You heard about K-pop, now it’s time for K-drill

Written Oscar Holland, CNNGawon Bae, CNN

If the lurking bass and syncopated rhythm of Silkybois’ recent hit “Bomaye” Sounds familiar to workout music fans, but the content of the pair’s lyrics may not sound right. Seoul-based rappers, oscillating between English and their native Korean, add numerous local references to the genre’s typical allusions to street rivalry, cars, and money.

The track’s metaphor-laden lyrics talk about rocking like Korean baseball player Choo Shin Soo, getting paid like casino developer Kangwon Land, and folding cheese like dak-galbi, a spicy chicken dish.

Even the threats of violence come with a distinctly Korean flair: “My chopsticks will rip you apart and you’ll boil, leaving you lying there like a dumpling,” raps one of the duo’s members, Park Sung Jin, aka Jimmy Page.

Silkybois are part of a wave of rappers bringing the powerful sound of the drill, or “deulil” as the locals call it, to South Korea. “Bomaye,” which means “kill him” in the African Lingala language – and was known to boxing fans cheering Muhammad Ali when he fought George Foreman in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) – has racked up almost 2 million views on YouTube since its release last year.

“I didn’t expect foreign YouTubers to make reaction videos or the song to become popular on platforms like TikTok,” said another Silkybois member, Kim Dae Woon, whose rap name is Black Nut, in a video interview from Seoul. “We just did what we wanted, in our own style. I enjoyed watching people’s reactions, which were unexpected.”

Although drill originated in Chicago in the early 2010s, the South Korean scene borrows heavily from the British subgenre dubbed UK Drill. With the same hard and provocative lyrics but faster beats and more melodic sliding bass lines, the sound has since spread from south London to influence scenes around the world, including in turn America’s.

Silkybois members Jimmy Page (left) and Black Nut (right). Credit: Courtesy of JustMusic

But while British and American drill artists are known—sometimes ambiguously—for their rapping about knife and gun violence, things are a little different in South Korea, which has one of the world’s lowest rates of gun crime. However, references to physical violence are widespread, with country rappers uncompromisingly depicting urban hardships.

“The lyrics are about city stuff,” Park said. “For better or worse, these must be facts. What happens on the streets, in the neighborhood and our mentality is all about us against them.

“For me, the drill is just another form (of art),” he added. “We like tough lyrics… We’re always looking for ways to use punchy metaphors and punch lines, and I think that worked.”

Crossing continents

Global interest in contemporary Korean culture has skyrocketed over the past decade, with the so-called “K-wave” leading groups like BTS and Blackpink to mainstream success in the West. K-pop has been the country’s main musical export, but there is also a healthy domestic hip-hop scene.

The number of drill artists may be small in comparison, but several of the country’s most famous rappers, including Keith Ape, Changmo, and Korean-American artist Jay Park, have recently released music inspired by the genre.

Among the musicians who made the switch, Shin Yong-duk, or Blaze, helped bring attention to the drill last fall with his spectacle on the hugely popular South Korean television rap competition Show Me the Money. His 2021 self-titled album spans many genres, from grime to garage, but is inspired by outside” and “CVS“, which have the most streams on Spotify. (“I work all night on the road,” he raps in the latter, with a chorus that mixes English and Korean. “Don’t shut down like CVS 24”).

Sheen said he discovered British culture through the TV drama The Best Guy, which explores the hardships young people face in central London. Although he was not initially interested in the Chicago scene, he was drawn to the London sound (which he described as “an entirely new genre”) and began learning British pronunciation to use when speaking lines in English.

“The British English I knew was taken from Harry Potter,” he said in a video interview. “So, I was interested in how different the accents of rappers were from what I knew. The more I listened to[British rappers]the more I liked them.”

The 27-year-old artist’s lyrics are often autobiographical and deal with personal issues, such as the struggles he faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than social issues. According to him, imitation of content related to gangs or weapons from other countries would be unreliable.

“Hip-hop didn’t come from Korea, so when you bring sound from overseas, sometimes people also bring feelings (lyrics),” he said. “There are a few instances (of copying lyrical content), but these days, the Korean public will consider it a fake or a gimmick. Artists don’t want to take that risk. Reading a story that isn’t yours is not cool.”

Legal disputes

The drill has become a political lightning rod in the UK, where lawmakers and police argued that the genre directly contributes to gang violence and knife crime. The crackdown in recent years has seen YouTube remove music videos at the request of the London Metropolitan Police, and lyrics have been used against rappers in court – despite the opinion of some experts. anxiety that the link between music and crime has been little proven.
In 2019, British duo Skengdo and AM were given a suspended prison sentence for performing their song “Attempted 1.0”. The London police said they violated a court order forbidding them, among other things, from making music that is believed to encourage gang violence. By performing the song and uploading it to social media, the couple “incited and encouraged violence against members of a rival gang,” police said in a statement. statement.

Related video: Former K-pop boy band leader: Everywhere you go, you have an identity crisis

Kim of Silkybois is also no stranger to the legal implications of his lyrics. In 2019, he was given a suspended prison sentence by a South Korean court for sexually abusing female rapper KittiB during concerts and in two of his solo songs. In a statement made two years later to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, KittiB spokesman said she was a “clear victim of crime” and that she was still receiving “malicious comments and messages of a sexual nature” from others as a result of the songs.
This case caused debate on freedom of speech, although the country’s Supreme Court upheld the decision, calling the lyrics “vulgar and an expression of sexual degradation.”

Kim said that rap is taken “too seriously” in South Korea, adding, “It’s frustrating that people can’t understand your lyrics and take them negatively.” Bandmate Park also dismissed the possible impact of aggressive music on real life: “If you listen to James Brown, do you feel good right after that? No. It’s just sound. Can practice music increase violence? .”

If you do not take into account the Kim case, then legal issues in the country practically do not affect the exercises – perhaps because of their relatively small main profile. None of the artists interviewed for this article reported other police restrictions on performing or recording music.

And lyrics by South Korean artists make an official crackdown on the exercise unlikely, Park said, arguing that rappers in the UK and the US have gotten themselves into trouble by openly discussing crime in their music.

In a genre in which artists often belittle the abilities of rival rappers, it’s only fitting that he believes the biggest problem facing the South Korean training scene isn’t politics, the police, or even lack of interest, but the quality of his contemporaries. .

“They try to write practice songs, but they won’t succeed because they can’t rap,” he said. “You have to know how to make candy bars – that’s a priority in this business.”

Top image: Korean master drilling Base.

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