20150903_seoulbeats_smtm4-1We’ve finally reached the final episodes of Show Me the Money 4 (SMTM4), and it’s been quite a journey towards the end. Even before the first episode aired, there was plenty of buzz and controversy over who should and shouldn’t be in it. The show has been plagued with issues over inappropriate lyrics and unethical rule changes, but that didn’t stymie its popularity in the slightest. In fact, the only thing more perplexing than Mnet‘s questionable definition of “fairness” is figuring out if any of the participants actually benefited from this hip hop K-drama.

When we left off in the previous review, Team Zico and Paloalto (ZiPal) had received a troubling blow after learning about Team San E and Verbal Jint (Brand New) swapping out Hanhae for Black Nut only days before their team diss battle. For those of you not up to speed on what the big deal was, Black Nut was originally eliminated after a team challenge, but Team Brand New changed their decision without consulting the other teams. This decision upset just about everyone on the show.

20150726_seoulbeats_smtm4_sane_verbaljintSan E and Verbal Jint explained their thought process and apologized for their actions, but apparently, that was only to the viewing audience. In their confessionals, the other team captains and contestants complained about the swap. The ones most irked by Team Brand New was Team ZiPal because it meant they had to re-organize their original performance to accommodate the change. Mino spoke about how he even lost sleep preparing for a battle with Hanhae, and now he had to re-write his diss to focus on Black Nut at the last minute. The show producers pushed back the performance date as consolation, but Zico and Paloalto made it quite clear that they were upset with Team Brand New’s inconsiderate move.

This fueled both teams to do their best as they all had something to prove. Team ZiPal threw more disses at San E and Verbal Jint, who took the criticism without question. Team Brand New’s strategy involved throwing off their opponents with bold gestures. Ironically, Black Nut flubbed his lyrics this time and poured most of his energy into distracting Mino with his crazy actions. Apparently, this paid off as Team Brand New took the win by a slim margin.

The losing teams from the diss battles had to eliminate one of their rappers, so Team Jay Park and Loco (AOMG) dropped Sik-k while Team ZiPal dumped Ja Mezz. In addition to losing a rapper, both of these teams would also face each other in a showdown that meant the failing team would be completely out of the competition. This created a lot of tension on the teams since the captains could only pick one rapper to represent them. The remaining rapper would be automatically eliminated without setting foot on stage.

20150910_seoulbeats_smtm_lilboiAlthough Geegooin knew Lil Boi was the favorite for Team AOMG, he worked hard to gain Jay Park and Loco’s attention. Lil Boi repeatedly messed up during rehearsals, which made his team captains nervous. When it came time to choose between the two, the AOMG staff debated heavily over who to pick: Geegooin was a stable performer, but Lil Boi had better presence. Team AOMG took a risk and chose Lil Boi.

Team ZiPal was left with AndUp and Mino, and like Geegooin, AndUp faced a formidable wall against Mino. Still, he tried his best to impress his team captains, but they chose Mino in the end. After Team ZiPal performed, the results for each team was revealed. Team ZiPal won, so it was game over for Team AOMG.

As for the other two teams, they had less pressure since they were able to retain their rappers. With three rappers each, they faced a different challenge. They had to pit one rapper against the other team’s chosen rapper, and then choose one from the remaining two to perform with the captains. Like the last mission, audience votes would determine the winner, and another MC would be dropped from the losing team.

20150323_seoulbeats_epikhigh_tabloThe choices were predictable aside from Team Tablo and Jinusean (YG) picking Innovator and Incredivle over Super Bee. Team Brand New won again despite Basick making a mistake and informing the audience that he did. Verbal Jint didn’t feel happy about this win either because he felt they could’ve done better. Tablo expressed sadness for losing two members from their team but praised everyone’s efforts.

Since Team Brand New had two rappers left, they got to choose the match-ups for the semi-finals. While discussing who to pit against each other, Tablo and Zico used aegyo to appeal to San E and Verbal Jint. It was a cute moment that lightened the mood before Team Brand New made their decision. The semi-final battles would be Black Nut versus Mino, and Innovator versus Basick.

Paloalto asked Team Brand New for one favor: Black Nut can’t mention Mino in his rap. He proposed both rappers talk about themselves for once instead of doing another diss battle. Team Brand New agreed to this. Black Nut had been dissing Mino since the beginning, even going so far as to make “Song Mino’s going to win anyway,” a popular phrase throughout the show. This irked Team ZiPal who wanted people to view Mino without prejudice, so they hoped this rule would help his case.

20150910_seoulbeats_smtm_basickLater, San E scolded Basick for not only making a mistake during his performance, but also telling the audience about it. He was frustrated by Basick’s lack of passion, but apparently, there was a reason for this. Scenes of Basick with his wife and child revealed a backstory of what happened in between rehearsals. Basick was stressed with his fatherly duties, so he struggled to focus on the competition. It was a stark reminder of what he stood to lose if he failed.

After a pep talk and encouragement from his captains, Basick returned to fighting form for the semi-finals. Both he and Innovator put on energetic performances, but Basick took the win.

Basick wasn’t the only one gaining support from his family as scenes of Mino dining with his father were shown. He gained a lot of encouragement to pursue his dream from him. We also see a calmer side to Black Nut as he helps his mother in her restaurant. As the most widely discussed contestants on this season of SMTM, it was nice to view a side of these rappers that wasn’t centered on controversy. Normally, I would yawn at fluffy backstories, but considering the negativity from previous episodes, it was a fresh breath of air to see something positive.

Returning to the performances, there was some debate over the influence of the featuring artists, in particular, the person Mino had for his: Big Bang‘s Taeyang. Black Nut gained support from Jessi, and Basick had backup from Mamamoo, but Taeyang was the biggest of all the names involved. Considering how many times Mino boasted about removing his YG tag, the inclusion of Taeyang in his stage felt a bit hypocritical. Regardless, Mino won and proceeded to the finals.

From the beginning, there was little question if Mino would make the finals. The larger question at hand was who would be his opponent, and now we had an answer in Basick. Both rappers had their strengths and weaknesses, so it was expected to be a close match.

For the finals, there would be a solo and a team performance and multiple rounds of voting. The multiple voting system made little sense other than to give those who changed their mind after watching the stages a chance to vote differently. One could even joke that it seemed like San E and Verbal Jint helped make that rule. All jokes aside, the performances were solid and entertaining. Both contenders deserved to be proud of themselves.

Mnet milked the tension out of revealing the results, making the show feel longer than necessary. Things were neck and neck between both rappers, but the final tally showed Basick as the winner. Cue the confetti and cheers from the audience as this season of SMTM finally ended.

As much as people were predicting idols would be the downfall of the show, I feel like the show producers did the most damage on their own. The positive aspects were strong contestants and teams who put their all into creating memorable performances. The negative parts were anything that detracted from the competition itself — petty backstage drama and media play over scandals.

20150501_seoulbeats_winner_mino2The negative aspects fueled plenty of debate as to why anyone even bothered participating in this mess of a show. It’s too early to say if anyone truly benefited or lost credibility from this experience. There are some who fell down the respectability ladder (ahem, Brand New) and others who gained a few more brownie points for simply enduring all of the garbage. With images both tarnished and polished by their appearance on this show, it really is up to the participants to bank on this opportunity in the aftermath.

I don’t think Mino suffered at all from doing SMTM; in fact, I don’t see a change in his popularity whatsoever. He got a chance to show his skills, and that was that. He experienced a minor setback with his lyrical controversy, but other than that, nothing changed. He may have gained and lost fans, but that can be said of everyone on the show.

20150910_seoulbeats_unprettyrapstarIf there are losers to be had, it would probably be Mnet itself. All of the scandals tarnished the network’s image of fairness and transparency, which makes it difficult to take a competition seriously when the audience suspects foul play from the start. This will be their challenge going forward with season two of Unpretty Rapstar. Can they keep things focused on hip hop, or will they find themselves repeating the same mistakes from SMTM4?

Overall, I’m thankful for a pool of contestants who kept me on my toes, even if it wasn’t always for rapping. Like a lot of people, I also worried about SMTM turning into The Song Mino Show, but it turned out differently from my expectations. I enjoyed learning about other rappers, both mainstream and underground, which is what I truly wanted the most from SMTM.

It’s always a joy to discover unfamiliar artists whose music you may enjoy, and I’m looking forward to seeing them flourish in their careers, especially Basick. I’m glad his risk paid off because there are many in his position who would’ve never even dreamed of doing what he did. His victory shows that you can still achieve your goals, no matter what your circumstances are. Congratulations, Basick!

(YouTube, Images via Mnet, YG Entertainment)

Show Me the Money 4, Ep. 1-3: Showing Up and Showing Out

Show Me the Money 4, Ep. 4-6: Game Changers and Rule Breakers