After covering the start of the diss battle in part 1 and the major events in part 2, as well as discussing to great extent the incident’s implications on the future of K-hip-hop, this third part allows for a neat wrap-up of any further developments as well as discussion about the other tracks of this diss battle. After the whole Amoeba Culture chaos, it’s easy to forget that this did start out as something unrelated, not even with a real diss track; the high intensity situation was used as the backdrop for the larger issues.
As expected, Swings released “New World” in response to Simon D. It was much cleaner than his second and largely narrative, putting Swings on the same side as E-Sens and essentially accusing Simon D of leaving E-Sens out to dry. Simon D did not publicly respond to the track with his own. This really just brought out more uncertainty about everything even remotely related to E-Sens, only complicated by the strange photo posted by E-Sens and the follow up photo by Simon D. It’s a lot of secondhand words that one person could easily clear up, but as the situation is largely a private matter, there’s no incentive to do so.
As for the E-Sens/Amoeba scuffle, the last words of Amoeba were just that Simon D and Dynamic Duo‘s Gaeko‘s rap battles were their personal releases and were not something the company had to comment on. There were no further words about E-Sens’ allegations. For now, it seems like something that will be buried under the wealth of news that gets released everyday but likely not forgotten. It’s even possible that the situation was handled more privately.
Moving onto the other tracks, limited by available English translations, what was interesting to see was how the opportunity to join this diss battle was taken. Outside of the main players already discussed, all participants were underground rappers, and the content of their raps largely revolved around the current state of K-hip-hop and the music scene in general, some even bringing up idol music.
Popular vs. Underground
This topic came up multiple times. There was a common perception that for rappers to “make it,” so to speak, they had to give up the part of their music that made them an authentic hip-hop artist. Fingers were pointed at Swings for his Show Me the Money stint, Dynamic Duo for winning on music shows with a song like “BAAAM,” Verbal Jint, San-E, and even at Epik High for their last release. From the diss track lyrics, being part of hip-hop meant that you rapped about the important issues in life in a witty way, but not about love or “less important” topics. By doing so and becoming successful, it was seen as a cop-out by some, a type of catering to the public that undermined the purpose behind hip-hop. That was fairly consistent among tracks by Donutman, Nuttyverse, Skandalous, Tarae, Tymee, etc. And if you look at some of the more recent successful hip-hop songs — Dynamic Duo ft. Muzie’s “BAAAM,” Bumkey‘s “Bad Girl” and “Attraction,” — it’s not hard to see where that idea comes from.
But it’s also important to ask: is it so bad to want to become popular? To want to make music that the public likes? Or even create an album that’s able to balance popular songs with ones created with a different purpose in mind? The music industry is still a business, and everyone’s different goals with what they want out of music and for their life can influence how they play it, also changing each individual’s definition of success. To sing of themes that may be out of your style for a more secure future isn’t an unreasonable tradeoff by any means. And that’s a tradeoff only if one doesn’t become popular with the music they’re more comfortable with. Music, despite being held up to standards and criticized, remains subjective, and tastes continue to vary with age.
It wasn’t just content that was criticized, but how it’s done by these more popular artists that was criticized. While a diss track is of course, to diss, the round of released tracks seemed to be an invitation to many to jump on the train and just insult the bigwigs for anything: lame rhymes, poorly-worded messages, pride in “making it” while actually not being very good, all qualities as seen by the rapper that brought it up. What makes this interesting is the “why” behind even contributing at all. If it was to elicit the response, it wasn’t powerful enough or the rappers were just not popular enough for their track to even make a dent. If it was to just have it out there, make it known opinions of others, that’s self-satisfying. There’s nothing against joining in the rap battle; it even nurtures some improvement when you see what you’re up against. But there was also not much in joining it, especially when the focus turned into something else entirely (re: Amoeba Culture).
Of particular note were what Tymee (formerly E.via) and Skandalous brought to the table, both being women. Tymee had plenty to say considering her last company wasn’t so kind to her — and the reason she can’t use her previous name. What both brought up was a lack of decent female MCs, Skandalous going as far as calling most that have sprung up to be “a Yoon Mi-rae wannabe or a CL wannabe.” While the Yoon Mi-rae reference is most certainly positive, as Skandalous mentions how people have been copying her style for years as one to achieve, the CL one is ambiguous.
K-hip-hop vs. Idol Music
Most kept the discussion to K-hip-hop, speaking about what their genre should be. But a few had a call for banding together against idol music or were just complaining about it. When comparing the international popularity of all the music South Korea has to offer, it’s obvious that K-pop, specifically of the idol kind, has a leg up. It could even be said that idol music is the only way some would view Korean music: as made up of idols, as Psy, or more recently, as the enthusiastic Crayon Pop. And it’s not even an industry restricted to the music: it spills over onto popular variety programs, music shows, and dramas, making it a culture that seems sometimes inescapable. As such, it isn’t surprising that there were words against it, especially when considering the monetary return for the most popular idols despite the sometimes lazy quality of songs, all fully powered by fandom strength.
What was particular though, was a specific rap against Block B‘s Zico by rapper Aphelia. It mentioned how holding idol popularity can translate into hip-hop: by bringing fans introduced through idoldom to underground hip-hop shows, almost guaranteeing a sold out show just for the presence of the idol. While great in monetary terms, when the fans don’t care beyond the idol they’re there to see, it’s damaging in terms of allowing fans of more than one artist a seat to see their favorite. A parallel would be fans waiting for hours to see their favorite group perform on a music show and dismissing older groups or singers when it’s their turn, despite their talent.
While the criticism is understood, it’s also something that Zico can’t control. It goes without saying that K-pop fans are some of the most determined. And since a Block B comeback is coming soon, I think we can all be thankful that Zico didn’t respond.
While the diss battle isn’t by any means foreign to the K-hip-hop scene, this more vocal one, if anything, was a temporary instigator. The positive aspect of using the same track for the beat is that it acts as an equalizer: how well can everyone make the same track come alive through their flow and lyrics. Though as a basis for hip-hop, its role stops as the instigator. Raps driven by short time limits, a desire to show each other up, or certain ammunition, but they don’t always make for the best music. If all music was solely based on the desire to do better than others, then there clearly wouldn’t be a lot of different types of music around.
It’s a couple of weeks post-battle, and the impact of the battle in the long run is little, if any. Thinking of E-Sens and Amoeba Culture is a little unsettling, and that’s probably the only result. Swings has already said on radio that he doesn’t regret with what he started. If his words had a more lasting impact, aside from any personal confrontations away from the public eye, we can only see in the music anyone puts out in the genre.