Best K-HipHop Albums Of 2021 Best K-HipHop Albums Of 2021 | #KHIGHRewind

The K-HipHop scene in 2021 was like an overflowing space of diverse music after the “dam of musicality” of artists broke open! From veteran artists like Verbal Jint and Epik High coming back to the scene with a bang, to rising stars of the scene like CAMO, Sokodomo, Mudd The Student, and BIG Naughty, 2021 hasn’t seen a single day of dull boredom. Take a look at our 10 favorite K-HipHop albums of 2021 as part of #KHIGHRewind.

[The list is unranked, in alphabetical order. It is a compilation based on the critiques of Team KHIGH.]

 

BIG Naughty – Bucket List

SMTM has unearthed a lot of hidden gems of the K-HipHop scene, but none are like BIG Naughty. The young rapper with the golden voice is not just another rookie rapper, but an artist through and through. His very 1st EP ‘Bucket List’ is proof of that! While tapping into the old classics like jazz, old-school K-Hiphop, punk-rock, etc., the EP showed a masterful reformation of these genres – making them truly timeless, while adding his own unique touch.

Teaming up with elite vocalists, hitmakers, and rappers like GSoul, JAMIE, GRAY, DPR CREAM, Coogie, Paloalto, etc., BIG Naughty also managed to convey an oxymoronic message of comfort (from songs like “Bravo”) and an unpromising yearning for love and youthful dreams (from songs like “Joker!”, “Girl at the Coffee Shop”, “Bucket List”). The accompanying music that is soft and vibrant yet carrying so much emotive power, is also another beautifully utilized paradox – attesting to his artistic sensibilities.

The continuing album ‘SIKE’ with the collaborative banger, “TURN UP” also adds to his musical progression in 2021. BIG Naughty is truly a rapper to keep your eyes on for the years to come!

 

CAMO – Fragile

One of the rising female rappers of the K-HipHop scene, CAMO is known for her wispy and chill melody rap flow and her controlled and muted delivery. ‘Fragile’, her latest 7-tracked album sees the rapper, tapping into a euphonious blend of feel-good music as she sings of love – penning down lyrics that are reminiscent of her hit track “Wifey” with Simon Dominic. Alongside featuring artists like Leellamarz, The Quiett, Coogie, and Producer Dayrick, CAMO throws a light onto the potential of her still-developing music style with its bop-worthy quality and her impressively sentient writing abilities. The music video for the title track, “Fragile” also shows a different side of CAMO from her previous releases. Here, she adorns an angelic nymph look wandering in the lush forest and alongside the blue sea – a personification of innocent-bittersweet love. Her other tracks, especially, “Horizon” and “Shawty (ft. Coogie)” are also profusely captivating in their own way.

 

DPR LIVE – IITE COOL

‘IITE COOL’ – a collection of versatile and vibrant summer bops, is the perfect progression of DPR LIVE’s quest for originality in creation and deliverance of never-been-done-before sonics in the K-HipHop scene. Luring the listeners in with a luscious intro, “Venus” and its bossa nova melody line, and then bewitching them with one-of-a-kind mixes of quirky funk, dance, pop, alternative music, and more; this EP packs a punch.  Features from velvety voiced Hwa Sa, rapper Beenzino, fellow labelmate DPR IAN, etc. also add these artists’ own unique flairs to the songs – be it Hwa Sa’s ethereal verse in “Hula Hoops” or the muted-silvery verse by DPR IAN in “Boom”.

The light and summery feel of the overall album, with its sometimes explicit love lyrics, eye-catching cinematography, novel soundscape, and hope-filled closure, make ‘IITE COOL’ an album that is hard to resist and impossible not to like!

 

Epik High – Epik High Is Here 上 (Part 1)

Any long-standing listener of Korean hiphop music would know of the superior artistry and messages that Epik High is all about. In their 10th studio album, ‘Epik High is Here 上 (Part 1)’, the trio of Tablo, Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz reinstate their status as living legends who paved the way. From displaying elite penmanship in tracks like “Lesson Zero”, “Based on a True Story”, “Acceptance Speech” to trendy sonics in songs like “Rosario”, “In Self Defense”, “End of The World”, this album exemplifies their 17-year long legacy. The socio-political and religious connotations weaved into the album also lend a thought-provoking yet comforting appeal to the EP.

The expertise of featuring artists like CL, Zico, GSoul, B.I., etc. manages to enhance the well-thought soundscape that Epik High had been trying to paint through this album. It surely makes one even more eager to hear the upcoming ‘Epik High Is Here 下 (Part 2)’, releasing sometime in 2022.

 

Giriboy – Avante

Delving into the poignant side of what loving someone can bring you into, Giriboy’s ‘Avante’ is an artistic collection of wistful and blue emotions as he explores his past relationships. Succinctly utilizing both his low-sentimental rap style and his weighty power rap in the EP, Giriboy threads together one lyrical track after another to bring this collection to a holistic whole. The employment of retro-inspired instrumentation in title track “You Turned Around”, alongside a newtro version of classic boom-bap in “No Tomorrow” and of old-school jazz in “That’s How We Ended Up (ft. Seori)”, also solidly affirms the crème de la crème artistic sensibilities and production talents of Giriboy.

The consonance of all the tracks in the EP with one another in addition to the elaborate soundscape they individually paint also attests to the top-notch “Album-quality” of ‘Avante’ – something that is rare to find in today’s music scene. The song “No Tomorrow” featuring – what can be called the most powerful trio (JUSTHIS, lIlBOI, and Giriboy) – is also one to be heralded as a timeless standard, setting the bar for K-HipHop up high!

 

Han Yo Han – Han Yo Han

In his 11-tracked self-titled EP, Han Yo Han displays exactly why he is proclaimed as “Guitar man Musashi”! Singing of the unapologetic feeling of being himself despite being embroiled in love issues, Han Yo Han conveys these feelings with more than just words. His signature fusion of hard rock with hiphop, evoking charged emotions and unrestrained head-banging music, amplifies tenfolds the same story he enunciates.

Aside from powerful riffs and a cacophonous melody line, Han Yo Han also enraptures the listeners of this project with his crystal-clear lyrical delivery despite the gritty instrumentation and his live concert-worthy performance. The switch up from energy-driven tracks like “Akrapovic” and “This Is Me” to more softer and melodic ones like “I’m Not Okay” and “Long Run”, also showcase his vast musical spectrum (as opposed to what some may think as restricted to rock-rap). The ensemble of the greats of K-HipHop like CHANGMO, Swings, Homies, Verbal Jint lending their talents to the EP’s sonics, is also an added bonus that makes it even more impactful – a total banger!

 

Mudd the student – Field Trip

After debuting with the multi-national alternative collective, Balming Tiger in 2018 and then as a soloist, 2021’s Mudd The Student has been brought to the public’s eye through his one-of-a-kind performances in SMTM10. Though not the winner of the show, he has received immense support and recognition from K-HipHop enthusiasts during and after the season ended. However, the show exhibits only a sliver of what the artist is capable of. ‘Field Trip’, an EP he released before SMTM truly encompasses the creative direction and spectrum of his musical repertoire.

Right from the opening song where Mudd The Student questions, “What the fuck is going on?”, to outro “7654 ”, the artist employs cross-genre elements. Moving from punk rock to rare acoustics to electronic, and further to modern hip-hop, the EP uses energy-driven riffs, staccato beats, banjo strums, alongside well-programmed autotuned vocals to keep the listeners on their tippy-toes and hooked until the very last second. No wonder he is a member of the eccentric and organic group, Balming Tiger!

 

Nafla – Natural High

If there is one rapper undeniably worthy of the Korean Boom-bap King title, it has to be Nafla! 2021’s ‘Natural High’ album by the rapper that saw a lot of amazing features like Powerhouse JUSTHIS, Veterans Paloalto & The Quiett, R&B singer Chancellor, etc., is testimonial of the above statement. It brings back everything that SMTM777 Winner, Nafla stands for – the early 90s-2000s hiphop beats, magnetic gangsta aura, and an effortlessly expressive rap flow.

From confident declarations that pumps up the listeners’ adrenaline levels like “Still a killer, I’ll off you with my rhymes” in early songs (line from “Mobb Tang”), to the more laid-back ambiance of the later songs like “today also” and “ride or die”, the EP sees nafla not only in his “underground king” character but also in his mellow, more chill form. The title track “run!” however takes the cake, as it manifests the most anticipated collaboration of this year – JUSTHIS x Nafla! As fittingly voiced by Nafla himself, “Don’t define hip-hop, I ain’t part of ’em” – the versatile rapper really transcends the confines of what commonly is defined as trendy hiphop these days.

 

Sokodomo – …—… (S.O.S)

Another addition to the eccentric rapper’s “#weirdokpop” discography, sokodomo’s 2nd EP …—… (S.O.S)’ is proof of how music can’t be limited by established genres and melody lines – just as humans can’t be restricted by their stifling social realities. Letting loose his experimental spirit, sokodomo along with producer Sesåme creates a musical soundscape that is very outlandish yet hits right home. Bringing together artists of the same wavelength, like squeaky rapper 645AR, freestyle king Huckleberry P, bilingual powerhouse Jay Park, etc., this EP weaves through (and even transcends) hiphop, band music, EDM, funk, and more. The title track, “MM (MurderMind)” and “Pegasus” from the EP especially are must-adds to the playlist for all!

 

Verbal Jint – Inflection Point

Respected amongst even the other OGs, rapper Verbal Jint is an artist whose cadence, diction, lyricism, and rap flow, are all qualitatively top-notch! Coming back with a full album titled ‘Inflection Point’ in 2021 after a long time, Verbal Jint yet again proved his unfading impact on the K-HipHop scene despite the flow of time. Bringing back to life the 80s-90s classic sounds of hip-hop, R&B, gospel, even pop, the artist draws the listeners into a world of reminiscence, deep reflection (through songs like “Public Figure” which speaks volumes), and reverence of music as a whole. Helping him in his mission, are some of the forerunners of the current scene like JUSTHIS, lIlBOI, SUPERBEE, BIG Naughty, etc. – each of whose verses lend a different appeal and feel to the tracks.

With Verbal Jint’s ‘Inflection Point’ hence out in the music world, it becomes clear for all to see the irreplaceable presence of this OG, and the elevated listening experience of an album, complete in its entirety.

 

Aside from the A-list albums mentioned above as part of our ‘Best K-HipHop Albums Of 2021’ list, some singles that also rocked the K-HipHop scene this year included BE’O’s Counting Stars, H1GHR MUSIC’s DNA Remix & Lotus Remix, ASH ISLAND’s Melody, Tiger JK’s Love Peace, PENOMECO’s BOLO, Don Mills’ Daebak Life, and of course, the SMTM10 releases. Going through all these great tracks and EPs, it is safe to say that 2021 was the year that K-HipHop produced attractive bops that map a promising future for the genre in the years to come.

 

Which album from our list of Best K-HipHop Albums Of 2021 made it to the top of your playlist? Spill your favorites in the comments.
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