Show Me The Money Spotlights Diamonds in the Rough

3 Rising Hip-hop Stars That Should Make Your Playlist

Graphic+by+Ava+Cho.

Graphic by Ava Cho.

As the COVID-19 regulations begin to lift one by one, the hip-hop industry is making its return all around the world. From university festivals to large-scale label concerts, several different events laid out a platform for a come-back stage for popular rappers. K-hip hop fans are pumped to see their beloved stars again, and they’re craving for newcomers to rise up and stir the pot. The Korean TV show Show Me The Money (SMTM) recently aired its 11th season, setting the grounds for hidden underground rappers to rise and shine. Here are some artists for the hip-hop manias to go crazy for:

Don Malik

Don Malik of Ambition MUSIK recently received the spotlight for the 90’s East Coast style boom bap. After his debut in 2014 as a high school senior, he became a mainstream artist until his music slowly started gaining popularity in 2020. Mainly writing about his personal stories and opinion pieces on social issues, he joined a team with a common interest, TRIBEAST, where he released multiple promising singles and EPs. In 2015, the album “Tribeast” was nominated as a candidate for the “Best Hip-hop/Rap Album Of The Year” by the Korean Music Awards, allowing Don Malik to gain public recognition from many enthusiasts. 

His road to fame, however, faced obstacles soon after. Accusations of racism and sexual harassment of underaged girls were raised. He was later proven innocent by a lack of evidence, but with these sensitive topics on the line, his popularity dissipated. From then on, he remained quiet until 2020, when he released his comeback album, “선인장화: MALIK THE CACTUS FLOWER.” With this, he re-started his music life and pursued his dream of becoming a rapper. 

“MALIK THE CACTUS FLOWER” was Don Malik’s official announcement of his comeback. Photo courtesy of GENIE Music.

The following year, he released his second album and other singles one by one. Then, with the start of SMTM season 11, he made a public reappearance in the first episode. The hip-hop community even made a saying, “어우던(어차피 우승은 던말릭),” which means that Don Malik remains a winner, no matter what. 

Personal Song Recommendations:

“Carssette Freestyle” – The bass guitar synthesis had me groovin’ to the music. The flow plays with the beat, yet dominates it, and the rhyming and the flow alignment are mere perfections. There isn’t a single moment to feel bored, and each beat catches your attention. 

Don Malik’s single, Carssette Freestyle, remains one of my all-time favorites. Photo courtesy of GENIE Music.

“얼마냐 (How much is it?)” [선인장화: MALIK THE CACTUS FLOWER] – The flow balance between his verses and the hook led me to focus more deeply on the music. The figurative lyrical expression of his high school life through the metaphorical usage of money was stunning. The lyrics allowed me to further understand Don’s background, his opinion on the economic system, and his life views in general. 

QM 

QM, short for Question Mark, is an artist labeled through VMC, and he is ready to dominate the industry. The name symbolizes his desire to throw radical questions at political, social, and religious issues in Korea. He writes about school violence, bullying, the military, the education system, and other political issues in his songs.

His career began when he participated in a famous hip-hop group M.I.B’s mixtape in 2015, and afterward, he released several EPs and mixtapes to show the world a bit more about himself. With the release of his first album, “WAS,” in 2017, he pronounced himself to the hip-hop scene. Later, in 2018, he joined VMC to release two more albums, “HANNAH” and “돈숨 (MONEY BREATH).” The latter was nominated as the “Most Underrated Album of 2020” by the Korean Hip Hop Awards.

QM found his breakthrough with his album, “WAS” Photo courtesy of BUGS Music.

Even before the show, QM had multiple underground gurus who respected him as a rebel, speaking up against the flaws of the current social system. Now, he is ready to throw his “question mark” out to the mainstream. With his signature high tone and clear diction, he emphasizes the deliverance of his lyrics to the audience. Even as a child, QM enjoyed writing poems and reciting them – this enthusiasm later led to his choice of majoring in Creative Writing. Thanks to his passion for literature, his lyrics are full of fascinating philosophical expressions. 

As SMTM 11 progresses, QM will undoubtedly make a groundbreaking appearance and grab the attention of many hip-hop fans

Personal Song Recommendations:

“용서받지못한자 (UNFORGIVEN)” – Right from the intro, this piece sent goosebumps down my spine, as it starts with the national pledge. As an individual who is obliged to go to the Korean military, I was shocked and terrified by the truth this piece revealed. The vivid lyrical expressions of QM’s experience in the military made me feel as if I was going through the situation firsthand. The song proceeds to talk about how he lost a comrade in an accident during his service and criticizes the way the Korean government failed to take care of the lost man’s family. “Why did it have to be you?” cries the lyrics, and I could feel his pain and indignation, and the way he wants to influence society through his music.

“돈숨 (MONEY BREATH)” – In this piece, QM elaborates on the impact of money on his career. The deeper he represents his artistry that diverges from the mainstream trend, the harder it is for him to have financial stability. The lyrics put emphasis on the disparity between reality and dream, and the consequences we must face in order to pursue our dreams. The song opened my eyes to the extent of how money affects our lives.

The most recent album released by QM, MONEY BREATH. Photo courtesy of GENIE Music.

TakeOne

TakeOne is an artist recognized for his off-beat flows that played with the orthodox. This unique rapping style focused on percussion, combined with outstanding diction, tone, and thoughtful lyrics, makes his work unique, and gives it a storytelling aspect; his album almost feels like a plot of a movie. 

Performing on radio, TakeOne first started with the rap name “Babo” while studying abroad in the States during his high school years. After graduation, he decided to come back to Korea and join a hip-hop crew to pursue his passion for the genre. Finally stepping out to the public, TakeOne debuted through a mixtape, “Take One for the Team,” in March 2012. Little did he know, he became one of the rookies leading the next generation of hip-hop. 

Then, after the mixtape’s release, he decided to participate in SMTM 1. The results were phenomenal. He reached the finals and finished in 3rd place, receiving many shoutouts from the hip-hop community. He also participated in the famous Korean diss battle “Control diss.” Needless to say, fans were amazed by his skills.

The Album cover for TakeOne’s Green Ideology. Photo courtesy of NamuWiki.

However, in 2014, he went off the radar. He experienced a rapper’s block, not being able to produce music that satisfied himself. During 2015-2016, fans anticipating TakeOne’s return went to the extent of making up crazy theories that he ran away or even was kidnapped by aliens, just to find a reason for his sudden disappearance. In reality, TakeOne was fighting against a fatal disease while trying to find his identity. 

Finally, after various struggles, he slowly returned to the hip-hop scene through featuring and Soundcloud uploads. He eventually released his first album and started performing in concerts. His popularity wasn’t like before, though. Until 2022, he could not make it back to the mainstream. 11 years after the SMTM 1 finals, TakeOne decided to apply to SMTM 11. Unfortunately, during round 4, he panicked and forgot his lyrics, ending his challenge right then and there. Even though this result wasn’t what he wanted, he gained many fans, including myself.

Personal Song Recommendations:

“암전 (Lights Out)” – To me, TakeOne’s music stands out the most because of the quality of his lyrics. The comparison between his own individuality and the Korean independence movement was incredible. He represents those who will fight for what’s right even when they’re standing alone, and I was amazed by the pride he took in pursuing music in a way that felt inspiring, not just following the common trend. 

TakeOne prepares to rap “Lights Out” from Green Ideology. Photo courtesy of BUGS Music.

“이제는 떳떳하다 (Show)” – This song shows TakeOne’s approach to the hip-hop industry. He delivers his ambition of becoming a respected rapper, but also the difficulty of finding an identity as a musician. His want for success in both economical and musical perspectives and the disparity between those is well highlighted. Plus, his iconic figurative expressions are something that you cannot dislike. 

Besides these three artists, other amazing new rappers rose from the dark with a newfound opportunity through SMTM 11. As the hip-hop industry comes back to life and continues to grow, Don Malik, QM, and TakeOne will undoubtedly become central figures, and you should definitely keep an eye on them.