How Black Music Permeated into Korean Popular Music

Black music

Black music includes everything that is created and produced by black people, such as gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, soul, reggae, etc. Over the decades, music, fashion styles and dance moves produced by black artists have greatly influenced music around the world. Korea is one of them.

The rise of black music in Korea

It all started at a club located in Itaewon called “Moon Night Club” in the 1890s~1990s. It was originally for the U.S. Forces Korea as Itaewon was located near the Yonsan base of the U.S. military. But later on, the club became famous among dancers in Korea wanting to learn trendy dance moves and popular music in the United States. Many first generations of Korean dance/hip-hop/R&B singers came from Moon Night Club.

Moon Night Club and K-Pop

The original three leaders of K-Pop entertainment agencies, SM, YG, and JYP, were all at Moon Night Club. Lee Soo-man, the founder of SM Entertainment, visited this place as a producer to discover new singers, including Yoo Young-jin, who later on became the main producer of SM. Hyun-suk Yang (YG) often came to the club to show off his dance moves and became a member of “Seotaiji and Boys”. Jin-young Park (JYP) also loved dancing in the club and became a solo dance artist.

Black music introduced to Korea

현진영 (Hyun Jin-young) was one of the first Korean artists to do black music, including genres like new jack swing, hip-hop, and R&B. Debuted in 1990, he was the Korean version of Bobby Brown dancing the Roger Rabbit dance. He was also the first “idol” produced by SM Entertainment, which later became the kingdom of K-Pop. 

Then, more groups based on black music continued to emerge. To bring the American vibes, producers brought Korean Americans all the way from the States. But at the same time, producers made efforts to make hip-hop and R&B more of a Korean style for Korean audiences who were not used to these types of genres yet.

Drunken Tiger

In 1999, a sensational album was released that changed the Korean hip-hop scene: “Year of the Tiger” by Drunken Tiger. Before their appearance, artists made songs based on hip-hop, but no one did hip-hop for the entire album. It’s a group formed by two Korean Americans, Tiger JK and DJ Shine, who are considered the legendary pioneers of Korean hip-hop who have opened the door for other Korean rappers and popularized rap. The tracks “난 널 원해 (I Want You)” and “너희가 힙합을 아느냐? (Do You Know Hip-hop?)” became Korean hip-hop classics.

Hip-hop idols

Entering the 2000s, idol groups based on hip-hop emerged. An ideal example is Bigbang. They started with hip-hop and mixed with electronic and pop. They danced and rapped in boxy clothes and gold jewels. Taeyang, their main vocal, sang R&B style songs. BTS also started with hip-hop. As you can see in the meaning of their name BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan; Bulletproof Boy Scouts), protecting their music and values by preventing the younger generation from suffering, social prejudice, and oppression, they rapped on behalf of them.

Today’s K-Pop

Just like Korean artists were inspired and influenced by black music, they drew influences from different music genres as well, including electronic, pop, rock, folk, etc.
In fact, K-Pop has been heavily influenced by global music trends. K-Pop is a form of popular music from Korea that fused many different genres into one genre, added with colorful productions, passionate performances, synchronized dance routines, and stylish fashions.

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