To conclude 2018, we acknowledge that this has been one of the more fruitful years for rap this decade. There’s been an immense shift in the genre as we find it now past 40 years of Rap, Hip-Hop or however you’d like to call it, with multiple generations and movements across the nation pushing and expanding the field in as many directions as one can track, perhaps too many. With the 2010s starting to come to a close and a whole new decade of the genre to anticipate, few genres emerging feel on track to achieve the success and seeming universality of rap. For now, rap remains still one of the cutting edges in music, and is destined to do its best to keep that up and even exceed our expectations.
How will I remember 2018 in terms of K-pop? Well, I’ll remember it for all the records that BTS broke. I’ll remember it for the ubiquity of survival show-formed groups. I’ll remember it for all the singles that found groups collaborating with notable Western artists — BTS with Nicki Minaj, Blackpink with Dua Lipa, Super Junior with Leslie Grace and REIK, LOONA with Grimes. But more than anything, 2018 will be the year that I distinctly felt less excited about K-pop than ever before. In my many years of following the genre, 2018 marked the first year in which I felt that K-pop was not the most exciting thing happening in South Korea.
While it may not be obvious from looking at this list (a decent chunk of it is still K-pop), I spent more time listening to non-idols than those firmly in the industry. But while the rap, R&B, indie, and dance music coming out of the country are more interesting than ever before, there’s a clear sense that it’s still growing. There are obvious limitations for these independent artists that leads to their music often sounding like replications of things happening elsewhere. Even still, I found constant excitement from what I heard. Rappers making music that was relatively abrasive? Or that sounded like Playboi Carti? The country’s dance music scene becoming more robust? Women who made fun pop rock and rock that popped off? A slew of great R&B singers and producers who mostly found their audience on Soundcloud? More and more experimental music? There was a lot to take in.
To be sure, it was refreshing to actively spend more time with these smaller artists. Some of them are likely to see little success for their art given the nature of the country’s music industry. And while several didn’t impress me as much as I’d wanted, they still instilled a sense of hope for the country’s independent music scene. The following list contains the fifty songs that I consider to be the best of the year. Naturally, it’s still beholden to my particular tastes, but it is a list I feel reflects the best of what South Korea currently has to offer. Some of that is K-pop, some of it is not.
Rino Sashihara of HKT48 posted an Instagram story at Tokyo Idol Festival about how this year is the last time she will see many idol groups and individual idols take the stage. PASSPO, Beboga, and Vanilla Bean—just to name a few—experienced their last performances this past quarter while Morning Musume '18, Dempagumi.inc, and NMB48 lost some big names from their respective lineups. Namie Amuro signaled the end of J-pop in the Heisei age with her retirement this summer, and the idol scene seems to be going through a big shift heading into the new era as well.
As we revisit the rap climate of the year, we have a summer behind us and more than a number of strange and enticing records. While much of this column is dedicated to the revival of the city that was once hailed as the center of hip-hop culture, a like amount concerns the feeling of unease and confusion emerging from the current capital of the genre. From both coasts, many pockets in between, and even across the ocean, we cover rap that veers from the raw street-oriented material to the more elusive and experimental approaches. Now with the last few months of 2018 to anticipate, let us see where the year’s departure seems to bring us…