists who sign deals which require them to give up the attitude and views they had are labeled “sell outs” and disregarded. The points B-Free brought up(that were actually based on something substantial) were that: they wore make-up, do fan-service(read: be cute instead of swag), and perhaps most importantly to him, covered Black Skin Head by Kanye for their concept trailer without crediting him(although Rap Mon said they got permission and had to do a different cover because of censorship concerns).
On the other hand, a sell out is really an artist that sings/raps against a certain topic and then turns around to endorse it for money. A good example of this would be the NBA trailer that used Macklemore’s Wings as the theme. Although Macklemore asserted that the use of the song was only meant to support the NBA there is no denying that the way in which the ad was shot and the mix of Wings that was used seemed to be promotional of shoes rather than professional basketball. Does the act of wearing makeup and performing fan service count as selling out? No, of course not.
One thing that B-Free’s tirade brought to light is that being a mainstream artist ties you down to the censorship laws of the country. Looking at the underground tracks put out by Korean artists, the amount of swearing, informal slang and euphemisms for sexual or violent acts would never allow the tracks to be released to the general public. That means no radio, TV or music station airplay, which for the larger companies housing idols, is where the majority of their promotion comes from. How can they give up that chance in the pursuit of music? In this sense, suiting their music to the taste of the general population, BTS have sold out to some extent.
Here’s to wishing that they can go on to achieve the mainstream(non-idol) hip-hop dream of theirs. More K-hip-hop for me!