20150722_seoulbeats_smtm4_judgesThe time has arrived as the air horns blare the beginning of a new season of Show Me the Money (SMTM). After the previous success of SMTM3 and its spin-off, Unpretty Rapstar, Mnet needed a way to guarantee the subsequent season of SMTM wouldn’t elicit yawns. Thankfully for them, the series is still fresh enough that they can get away with keeping most things the same while drawing in new viewers.

Before the show even premiered, buzz surrounded the series as huge names were revealed to be participating. Celebrities from the underground and mainstream drew in a lot of interest and criticism about how serious the show was taking hip hop.

Verbal Jint, Jinusean, Zico, Loco, Jay Park and Paloalto joined San E and Tablo as judges this year. Quite a furor bubbled over the inclusion of Zico and Jay Park, especially because some deemed the former as lacking in rap skill too much to critique the ability of other rappers. Zico’s appearance on the roster probably wouldn’t have been an issue if it wasn’t for a couple of key contestants showing up for the auditions.

About those auditions — they were a trip. Everyone and their grandma came to try out for SMTM. I’m not kidding about the grandma; one really did try out. She didn’t pass, but San E graciously applauded her effort. She also wouldn’t be the lone standout among this crowd of hopefuls as thousands of participants put their MC skills to the test.

20150722_seoulbeats_taewoonAs mentioned earlier, some key participants stood out more than others due to their celebrity or connections to one. This drew a lot of controversy from not only viewers, but also other rappers who felt it was unfair to have mainstream artists mixed in with underground ones. The largest elephant in the room was Song Mino of Winner, but apparently, Zico’s older brother Taewoon drew some attention, too. Taewoon’s presence was all but diminished by Zico, and his confessionals revealed how much it bothered him to be in his little brother’s shadow. He was hoping the show would finally give him a chance to stand out as himself and not as “Zico’s brother.”

Aside from them, there were other notable names who appeared. CL and Minzy‘s rap coach P-type surprised everyone when he showed up. However, the same could not be said for Black Nut since he was completely ignored on the second season of SMTM. Determined not to be edited into the background this time, Black Nut literally grabbed Zico’s attention when he snatched his clipboard and threw it to the ground before rapping. He ended his audition by pulling down his pants and flashing his red undies for everyone to see. While it wasn’t necessary, it clearly didn’t hurt him since he passed to the next round.

Bobby‘s win from last season bolstered the confidence of other idol rappers who arrived in droves for a shot at glory. VIXX‘s Ravi looked like the idol rapper stereotype with his incessant winking at the camera, but he got through the first round. Seventeen‘s Vernon and actor Kim Min-jae surprised the judges with their skills and also passed, but all eyes were on Mino to see if he was worth the hype. Mino addressed the rumors in his rap and made it to round two.

The second round of auditions required each of the remaining contestants to perform solo in front of the entire judging panel. They only needed one judging team not to fail them for a pass, which led to a point of contention for a rapper named AndUp. He questioned the rationality behind passing Vernon, who had performed ahead of him. Zico revealed that only one team kept him — San E and Verbal Jint. Tablo told AndUp that he needs to prove his skills before judging those of idols. Andup did and made it his personal mission to take down Vernon.

20150722_seoulbeats_blacknutOther rappers who shared AndUp’s sentiments about idol rappers didn’t have to do much to eliminate them as idols failed left and right. Only a few managed to survive the brutal second audition, but Ravi wasn’t one of them. A shocking fail came with P-type’s performance as his lyrical flubs ended his journey. More standouts emerged, however, namely LilBoi of Geeks and Basik. The judges seemed keen to get those two on their teams, but the dreaded third round of auditions would throw a wrench in their plans.

The third round was one-on-one battles, and a lot of rappers eyed Vernon as a target. AndUp lucked out in being called up to choose his opponent, so he wasted no time in challenging him. He beat Vernon in battle, accomplishing his goal. Black Nut has been coming for Mino in his raps, but he unexpectedly picked a female MC that he had a crush on. His lame attempts to woo her didn’t work, but it was humorous to see him try. Even so, it would’ve been more satisfying for Black Nut to directly challenge Mino instead of making another diss rap.

The judges ran into the same issue during the battles for round three as they did in SMTM3. Pairs of bad rappers forced them to choose the lesser of two evils; whereas, battles with two strong rappers meant someone better than those bad rappers they passed would go home. It’s an unfair system indeed since it doesn’t guarantee that the best ones will pull through, especially when you have some of the top rappers eliminated because the judges had no choice due to the rules. This conundrum led to a heartbreaking decision to drop LilBoi from the competition when he was pitted against Basik.

After their first battle round, the rappers were given their next mission: a cypher. With only one mic available, each rapper was required to spit a rhyme within the time limit. Anyone who didn’t manage to rap during that time would be automatically eliminated. Increasing the tension was the guest appearance of Snoop Dogg as a judge. The third episode ended in a frenzy of rappers squabbling over the mic in an effort to impress Snoop Dogg and avoid elimination.

Because this is Show Me the Money, it must include a lot of drama, and most of it occurred off the show. Zico got caught up in a drunk driving scandal, but a police investigation cleared him of charges. Some of Black Nut’s underground material surfaced to raised eyebrows for lyrics alluding to rape and murder. Also, a recent taping was halted for hours due to explicit content from the outspoken rapper.

20141223_seoulbeats_winner_minoWith those stories out of the way, let’s address the Mino situation. For many international fans, especially those invested in K-hip hop, his lyrics regarding gynecology weren’t a big deal, but the opposite was felt in South Korea. If we’re to be fair, fans should try and understand the perspective of those offended by Mino’s lyrics, even if they aren’t bothered by them because some of us felt equally upset by Rap Monster‘s colorist remarks a couple weeks ago. What’s acceptable for us doesn’t mean it’s okay for everyone, and Mino’s lyrics bothered some Korean viewers who felt he had gone too far by combining the gynaecology profession with sexual undertones.

I’m not taking sides on the issue, but I did want to point it out as I felt it’s hypocritical for international fans to blast Korean fans for the same problems we’ve called them out for and not recognize it among ourselves as well. We can’t expect them to respect our feelings on certain topics if we’re not open to hearing them out for their problems, too. Understanding cultural differences means both sides need to listen to what the other side has to say. Even if we don’t agree with their viewpoint in the end, we need to at least acknowledge their feelings because dismissing them won’t absolve Mino of the backlash he’s getting. The fair and courteous thing to do is to hear those fans out with an open mind.

I’m actually glad this happened to Mino because now the focus isn’t all about him being an idol. At this point, no one cares if he’s in Winner because it can’t shield him when he messes up. For anyone who believed Mino would gain an unfair advantage through his agency, this scandal quickly proved that idea false. Mino is susceptible to failing as much as any of the other rappers on SMTM, and we can see that now. Hopefully, this settles some debates, but only future episodes will tell us how much damage this did to his chances on the show.

20140127_seoulbeats_unprettyrapstarThat aside, something else that bothered me was how the female rappers were edited in the first episode. It felt like the producers weren’t trying to give them much screen time because they knew there would be a second season of Unpretty Rapstar. Seeing clips of them failing and begging for another chance also played up the stereotype that the female rappers are weaker and less prepared than their male counterparts, which is an unfair assumption. While I’m thankful that there will be another season of Unpretty Rapstar, that’s not reason enough to portray the female rappers in such a biased fashion.

There are definitely some standouts emerging from SMTM4, and personally, I love Basik. Verbal Jint is apparently gearing up as the new meme king, seeing as how fans love creating funny edits of him in amusing situations on social media. I also liked the unexpected judging style of Sean, who proved his charitable reputation didn’t apply to the competition. There is something enjoyable about watching the reactions of rappers who figured he was an easy mark and quickly learned he wasn’t. It looks like Team Tablo and Jinusean are determined to win for sure this year.

20130107_seoulbeats_blockb_zicoWhat else surprised me was how little I cared about Zico or Mino on this show. As much as they were shown, it’s not like they added anything other than being the focal point of conversation by others on the show. Still, it is hilarious to see Zico vainly trying to hold in his reactions for Taewoon, but it’s hard to explain the humor there unless you have siblings.

As for Mino, his rapping is good, but I’m not looking forward to his performances with great anticipation. With his controversy, he’s now going to have to fight harder to regain some of the respect he lost from his scandal, and that will make for far more exciting television. It’s easier to root for someone seeking redemption when you know his struggle means something.

At first, I came into this wondering if SMTM4 would be worth watching because of the endless debates over who deserved to be on the show. Admittedly, it was a snooze fest for the first couple of episodes, but P-type’s elimination and Mino’s scandal changed things for the better because nobody knows what will happen next. The best shows keep you on your toes, never knowing who will and won’t survive. Competition shows should be heart-pounding entertainment, and thanks to some wild events and unpredictable contestants, it looks like this season won’t disappoint.

(YouTubeNaver, Nate, Images via Mnet, Seven Seasons, YG Entertainment)

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