This is the eighth in a series on producers, MCs, DJs and artists working in the Korean underground hip-hop scene. ― Ed.
For rapper P-Type, a first-generation hip-hop artist in Korea, hip-hop is more than just a music genre: It’s a culture and attitude. And he hopes for the day when hip-hop becomes more than a trend here.
“My dream is to make hip-hop grow its roots and become a culture in Korea so that future hip-hop artists can start a little bit easier than before,” P-Type said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday. “And that people don’t look at hip-hop as just another trend, but as part of our culture. As a pioneer, I feel that if that doesn’t happen, then I’ve failed.”
Hip-hop artist P-Type poses before an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
P-Type started performing in 1998 and released his debut album in 2004. He was a member of Show N Prove, one of the first crews in Korean hip-hop, with artists Verbal Jint and Wheesung.
But P-Type got started in hip-hop much earlier, doing music in high school for his friends who were b-boys. His friends thought it was cool, but at the time he never dreamed he would become a musician.
One of the big differences between the hip-hop scene when he started and now, he said, was the lack of foundation. None of the artists thought it was something they could actually do for a living -― the goal was unclear. They mostly just did it for fun.
“Because it is black Western music and there was no black hip-hop artist in Korea teaching, ‘Oh, hip-hop should be this way,’” he said. “So there was constant researching and experimenting with new stuff. We were trying to figure out what was the proper way of doing things.”
In the absence of any guidance, the musicians often analyzed their performance afterward, discussing what should be changed, what worked and what didn’t. These days, young hip-hop artists have it slightly easier in that there is that foundation and a place for them to start from.
P-Type’s own career has been a constant struggle, so much so that he took a break from music in 2008. Despite the acclaim for his first two albums, neither generated much income, and he felt they were only half-successes. After the release of his first album, his agency went bankrupt.
After his second album, P-Type left the music scene and worked at a company, being almost 30 and needing to make some sort of income.
Not quite satisfied with working at a 9-to-5 job, P-Type returned to music a couple years later when the members of the Bulhandang crew asked him to come back.
“The constant challenge occurs because Korean society does not look at hip-hop as a culture but as a trend. In America, it’s a culture. But until it is seen that way, its one of the real challenges for me,” he said.
P-Type feels that his challenge is to see how long hip-hop is going to last, but there is no way of knowing when it might become a culture.
For now, he is working on releasing a digital single and trying to write new music before winter. He said hip-hop trends have changed since he left and he was trying to catch up. Now that everything is released in digital format, he said there is less pressure to put out albums and CDs.
Like many, he now gets his inspiration from daily life. With his previous albums, he wanted to show true hip-hop, but on his third album ― the first since his comeback ― he took daily conversations he had and turned them into music. And he is willing to try different styles, though he doesn’t want to stray too far from original, classic hip-hop.
P-Type hopes that younger crews in hip-hop can look to Bulhandang and other older crews as examples of what it means to be in a crew and to keep hip-hop healthy.
Younger crews start for various reasons, be it financial or otherwise, and that creates issues and arguments. P-Type said there are many behind-the-scenes stories that the public is unaware of.
But with Bulhandang, he said, it’s a bunch of fun guys coming together and doing what they do best.
By Emma Kalka (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Translator Jee Hsieng contributed to this article. ― Ed.