22 Songs to Get You Into Korean Rap, Indie, and RnB
By: Gabriell Kleydman & Angelina Salvador
Advice by Taemin
Taemin, a member of the K-POP group SHINee, began releasing music of his own in 2014 with his first EP ACE. “Advice” comes as his most recent comeback track off of his third mini album Advice. Taemin is one of those artists that have superseded many generations of K-pop; he debuted in SHINee in 2008, which was deemed to be second generation K-pop, around the time Girls Generation, Big Bang, and 2NE1 were paving the way for many future Korean artists. Advice is an addictive song, RnB infused with soul and pop and filled with the hardships he endured throughout his life as an idol.
Any Song by Zico
Zico is a Korean rapper and leader of Block B, a boy group that debuted back in 2011 under KQ Entertainment. “Any Song”, which came out in 2020 described by Zico is a “song made with a lighter heart”. The single received an “all-kill” on Korean charts, and Zico himself created a dance challenge and posted it on TikTok, to which many fellow Korean Idols including soloist Chungha danced to with Zico.
Black Swan by BTS
BTS, the biggest group in the world, has re-defined the K-POP genre and have essentially paved the way by creating their own genre: BTS. Black Swan, a part of their Map of the Soul 2020 album, is a masterpiece through the hauntingly beautiful opening, lyrics, and music video. This song is also one of Angie’s all-time favorite songs and one of the first Bangtan songs she fell in love with.
Jasmine by DPR Live
DPR, Dream Perfect Regime, is a collective of music producers including DPR Cream, DPR Ian, DPR Rem, DPR Cline, and artist DPR Live, whose real name is Hong Da-Bin. Jasmine is an RnB track that blew Korean RnB out of the water when it came out, including the visuals in the music video which everyone should take a look at. The single was later included in DPR Live’s EP titled “Her”.
8 IU ft. SUGA
The lyrics alone are enough to say how moving and beautiful the song is. Singer IU and SUGA of BTS’ verses and voices complement each other that elevated the song, making it more than just a K-POP song. A contradictory track that has upbeat music, and yet a meaningful message about acceptance and seeing a loved one again in a place where they can be free.
Prequel by Epik High
The highly known, respected, and talented rap group, Epik High, came back this year with a new album, Epik High Is Here 下, Pt. 2. Prequel. The album reflects on the artist’s Tablo, Mithra, and Tukutz careers and emotions they’ve gone through not only as artists and a group but most importantly, as human beings. Prequel is the first track on the album that contains a chorus and verses that flow so well. As the song opens the album, the final lines of Prequel remind listeners: “when you’re lost, remember, Epik High is here.”
CL, former leader of the now disbanded quintessential second generation girl-group 2NE1, was given artistic freedom to release all of her songs that she created while under her previous entertainment company YG Entertainment, and +Rewind170205+ was one of the singles that was released on her EP “In the Name of Love”, and is one of Gab’s favorite Korean songs to this day.
Smoking Dreams by Jazzyfact
Jazzyfact is a South Korean duo comprised of producer Shimmy Twice and Beenzino who is a rapper/producer and is mentioned on this playlist once more. In 2010 they released their first and only album to this day called Lifes Like, with “Smoking Dreams” finishing off the 14 song album. This song is heavily influenced by the 90’s rap scene, with a looped saxophone and drums primarily being heard throughout the record.
Memorize our Night by Car, the garden
Car, the garden, who’s real name is Cha Jungwon is a solo Korean artist. The inspiration for the name came from a fellow artist and friend of Cha’s, Oh Hyuk of the Korean indie rock band Hyukoh, and is a literal English translation of his Korean name. “Memorize our Night” was released as a single in 2019, and is the story of a failing relationship between two artists. I (Gab) don’t even know what is better, the song itself, or the music video that accompanies it.
Forever Rain by RM
Often, people find rain to symbolize sadness. RM of BTS, (or Joon like ARMY like Angie say) symbolizes rain almost as a friend, something to bring him comfort. Forever Rain is a song off his solo mixtape, Mono, from 2018. RM wrote about the fear of change and loneliness, but as the rain pours it can feel almost comforting to let the rain bring clarity to the mind and life. He yearns for the rain to forever stay, for things to stay slow. (This is one of Angie’s favorite songs of his entire solo mixtape, which she describes as a beautiful work of art.)
Galaxy by Ladies’ Code
Ladies’ Code is a girl group that was created in 2013 by Polaris Entertainment. In 2014, the group got into a car accident, resulting in the deaths of members’ EunB and RiSe. The songs in their discography vary and mix between RnB, soul, and remnants of lo-fi instrumentals. Galaxy, released in 2016, their first comeback song without the late members EunB and RiSe, is a song that is beautifully sung by members Ashley, Sojung, and Zuny. The lyrics explore a galaxy of wanting to find a love that exceeds the Earth and not wanting to be stuck on the ground. The melody entrances you out of this world as the lyrics guide you away from cliche sayings about how much love you can have for someone. Ladies’ Code are underrated and deserve praise and recognition from songs old and new.
Always Awake by Beenzino
Always Awake was released as a bonus track on Beenzino’s EP 24:26, which was released in 2012. Very similar to Bad Dreams by BEVY MACO, which is mentioned later in this list, it’s another one of those songs to listen to during a late night drive, or just under the night sky. The beginning of the second verse includes lines such as “the moon rises in the night sky no matter what…I’m awake just like the stars beside it”. Beenzino sampled parts of Eddie Russ’s “Hill Where the Lord Hides”, and the same saxophone chord being looped can be heard throughout the record.
Hey, kid Close your eyes by Akmu with Lee Sun Hee
“Hey, kid Close your eyes” was created by a brother/sister duo known as Akdong Musician, AKMU for short, under YG Entertainment which consists of Lee Chan-hyuk and Lee Su-Hyun. “Hey, kid Close your eyes” is the first track on their latest EP, Next Episode. The lyrics and the music video come together to let the listener understand the extremely dark underlying message of the otherwise upbeat sounding tune, that kids should never have to be at the forefront of any conflict or war. However, with Russia invading Ukraine, kids more than ever have to stay vigilant while they are being stripped of a childhood that they deserve to have at the expense of our world leaders making horrible decisions. Now more than ever, this song rings true as kids are forced to grow up too quickly in order to save themselves and their families.
Frost by TXT
TomorrowXTogether, known as TXT, released their album The Chaos Chapter: Freeze in 2021. Frost is their song that opens with a haunting laugh from member Kai and an instant rap verse from Yeonjun. The song carries this electric pop and haunting melody, which elevates the lyrics and the group’s voices. The group debuted in March 2019, and since then have released many EP’s and songs that show off their talent. Members Taehyun, Kai, Yeonjun, Soobin, and Beomgyu mesh so perfectly, all shining in their own ways. Frost, and their album, show off a darker side but display their talent through beautiful storytelling.
Set Me Free by Code Kunst FT. Loopy, Jvcki Wai
“Set Me Free” is the seventh track on Code Kunst’s album People which was released in 2020. Code Kunst, whose real name is Jo Sung-woo, is a producer/composer under the Korean HipHop label AOMG, a label that Jay Park founded back in 2013. Code Kunst joined AOMG in 2018, but has been in the Korean-HipHop scene since 2013. Being self-taught garnered a lot of attention from a variety of producers in South Korea. People features many collaborations ranging from Lee Hi, to Simon Dimonic, to Car the garden. “Set Me Free” is a Korean rap song that everyone should add to their workout playlist because it is an absolute tune to bop your head to, especially when Jvcki Wai’s verse comes along.
Over the Fence by Rad Museum
Rad is about to release new music featuring an amazing Korean RnB artist named DEAN which will be totally rad so be on the lookout! “Over the Fence” is a slower-paced RnB jam off of Rad Museum’s 2017 album called Scene. The song itself is about a love that has been lost, with the other person regretting not being able to tell them one last thing. The world is essentially holding this person back and not allowing them to see, find, or speak to this love that they now aren’t able to grasp at.
Honestly by Eric Nam
Although the lyrics seem very rude, it is nothing but honest … but not discourteous. He sings about facing the truth that yeah, I still love you, but you deserve far better than someone like me: not giving it my all and being selfish. The electro-pop song is carried by Eric Nam’s alluring, incredible vocals, which is no surprise (he’s even better live, Angie said after seeing him live in NYC last month). Eric Nam sings in both Korean and English lyrics, either blending them both in songs or releasing versions of his songs that are either strictly in Korean or in English. Honestly is from his second EP: Honestly which was released in 2018. He recently released a new album, There and Back Again, with seven outstanding tracks.
Spicy by CL
“Spicy” by CL was released late last year as a single before CL released her first full album ALPHA, with “Spicy” as the title track. This track absolutely embodies CL, known as the queen of KPOP, is now making her mark not just in South Korea as a solo artist, but internationally as well.
Bad Dreams by BEVY MACO, Summer Soul
“Bad Dreams” is an Korean RnB track that was released by BEVY MACO in 2017, and Gabby stumbled upon it a few years later on a “Late Night Korean Jams” playlist… or something of that nature. Just as the title of the playlist says, it’s the best song, arguably on this playlist, to listen to late at night to wind you down.
Butterfly by BTS
To choose only one BTS song is a crime. Black Swan is a recent song from their 2020 album Map of The Soul: 7. Butterfly, however, is from an early album in 2015, Young Forever. When discussing which Bangtan songs people should listen to, Butterfly is a must. As always, the artists of the group beautifully create stories or concepts in a song or their albums. The simile of the butterfly represents the impending and inevitable fear of losing someone you love. The vocal line of BTS is always on point, never wavering from the emotions they sing with. Rap line always perfectly fits when they create a ballad, transforming the song and group into a genre of their own.
Sad Walk by Mino FT. sungwoojunga
Mino, a rapper under YG Entertainment in the boy group WINNER, dropped his second solo album, “TO INFINITY.” with “Sad Walk” finishing out the ten-track discography. Gabby only discovered this song because one of her favorite Korean artists, sungwoojunga, was featured on it. An artist that transcends all genres of Korean music, it wasn’t surprising to find her feature on this album. In all honesty, this track saved this album, which seemed like such a far off experimental venture from Mino’s previous and extremely critically acclaimed hit album Take. The hip-hop flow that Mino brings to this song mixed with sunwoojunga’s soothing voice that captivates the listener during each chorus brings together two voices that you wouldn’t think mix well, until you give this song a listen.
Winter Flower by Youhna FT. RM
“Winter Flower” is a beautifully written and executed song by singer-songwriter Youhna and rapper-songwriter RM. In this collaboration of Korean and English lyrics, the song touches on mental health and staying by someone’s side to let them grow and survive the tumultuous time they are going through. Youhna’s voice is immensely strong, hitting notes that give goosebumps while paired with RM’s deep bass-like voice when he raps his verse is nothing short of chilling. “Winter Flower” should be the first song of many that this pair makes because three minutes and forty-one seconds is just simply not enough.