Diss tracks and hip hop go together like SM Entertainment and box sets. Though K-hip hop experienced its first full-blown diss war just last year, it was inevitable that diss tracks would arrive in the Korean rap scene at some point. K-pop, on the other hand, seems to be insulated from the influence of hip hop (at least content wise). However, with the increasing conversion of young underground rappers into idols, the eventual appearance of diss tracks within K-pop might have also been unavoidable.
Although A.KOR‘s Kemy was the first idol rapper to call out a fellow idol with her tirade against Park Bom in “Do the Right Thing,” the extreme backlash fans unleashed against her made it clear that she would not be starting a trend within the industry.
The award for successfully introducing diss tracks into K-pop goes, instead, to iKon‘s Bobby.
Bobby would seem to be the perfect person for this job. Instead of separating himself from his underground rap roots like many other idol rappers have done, he has managed to maintain a presence in the hip hop scene during his transition into idol life; his Show Me the Money 3 win gave him the opportunity to entrench himself within the rap community by featuring on songs with artists like Epik High and Masta Wu. Given the reputation of idol rappers, though, there is bound to be some tension between Bobby’s dual identities, and he’s been showing the evidence of that tension through diss tracks.
Recorded during his time on SMTM, “YGGR #hiphop” is his first official foray into disses. Like a standard diss track, Bobby starts by identifying those he recognizes as his equals (fellow iKon member B.I, WINNER‘s Mino, and Block B members Zico and PO) before calling out all his inferiors (apparently, everyone else):
Besides B.I ZICO Minho PO, everyone get out of the way
You all keep ripping up the money from the title I’m about to recover
All you damn tone deaf rappers keep defaming
If you don’t think this is about you, you can talk shit about Bobby right now
He continues talking trash about idol rappers on his track “Put Your Guard Up and Bounce.” This entire rap is dedicated to defending his choice to become an idol and asserting himself as the best idol rapper in the game. Of course, he accomplishes this by delivering scathing condemnations of his fellow idols:
Before you hate on me, take out your hair color first
Put your hands up, all you wack MCs
Saying that you rap but are just goofing around
You make me frown, you lower the quality of my dreams, agree?
You all smeared dung on the idol title
Why should I erase and wipe it off?
So stop crapping and clean up after yourselves
If you don’t have skills, instead of going to MCountdown
Go rot away in the practice studio
Each song features many more clever — and often accurate — disses (you can find the lyrics here and here, if you want to read more), but neither one attracted much attention until his short feature in Masta Wu’s “Come Here” attracted attention for its seemingly personal attack on BTS‘ Rap Monster:
I live the fast life, don’t need to be a pretty boy
They all me a monster, I’ve never called myself that
You are all completely made of glass, much better than the basement dungeon
If skill equals to looks, I’m Won Bin in front of bulletproof glass
Fans of BTS point to Bobby’s lines about monsters and bulletproof glass as proof that he meant to diss Rap Monster, leading them to search for more personal disses in other songs. Netizens have accused Bobby of calling out Boyfriend in one line of “Put Your Guard Up and Bounce,” and while this connection seems to be a bit of a stretch, a more convincing discovery was found in “YGGR #hiphop”:
You’re way behind, boy group rappers coming out on stage
Dancing like a clock, if you’re tone deaf, then practice
VIXX fans, linking the clock reference to the song “Eternity,” began to say the rap was targeted at Ravi, and they eventually drew enough attention that Ravi himself took notice. He released a short response track called “Diss Hater” on SoundCloud, in which he answers Bobby’s criticisms and ultimately tries to make peace:
I don’t wanna fight
Everyone’s the same, you, me, him, them, we’re all idols
If you’re a little better and scribble a bit with a pen, does that make you more real?
That’s no no
Ravi, rather than dissing his hater, declares himself a hater of disses and attempts to end this mini-controversy. We currently have no way of knowing if Bobby will accept Ravi’s olive branch, but it should hopefully quiet any fan wars that sprung up because of Bobby’s rap (though it likely did nothing to help any BTS fans who were angered by “Come Here”).
As it stands, dissing other idols really only results in fan feuds. Even though it doesn’t seem that anyone besides Ravi has had a reaction to anything Bobby has said in his songs, it’s best for him to be careful. Making enemies within K-pop isn’t the brightest idea, since it’s likely he’ll have to work with other idols in the future. If he ends up gaining a reputation for being rude or confrontational because of these songs, he could end up hurting himself, iKon, and YG Entertainment in the long run.
Bobby’s fellow idol rappers Zico, Mino, and Bang Yongguk have shown through their solo releases that is possible reconnect with their underground roots without insulting any of their colleagues. Like these three, Bobby will have to learn how to navigate this gray area between hip hop and K-pop without doing damage to himself or his group. Tearing down his peers isn’t the wisest way to assert himself as a part of the hip hop community — even if his criticisms of idol rappers do ring true. If he is concerned that the poor reputation of idol rappers will tarnish his legitimacy, it would probably be more helpful (not to mention safer) for him to positively encourage those he finds lacking than to risk his standing as an idol by creating messy conflicts.
Do you think Bobby’s disses are benign, or should he slow down his insult train? More generally, do you think diss tracks have a place within K-pop? Leave your thoughts in the comments!