Monday, April 20, 2015

Battle of the Hip-Hop Fused Rookies

It is no secret that I am a fan of Korean hip-hop. From the quick deliveries of Outsider to the soothing R&B fusion of Verbal Jint, I really love Korean hip-hop. Although the genre doesn't get as much attention or hype compared to kpop (mostly international), it is nice to see somewhat new rookie groups come out with a hip-hop concept or influence that truly matches it roots without being overwhelmed with pop elements. As of 2013, four groups debuted onto the scene with this concept or fusion of genres: BTS, AlphaBAT, ToppDogg, and GOT7. Similar to my notable rookies list, I wanted to put a special spotlight on these groups [because honestly, 2013 was a little lacking in the interesting department for rookies] and compare their execution and style to each other.

Bangtan Boys (BTS)

[from left to right] Jimin, Suga, Jin, Jung Kook, Rap Monster (leader), V, & J-Hope

Group Debut: June 2013
Label: Big Hit Entertainment
Fanclub: A.R.M.Y
Official Site:

Debut/First Impression

When I think of "new rookie groups with hip-hop concepts", I have these flashbacks of when Big Bang was marketed as a hip-hop group back in the day and laughing at how non-hip-hop they were. But I think the whole hip-hop concept for male rookies have gotten a lot better since the debut of Block B and B.A.P. I never saw the teasers for BTS, so I can't give you any thoughts about their pre-debut selves, but I did watch their first music video for "No More Dream". They might've gone a little overboard with the hip-hop styling, but it's easy to roll your eyes and move on once the music and video start playing. The beginning chords of the music gave me flashbacks of H.O.T's "Jun Sah Wi Oh Heh" and then the rapping began. Omg! It's legit hip-hop! At least legit enough for Korean standards. The beat is very minimalistic, but gives enough room to show off the boys' vocals and rap delivery, which is pretty impressive. It definitely gave me the feeling that B.A.P has some real competition. The video is dark, a little gritty, and has some young, strong confidence exuding very brightly from the vocal tones and the impressive choreography. It has a little destructive fun like "BTS is here. We're taking over!".


Unlike B.A.P, I enjoyed BTS's follow-up music video to their debut. No shots fired toward B.A.P, by the way. Pun intended. "We Are Bulletproof Pt. 2" kept the fire that "No More Dream" had with a more simplistic video. The beat has more presence compared to "No More Dream", which shows that they know how to balance things pretty well. There's more great lyrical delivery and amazingly strong choreography. The editing isn't too distracting with a few English lyrics placed on the screen, echo effects to the image to imitate the gunshots, and some slightly unstable camera work. Overall, very solid comeback. "N.O" was another strong single that fused orchestral and hip-hop elements together similar to K-Rappers MC Sniper and Outsider, which made me very happy. The message was consistent with their other efforts and provided the music genre with some social commentary that I don't remember being this strongly pushed since jamming to H.O.T. The whole desk concept might be compared EXO's MAMA performance in 2014, but I think BTS might've done a little better job with the concept...just a little.

Of course the boys had to show some dimension and do something less hard and more upbeat, so we have "Just one day". It's not a song I would listen to very often, but I was fairly impressed by it's R&B beat and hip-hop flow. The vocal line is very impressive and I enjoyed the simplistic visuals with the chair choreography and interactions with the shadows. Honestly, I could see U-KISS or B2ST doing a video like this, although I'm sure their rap part won't be as strong as BTS. No offense to them as I like both groups and the rap section isn't terrible either. I'm happy they successfully changed up things with their sound and didn't make some dull ballad or cutesy fanservice song like...I'm sorry I gotta say it again, B.A.P. I swear I'm not dissing them either, because I like them a lot too.


Last year, BTS released their first full length album, DARK&WILD, which I sadly still haven't listened to. They began promotions with "War of Hormone", which you can read my thoughts about in the recommendation post. They're follow-up track for the album was "Danger", which coincidentally was the title track for SHINee's Taemin that came out around the same time, but I won't be comparing those two here. So far, I have been very pleased with this group and I was curious what was next for them. I still had some fear that their momentum would falter like, I'm sorry, B.A.P, but both promotional tracks were very solid. "Danger" opens up with a little bit of story by giving each member some spotlight in their own little scenario, before bringing the beat in in a subway set. There is little story to this video, at least obvious story just judging by the visuals, but it's obvious the boys are struggling with something. The choreography is what really impressed me. While Block B may struggle with balancing choreography and vocal delivery, BTS excels in both very well. I feel an equal amount of aggression and passion put into their singing, rapping, dancing, and the little bit of acting they have to do in their individual scenes. As for the song, it's definitely a contrast from the playful and fun "War of Hormone". It has a hard hitting hip-hop beat with bits of random sound effects to keep things a tiny bit light. The rap delivery is hard hitting and aggressive, displaying a believable sense of frustration. The singing portions have a nice flow and transition from the bridge to the chorus. I enjoy the contrast between the vocals as well and I think they were utilized very cleverly.

After the promotions of DARK&WILD, they translated their music for Japan and re-released their preview singles in Japanese. As of now, Rap Monster has been working on a solo mixtape. As I write this, I have only had the chance to watch his collaboration video with legendary rapper Warren G, "P.D.D". The video isn't anything elaborate as it shows scenes of Rap Monster exploring some part of America and working in the studio solo and with Warren G. Normally, this could look lazy or even become boring, but I found it quite appropriate for the track. I can see this appealing to those who have hip-hop roots from the late 80's to the 90's and understand the skill set of Warren G. The song is very low-key and has very a smooth old school beat. Rap Monster's delivery is confident and strong and I could easily hearing something like this on the radio. The familiar elements Americans would hear in rap songs, especially older ones, don't sound awkward either. In fact, it makes it all the more enjoyable and it has some fresh elements and a personal spin from Rap Monster. Overall, I feel like this is a successful collaboration and I look forward to listening to his mixtape.


[from left to right] A-Tom, Sangdo, Yano, B-Joo, Gohn, Hansol, Jenissi, Hojoon, Seogoong, Xero, Nakta, P-Goon (leader), & Kidoh

Group Debut: October 2013
Label: Stardom Entertainment
Fanclub: ToppKlass
Official Facebook:

Debut/First Impression

Let's be honest, I don't think many people had a very good impression of these guys before they debuted. Why? Well, Stardom Entertainment and Block B were having a legal dispute. While in the middle of said dispute, Stardom announced that they would be debuting a 13 member hip-hop group, which left a bad taste in BBCs' mouths. Nonetheless, the boys debuted with "Follow Me/Say It" in October 2013. Despite feeling a little awkward with this debut and the lawsuit going on, I gave the boys a chance, not wanting to fault them for their company's bad decisions. "Follow Me" was an easily enjoyable song. It's very upbeat and combines elements of electronic, hip-hop, and dubstep music. I really enjoyed the beat, the smooth delivery, and catchy bridge and chorus. Although, I wish there wasn't a dubstep break in the song as it kinda ruins the momentum of the song. With so many members in a group, I was curious how they would utilize all 13 of them. Honestly, I can't tell you if they've each been given a line or two throughout the song, but the choreography is very clean, which is more than I can say for some groups with more than 5-6 members. The visuals are pretty clean and match the atmosphere of fresh and edgy. With such a strong debut, I was curious what the boys would follow up with.


Honestly, I have no idea how I missed their follow-up music video or the one after that. As I write this post, this is the first time I've watched the videos. "Cigarette" is a song that I do remember listening to passively and didn't think much of it. It's a sweeter, slightly R&B melody that's opposite of their debut song. It has a smooth beat and it gives listeners a chance to truly hear their vocal talent, which they do possess. The visuals match the tone of the lyrics and music with warm sepia tones and soft lighting on the edges to represent cigarette smoke. Honestly, I can see B2ST or U-KISS doing something like this minus the oddly placed dance sequences. I would've cut those out.
"Open the Door" was the other music video I somehow missed. The video isn't anything special as it focuses a lot on choreography and beauty shots with lots of artistic special effects in the background and near their faces. The song is a standard electro-pop with some nicely placed rap parts. The song is pretty fun and I can tell that the boys enjoyed themselves, but it didn't feel as effortless as "Follow Me" to me.

What ended up being the follow-up for me was "Arario". I saw an article about how ToppDogg misappropriated Korean culture or something, which I honestly can't comment on as I don't have that knowledge. Anyway, I thought this was an interesting choice to take their music as it combines traditional Korean instruments and mix it with hip-hop and small bits of electro-pop music. The visuals also mix the traditional and hip-hop together as they feature traditional set pieces, props, garments, and instruments while giving the boys street wear in certain scenes and a fancy car. As the song doesn't immediately jump out at you like "Follow Me", I genuinely enjoyed this song and it seemed like the members had fun immersing themselves in their roles.


From traditional Korean sounds to classical, "TOPDOG" gave the boys another opportunity to experiment and play with other musical fusions. I honestly didn't know what to expect after that orchestral intro, but I was pretty impressed with the fusion with classical, trap, and electronic sounds. The transitions were a lot smoother from their previous releases and fell into the same plain as "Follow Me". The visuals definitely had a budget increase as there are lots of CGI effects featured in this orchestral battle. The styling definitely is the worst in this video (or maybe second worst) overall, but it's not too distracting from the loose story they're trying to create and has powerful choreography.

Their last release was in October 2014 with "Annie", which I've only watched once (twice now as I write this). It's a retro pop piece with some smooth piano and guitar. The video is very playful, colorful, and fits that retro feeling that the song and vocal arrangement offer. It's pretty creative if you really think about it. I didn't particularly care for it, if that wasn't obvious, but it's not a terrible track. In February 2015, ToppDogg performed their first showcase in America, which hopefully I will be posting about in the near future.


[from left to right] D:ELTA, F:IE, J:ETA, G:AMMA, C:ODE, B:ETA (leader), H:ETA, I:OTA, E:PSILON

Group Debut: November 2013
Label: Simtong Entertainment
Fanclub: ALPHA
Official Facebook:

Debut/First Impression

What I didn't know about this group was that they originally debuted as a duo. In December 2012, Selin and Kyumin released "Hello" which was a simple hip-hop video with the rapping. The video is a little over a minute long and gives enough of sample of what the duo was capable of. What happened to them afterwards, I'm not completely sure, but the comments to the video are helpful. On November 2013, AlphaBAT debuted with "AB City" as a group. Now learning that they were a hip-hop duo, I could understand some fans' disappointment with the result being this group, especially with such a weak debut. The song is a very poppy tune with some trap and electronic elements in a minimalistic beat. The lyrics are very weak and almost laughable, especially with the reciting of the alphabet. I know it's part of their name, but seriously... Compared to the other hip-hop inspired groups that debuted that year, this group wasn't looking too appealing to me. Their look and video is very polished and clean, but the presentation was bland. They were cutesy and lacked that "hip-hop attitude" that BTS and ToppDogg possessed in their debut videos.


Due to their end of the year debut, the group's follow-up video fell into the obligatory cutesy Christmas song category with "Surprise Party". I've only watched the video once and I'm not willing to suffer through that nonsense again, so I'll move onto the next song they released, "Always". "Always" is barely a music video as it is just a compilation video of live performances, touring footage, and interactions between the members and the fans. The song is an upbeat ballad of sorts that showcases the members' sweet singing vocals. The song is easy to listening to and works with the tour footage. Not much else to say.

Fortunately, I didn't come across "Surprise Party" and "Always" until after seeing this song and realized that I missed them. "Tantara" is the song I was hoping for when they first debut as a group. Although it has subtle undertones of hip-hop, it mixes rock and electro-pop in a more interesting way than "AB City". The transitions in the music and vocals are more natural and confident, although I wish the vocal line was a little stronger and just belt it out on their parts. The video is nothing new as it can be seen in a couple B.A.P videos and maybe even Block B and ToppDogg, but it's a nice change from the cutesy material from before and the choreography is impressive. The color tones are darker and the members look a little more mature and edgy without losing their boyishness. I was very satisfied with this follow-up and expected more of this.


For some reason I missed out on AlphaBAT's last two videos, so this post will be my first time viewing them. In August 2014, the group released "Oh My Gosh!". It's not as cutesy as "Always", but there are some cute, fanservice moments featured in it. It's a sweet, upbeat pop tune that's good for that spring to summer transition. It seems like the boys are trying to help one of the guys get the girl and he just seems really shy. The location and style choices fit the tone of the music and I have a feeling that fans enjoyed the visuals provided for this song. There is another version of this song with the video focusing on the choreography and a bit of the fashion provided by BOYLONDON that's in black and white.

"#A-Ya" is apparently their latest effort which was released on YouTube in October 2014. It's more of a casual R&B track with the guys interacting and exploring their surroundings as they perform the song. It's more laid back and enjoyable for me. The guys seem more relax and natural in this sort of setting and gives more of an opportunity to focus on the vocal and rap quality that this group has to offer. Even though the video is very simple, it seems just right for a song like this.


[from left to right] BamBam, Mark, JB (leader), Youngjae, Yugyeom, Jr, & Jackson

Group Debut: January 2014
Label: JYP Entertainment
Fanclub: I GOT7
Official Site:


Before GOT7 debuted, JYP introduced two of its members, JB and Jr as JJ Project. I've talked about them a couple times on Muddy Cult, but in case you don't want to go back to the tags, I'll just reiterate my thoughts here. JJ Project's "Bounce" was a fusion of electro-pop, hip-hop, and rock. It had smooth transitions and the visuals were vibrant to match the mood of the song. They seemed like a very likeable duo and it reminded me of a better version of Bang Yong Guk and Zelo's "Never Give Up" with 2PM's "Hands Up" bouncy camera work...which is kinda annoying for me. Their only release was a single called "Bounce" and my favorite song by the duo was a collaboration with miss A's Suzy called "Before This Song Ends". It's a good party song with a great energetic build up to Suzy's guest vocals and the chorus.

Debut/First Impression

Looking back on it now, I noticed that GOT7's debut, "Girls Girls Girls", has this almost linking school element to JJ Project's "Bounce". The music video also offers some samples from their first mini album before getting to the actual track. I did shortly express my feelings on the song and video in the follow up about the 2012 rookies. I thought the sound was unique for JYP and loved the middle eastern hip-hop mixture. The beat is quite simple and the video mostly showcases the members' playful, but confident personalities, dance skills, and athletic ability too. Out of all the rookies I covered in the 2012 rookies post, they didn't stand out too much, but they had the hype behind them because of the label they come from. From what I've read, they're supposed to have a little bit of what 2PM presents, but I find them a lot more enjoyable. Nonetheless, I thought "Girls Girls Girls" was a good debut for the group.


I do enjoy GOT7 and I'm planning on reviewing their first mini album release, because I have a lot to say. I don't want to give away my feelings about their first release and I still have to listen to the second release, but I will comment on their follow-up release, "A". Immediately, I had flashbacks of B1A4's debut, but to my surprise, the boys didn't lose their silly hip-hop style for something overly cutesy. They still have this charming goofiness and confidence when approaching a girl. The choreography shows more of the boys' personalities and reminds me a little of Block B. The song has a smooth balance between hip-hop and R&B pop that matches the group's overall style and tone of the video. Think Celebrity era N'SYNC.


As of September 2014, GOT7 released their first Japanese PV, "Around the World". I'm surprised that they're jumping into the Japanese market so soon, but I hope Japanese viewers (and other fans) think this is a thoughtful effort. They didn't recycle previous tracks, there's nothing super flashy, and it doesn't overtly cater to the Japanese audience. The music sticks to their hip-hop sound fused with electronics and bits and pieces of dubstep/trap elements. The video is very choreography based and shows off the boys' athleticism while playing with chalk dust effects. Reminds of EXILE's counterparts, GENERATIONS and THE SECOND. I hope they stick to more original content for Japan along the way.

To promote their first album, the group released "Stop stop it" in November 2014. It has a smooth, yet playful beat that mixes R&B and pop together. The concept of the video takes the usual story of a guy trying to get a girl's attention and failing by adding an extra element of a sort of alternate universe. The video definitely shows off the guys' personalities without making them too boyish or overly mature. The colors pop and fit the mood of the music. Some of the styling is a bit unfortunate, but overall it is enjoyable. It's fresh and unique and I hope they continue to add new elements to recycled concepts.

While I try my best to keep up with all four of these groups, I do favor some more than others. In my opinion, AlphaBAT has a weaker catalogue out of the bunch. They supposedly have an overall hip-hop concept, but majority of their music videos are very cutesy and would appeal more to a younger crowd. "Tantara" is the closest they've been with a hip-hopish concept that also showcases their talents in a promising light since their debut. My absolute favorite is BTS. They have a stronger and clearer direction with what they want to do with their music and the most potential to grow as they've participated in American Hustle Life, which encourages them to learn and experience the roots of the genre. BTS seems to have more freedom to push boundaries which can be seen in their lyrics and Rap Monster's solo efforts. GOT7 and ToppDogg are a bit of a tie for me. Recently, GOT7 has strayed off to more reality and variety based appearances and so far their contribution to the Japanese market isn't that bad. ToppDogg has a slightly weaker discography compared to GOT7 and they unfortunately have a company that's all over the place. It seems like they're trying to put together a brother group, sub-unit, or something called UnderDogg or whatever and it's just really confusing, but I was quite impressed with their first American performance. So, what do you guys think? Who do you think is the best hip-hop influenced group? Tell me in the comments below!

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