Following the surprising returning success of Show Me The Money 9 (SMTM9), the indie scene which encompasses all that isn’t K-pop has seen a boom in activity. It is a great sign for what has been an admittedly tough year for indie. The coronavirus has been, as expected, especially hard for indie artists without concerts and festival runs many musicians have had no way to make a living this year.
So while we celebrate all that indie has to offer, it is important to thank all the indie acts who have suffered so much for their craft this year, fighting!
Though the year has come to an end, the indie scene is suddenly overflowing with new and exciting artists. Because of this, I’ve decided to leave one spot open on my list, where you can envision your favourite indie artist. I had planned to fill it with a You.Will.Knovv artist, such as Miso who just dropped her first EP or Mokyo who just released his debut album, but since we have a full profile on them, I eliminated the idea. I DO highly recommend checking out Mokyo’s debut album accent fried, especially if you’re looking for some gorgeous indie to close out this year!
Then there was also an artist from SMTM9, but again, I felt that it was too early to pick a SMTM9 participant as the show just ended. 2021 is where we’ll rightfully and individually watch musicians such as Lil Boi, Wonstein, Layone, Mushvenom, Knundi Panda and my early eliminated bias Khakii bloom.
I’d like to start this discussion with my number 3 pick, Kim Ximya, as he interlinks my opening statements. Anyone within the Korean hip-hop scene had anticipated his appearance on SMTM9 but he still remains unseen, despite his expectant dominance on such a show. Instead, he decided to release an album and two MVs with the You.Will.Knovv members, starting with the stunning “3-am Freestyle” by Tabber, featuring Dean and Ximya’s own track “Drive Slow” featuring Rad Museum.
Kim Ximya has extensively featured in Korea’s indie scene. Other than his recent relationship with Dean’s independent label You.Will.Knovv. Ximya has also featured on E Sen‘s iconic record The Anecdote, as well as Sen’s follow-up The Stranger. Ximya is also part of the duo XXX who won the “Hip Hop Album of the Year” award for their album, Language at the 2019 Korean Hip-Hop awards. Dog is Kim Ximya’s newest November release.
Dog is key in showing Kim Ximya’s unique appeal in the Korean rap scene, and why he’s my number 3 pick. Kim has a unique flow and cadence which works extremely well on off-kilter beats. Take his feature on DJ Wegun & Jay Park‘s title track “Twist the Plot”. It’s one of the more jarring beats DJ Wegun has ever crafted, but Ximya thrives on the track, making Jay Park sound like the feature, not the other way around. It is this ability to ride across the most intricate of hip-hop productions with ease that makes Kim Ximya stand out from the rest of the hip-hop crowd this year.
Ximya is Korea’s biggest rapper that you’ve never heard of and makes him perfect for this list. He is in direct contrast to my number 4 pick, Crush, the prince of Korean’s R&B scene. It felt right to have him in this list just before he left for the military.
His stunning with HER EP arrived just before he left for service. with HER stands as a rarity in the R&B scene, with its duet concept featuring a female vocalist on each track. Duets have long been a staple in R&B but there hasn’t been an entire record dedicated to the idea in R&B. The closest comparison coming in the shape of legendary singer Tony Bennett‘s Duets or Penemeco‘s and Elo‘s collaborative R&B EP, ODD. Crush’s reverence for R&B conventions no longer considered in vogue is what allows Crush to continually standout in the genre.
On From Midnight To Sunrise, we saw Crush reconnect with more long-forgotten R&B conventions. “With You” plays with R&B instrumentation last popularised by a 2000’s era Usher. Then there’s the beatboxing interlude on “Wonderlust” reminding us of the 2002 “Rock Your Body” beatboxing outro by Justin Timberlake. Crush is a student of R&B, and his last two records are a testament of this.
Crush also had features on Lee Hi‘s Christmas carrol “For You” and DPR Live‘s “Jam & Butterfly“ (feat. eaJ of Day 6). Making 2020 more a year of singles for him, “Mayday” (feat. Joy) and “Let Me Go” (with Taeyeon) being particularly popular this year. Crush will be missed while From Midnight To Sunrise reigns as the R&B Album of the Year for 2020.
In second place is Samuel Seo. He is a regular in these lists, which translates to an artist who is beloved in the underground but somehow hasn’t transitioned into a popular musician yet. The easiest way to understand why Samuel Seo isn’t in the mainstream consciousness is his preference of jazz instrumentation over pop conventions in his music.
Seo is more of a D’Angelo or Maxwell than he is a Joji or The Weeknd making him neo-soul more than R&B. His EP, Unity II released in October and is even jazzier than the original Unity. Samuel also released the D I A L EP much earlier in the year making him still the most compelling underground vocalist in Korea.
Admittedly I’d hoped his spot would’ve been taken by musicians such as Penomeco, Dean or Simon Dominic artists who had been highly anticipated to drop a new album but decided otherwise. Samuel Seo has become the gold standard in self-made music due to his consistently high level of artistry alongside indie musicians such as Kim Oki and Yerin Baek. His albums sit alongside Jjangyou and Se So Neon‘s records as some of the most beloved new indie albums of the last decade, and are always worth the listen.
At number one, we have DPR–not DPR Live, the singular artist, but DPR the collective. DPR Ian is the main reason we had to do this, from being the video director of all of DPR Live’s MV’s he has emerged as a future K-pop star turned indie-idol. His feature on CL‘s “+5 Star+” MV as the lead actor, evolved into the track “No Blueberries” featuring the aforementioned DPR LIVE and CL. “No Blueberries” sits alongside “So Beautiful” as leading singles pointing towards a solo release for Ian come 2021.
Ian’s vocals live in the DPR world, that is a blend of hip-hop production paired with R&B-esque deliveries. As if DPR Live could not get any better, he now has both DPR Cream and DPR Ian building separate yet analogous discographies all converging into the “DPR” name. That’s not to say DPR Live hasn’t been busy, besides his conceptual-heavy Is Anybody Out There? unfurling into a forerunner for best hip-hop record of the year. DPR Live also featured on Mino‘s “Hop In”, Uhm Jung Hwa‘s “Hop In” and Hwa Sa‘s “I’m bad too” making 2020 a knockout year for the group.
As emphasised in their “Kiss Me + Neon” MV, DPR are a group reaching the newest spheres of the Korean indie scene. Being lost in space is an apt euphemism for how utterly dominate DPR have been since their explosive start. The Coming To You Live EP which featured Crush, Dean, Jay Park, Loco etc. was overwhelming for many reasons!
For a debut EP from a then-unknown artist to have such powerful features and gorgeous instrumentation! Coming To You Live became an instant classic pushed even further with their stunning visuals which accompanied each track. The nail in the coffin? Everything created by DPR Live was an in-house affair from the group known as DPR. For an independent group to craft such a unique space in the Korean music scene without any major label backing is why they are my top independent act of 2020.
Do also check out our Mid-Year Review of the indie scene if you’re looking for other indie acts which stood out this year!