Hip-hop is enjoying its highest glory days in the current music world. On broadcast days of shows like “Show Me The Money”, “Unpretty Rapstar”, hip-hop singers sweep off the portal sites keyword rankings and their names stay high on the music charts. As the number of artists turning naturally to hip-hop is growing, a fast reversal in quality that is growing bigger is happening. As we can talk about a “Korean hip-hop renaissance”, the “Meeting Hip-hop” corner will present you various musicians that lead the over and underground scene.
t/n: this is an on-going series.
For various reason, there are also many hip-hop musicians who are active as producers and not as rappers. Among them, there are those who meant to get into producing since the beginning and don’t do activities as rappers, but most of hip-hop producers have a discography under their name with at least one or two albums.
“Digital Master” (DM from now on) is exactly the same. DM was active as a rapper in the 90’s and made himself known through featuring son songs of other artists like Cho PD. After that, he released his solo album “It’s Been Longtime”, “Take Two” with the duo D.N.S he formed with rapper 실력 [t/n: I don’t know if his stage name can be translated, but that would be “Skills”], “Made in R.O.K” with the duo YMGA he formed with Masta Wu.
Working constantly as a rapper, DM decided suddenly to leave YG Entertainment in 2010 and chose to become a producer. Of course, he says it was his own decision, but leaving YG Entertainment who was then and still is the best agency of this country isn’t something the average person would have thought of.
“Once YMGA’s album was released, there was no certainty or guarantee that I’d be able to keep release albums with YG. I had to keep making music. That’s why I even decided to try to become a producer. And I guess it was just a matter of timing, but ever since I started music, I had always thought that I’d produce music one day,” DM explained. “I made up my mind and I have no regret leaving YG. The only sad thing is the fact that I can’t receive the help of YG singers,” he said and smiled.
[t/n: that doesn’t mean he isn’t in good terms with YG, but I think he just means his YG connections aren’t put to use for official stuff like collab etc because of business reasons]
So, this wasn’t about being vaguely confident and choosing the producer path. DM was able to make this choise because he had worked constantly as a rapper all this time and built up a career and had good results.
If he were to choose a hidden masterpiece of Korean hip-hop among his early work made of hits like “망가진 청색호랑이” or “폭풍전야”, it would be “My Style” by Cho PD recognized as a “major hit” he helped to produce that was the evidence of his potential as a producer because it swept off various awards ceremonies in 2002. It hadn’t been long since he had started working earnestly as a producer, so creating the big hit “Mirror Mirror for 4minute (it’s the other song DM considers a masterpiece of his) increased his worth.
However, the music market isn’t an easy place. With the results and know-hows he got during this time, DM personally produced the group D-Unit in 2012, but it’d be hard to call it a success, despite their refined music and great perfromances. Of course, this didn’t discourage DM. After that, he produced new male duo called Punch. He partenered up with Brave Brothers who is an old friend of his and producer/CEO of an entertainment company to support the management aspect he was lacking in.
“Brave Brothers owns his company, so we worked together because it’d be better for the management side of things. Some people had a misunderstanding and thought it was about receiving financial support, but there’s no such thing. It’s just that we help out each other in the areas we’re lacking of. It is clear that Brave Brothers also gets help from me by working with me,” DM revealed.
The funny thing is that unlike other hip-hop producers, he is quite active on the idol market. “To be honest, I’m hip-hop to the bone. Even if you call it “idol”, there’s always a hip-hop element in it (=the songs he produces),” he said. “When you compare the hip-hop market and the idol market, the difference of the market scale is big. With the mindset that doing already activities must be about having fun in this flood, I created idol music and produced groups,” he explained.
His intention isn’t to cling only onto idol music either. DM is actually giving us a taste of DM-like hip-hop music with songs like “Where Do You Wanna Go?” sang by Taewan, Gary and Crush or “S.O.L.O” he produced recently through MBC Music “Catch Music If You Can”.
“Recently, the hip-hop market grew bigger. Hip-hop is my speciality. It’s finally my turn. From now on, it’s the right time for me to bring it on,” he said as he revealed his self-confidence about his talent as a hip-hop producer for the future.
That doesn’t mean DM is only enjoying the market expansion either. As someone who has been involved in hip-hop for a long time, he isn’t free of concerns and worries about the strange stuff going on on the current hip-hop scene.
“It’s clearly true that the hip-hop market is getting bigger. Those who were starving in the past when they did hip-hop, they don’t starve today. The problem is the hip-hop scene that didn’t grow no matter how much effort various people put into it all this time is growing through the power of TV programs like “Show Me The Money”,” he pointed out the power of the broadcast media involved in the current Korean hip-hop scene. “So you have big media companies like CJ E&M that have a controlling influence over the hip-hop scene. And these programs characteristic is to create aspects to make hip-hop funny in order to get high ratings,” he emphasized. “For instance, Masta Wu filmed “Show Me The Money” and released “Come Here”, but Masta Wu getting popular was because of his “that’s no no” expression and not something else. It is true that “Show Me The Money is a program that made the hip-hop market grow. If you say such image is just one process, there’s nothing else to say, but it is true there are side effects,” he added, giving his honest opinion.
As the discussion switched naturally to “Show Me The Money”, DM expressed another one of his concerns. The fact that his artist One from 1Punch said he wanted to apply for “Show Me The Money 4”. He said that One’s participation to “SMTM 4” or not was his concern, but DM’s way of thinking was firm and honest. “Are we sure “Show Me The Money” is 100% reality?… I think the ties with major agencies have some sort of influence. To be honest, if there was a possibility to adjust things beforehand at some extent, I’d want to go out there too. However, if that’s not the case, I don’t want to,” he said, criticizing the fairness of these programs.
“Show Me The Money” or the hip-hop scene weren’t the only issues he thought of. DM also mentionned “Tidal”, the music streaming service Jay-Z started recently. “While artists in the US say that iTunes’ 7:3 distributing system is illogical and are personally entering the music streaming market, we, in Korea, can’t even enter on this iTunes market yet. There’s also the authority of music programs PDs who make artists change their outfits if they’re not to the PDs’ liking. Even if a law needs to be created, there are things like that I want to change if I can,” he said, revealing the regretful aspect of the Korean music world’s irrationality.
Still, despite all of that, music and hip-hop are DM’s choice. Although it’s somehow obvious what hip-hop means to him, once this overasked question was brought up, DM answered “it might be a bit immature to say that, but to me, hip-hop is life”.
“I emigrated to the US in the 90’s and I’ve been living in this hip-hop world ever since. I learned about hip-hop when I was in my first year of middle school. Back then, I knew no other Asian guys but Gin Woon (Masta Wu) and I who wore baggy pants. Even worse, Teddy even asked “hyung, why do you wear your pants so low?”, “why do you wear military-style clothes?”. Back then, Teddy used to wear bootcut jeans,” he remembered. “We started doing hip-hop together and hip-hop is what made me live until now and it will be this way in the future too,” he added, giving a complete mature explanation about hip-hop being his life and this aspect of his life style.
As DM has been living in this hip-hop world and will keep doing so for the rest of his life, doesn’t it make the problems of the current hip-hop scene even sadder?
“Ever since I was a kid, no matter what I did, like being the kids’ leader, the neighborhood leader, this area leader, there was never a time when I didn’t get to be number 1. When I was young, I always thought that if I couldn’t become a celebrity or be a tycoon, I’d be a celebrity even if I had to fall of the top of the Empire State building and die. However, since I began doing music, I was never able to be number 1. I definitely want to be number 1 as a producer,” he said about his change of heart. “(Yang) Hyun Suk-hyung is my role model. It’s not that I want to earn a lot of money. I want to become a tycoon who has an influence on our cultural world (like Yang Hyun Suk),” he promised to himself.
Donga via Nate
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com