Category Archives: Hip Hop

K-Pop labels: Not people, not families, but businesses

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So, yeah, I come back from the Illionaire concert to stories of more illegal contract terms in K-Pop!

What’s kind of annoying to me is that, LIKE ALWAYS, this information is being used by K-Pop fans for no better purpose than to bash other fans. So the take-away from that story is apparently, “Nya-nya-nya! This label is better than that label!”

Ahem.

OK, the problem with that mentality is not just that it’s juvenile and obnoxious. It’s not even that people are stanning labels (which arguably makes sense in K-Pop, because the labels usually generate the music and develop the performance styles).

The problem is that good companies can go bad.

I’ve seen this a lot in book publishing. Once upon a time–we’re talking, less than ten years ago–there were certain things that a reputable player in the publishing industry would simply never do. A reputable reviewer, for example, would never, ever charge a fee to review a book. Only scammers did that.

But then digitization hit the industry in a big way. Reputable firms of all stripes–you name it, agencies, review publications, publishers–came under strange new pressures.

Just like that, all the old rules fell away. Do “reputable” book reviewers charge authors for reviews nowadays? You betcha! (Do I still think that’s sleazy as fuck? You betcha!)

And that is what’s really wrong with all the side-taking: K-Pop labels are businesses. The people running them can change, their business models can change, everything about them can change (and arguably should change if the labels want to survive in the long term).

You can’t count on a company to not screw you over. You always have to protect yourself. How do artists do that? Through contracts and legal agreements. That’s why I didn’t care when KQ Entertainment appeared–Block B’s contracts hadn’t changed, so why did the rest matter?

It’s not like there was this person named Seven Seasons, and another person named KQ Entertainment murdered them to take their place. Some people clearly think that’s pretty much what happened, though–they see a name change, and they think that’s HUGELY important. But what matters is the contract.

And since I just was at an Illionaire concert, I’ll point out that their artists’ contracts are extremely different, no doubt because of their experiences elsewhere:

On the road to those riches, Illionaire has cut out all of the middlemen. Unlike K-pop groups on mainstream labels with multiple members (sometimes as many as 12), Illionaire has only three self-sustaining artists. Road managers don’t chauffeur them, they don’t maintain a lavish office, and the majority of their music is created from home. Aside from one employee who coordinates schedules, oversees contracts, and assists in production, there are no salaries to pay.

And all of this with no paperwork: Neither partners Dok2 and the Quiett nor Beenzino are bound by [traditional record label] contracts. Which means, nobody has to pay back label advances and everybody controls his own masters. Each rapper is only required to set aside 10-to-20-percent of the profit they make on gigs or album sales to Illionaire’s savings account, which then later gets put back into album production and marketing. The remaining money from shows, album sales, appearances, and ads becomes net profit for each individual.

So, thanks to Illionaire’s generous profit split, Dok2 makes in excess of $880,000 a year on profits that are presumably around the $1 million mark.

Do you know how big a profit Exo would have to turn from music sales in the Korean market for a member to see that kind of money under their contracts? About $80 million.

Illi-fucking-aire, motherfuckers!

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Ah, just got back from the Illionaire concert in Vancouver–God, it was good. It’s been a long day for me and the weather here is awful, so part of me was like, I just shouldn’t go. But I toughed it out and am so glad I did.

It was just Dok2 and The Quiett, and oh my God were they clearly exhausted–puffy faces, dark circles under the eyes, they looked like a pair of little kids who just had their naps interrupted. But man, they are REALLY good. They both just rap effortlessly, and the tempo shifts (which I do find jarring sometimes) are handled beautifully. Plus they just have really good teamwork live.

They got more lively as the show went on (at the beginning Dok2 was asking stuff like “Are you having fun?” in this exhausted voice while propping his body up on the microphone stand–everyone was nice and didn’t laugh). They did two encores, and I don’t think they really planned to do the second–it took them a really long time to come out. But the audience was hyped, and I think that helped them find some energy.

Definitely The Quiett is more the showman–even at the beginning he was finding people’s phone cameras and performing to them (and the people just plotzed). Dok2 actually rapped with his back to the audience at the beginning–I don’t think it was exactly deliberate, he was SO tired–but then he started getting energetic and dancing around. By the end they were both high-fiving people and getting really out there (it was in a club that was set up so that everyone was close), so I think ultimately they both enjoyed the show a lot.

The audience was great–energetic but very civilized. I was glad because it was kind of a young crowd. I’d say it was about 40% men and a little more racially diverse than the Dynamic Duo concert–the club was kind isolated, so there also wasn’t all the weird crap with passers-by this time.

OK–gotta go pass out now….

ETA: They’ve put up a clip from it, and yeah, it looks like they totally didn’t expect that second encore.

And, oops! who’s that lunatic? And what the hell is she looking at?

I always photograph so well.

Non-Block B songs I enjoyed in 2016

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It seems like everyone is doing these Best K-Pop Songs of 2016 lists, but they all seem to feature the same songs, so I thought I’d do my own completely arbitrary list of songs I liked. Obviously it would be really boring and predictable if the whole thing was just Block B related, so the rules are that the song 1. had to be released in 2016 and 2. cannot be a part of the Greater Block B Musical Complex.

I’m going to group them thematically instead of trying to rank them, because I think ranking stuff you like is inherently pointless. But there is a Song of the Year, so be prepared for that!

Here we go!

Trop music comes to Korea.

Yeah, if you’re American, right now you’re screaming “DEAR GOD NO MORE TROP!!!!” but I like all these songs because they use trop more as a spice, which means that they don’t all sound exactly the same.

Hash Swan & dKash, “Ay”

BTS, “Save Me”

Double K, “OMG”

CJamm & BeWhy, “Puzzle”

Jay Park, “Me Like Yuh”

Reggae Collaborations

I’m keeping with the tropical theme, because it’s fucking freezing where I live right now.

Skull & HaHa, with Stephen Marley, “Love Inside”

Skull & Sizzla Kalonji, “Get Rich”

Cute Duets

Park Kyung is really bummed that he can’t be included.

Sonnet Son & Andup, “Without You”

Heize & Dean, “And July”

Babylon & HA:TFELT, “Raining Street”

Music to Shtup To

“Tightly” could fit in here. You know, if you make it tight.

Yoonmirae, “JamCome On Baby”

Babylon, “Crush on You”

Jimin Park & Hash Swan, “Walkin'”

Mino, “Body”

Paloalto, “Fancy”

Elo, “Tattoo”

Leftover Music I Liked

Bulhandang, “We Back”

BeWhy, “Day Day”

San E & Chancellor, “Dish”

Vromance & Big Tray, “Bing”

Candle & Hanhae, “I Know”

Snacky Chan, “Out of Time”

Boi B, “Horangnabi”

Taewoon, “Fine Apple”

Kanto, “YOSM”

Sleepy, “Oh Yeah”

One, “Comfortable”

Junoflo, “Infinite Styles”

THE SONG OF THE YEAR!!!!

2016 was a bitch, so San-E wrote a song about it. Congratulations, San-E, on creating my personal Song of the Year!

San-E, “Bad Year”

Mixtapes whats and whys

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It occurred to me that the sender of that bogus e-mail might not be an entirely malicious individual. Obviously, their methodology is vile, but they would not be the first person to have concerns about the mixtapes on BlockB.com. Indeed, in the past, when people have expressed these concerns in an honest and forthright manner, I’ve really appreciated it, because it’s an example of a fan being concerned about something that actually does matter to the artist, namely: Is the artist getting paid fairly?

So I thought I’d do a little primer for people explaining what mixtapes are, what they aren’t, what they’re intended to do, and why they’re on BlockB.com.

In hip-hop, a mixtape is music that is given away for free. This is quite distinct from a commercial release, where the music is sold.

It can be easy to confuse the two, because thanks to piracy, there are all kinds of free downloads of commercial releases. But commercial releases are intended to make money. Mixtapes are not–at least not directly.

Why give mixtapes away for free?

Common reasons are to thank fans and to get marketing exposure. But the original and probably still most-common reason is because the artist does not have the rights to sell the music.

Why’s that? Well, let’s backtrack a little and talk about hip-hop.

In hip-hop, there’s often kind of a division of labor between the guy who does the rapping (the MC) and the guy who does the music or beats (the DJ). Obviously some people do both, but not everyone.

Let’s say that you are an up-and-coming but extremely broke MC. You want to get your name out there, but 1. you don’t have any money, and 2. while you rap well, you don’t really write music much.

So you make a mixtape. You take the music from a song someone else did:

And you rap over it.

In the world of hip-hop, this is not usually considered some huge deal. In fact, DJs will post music files on-line with a note that they are free for MCs to use for mixtapes! But obviously, it’s dodgy legally–the MC doesn’t bother to secure licenses or anything; the DJ might not even know that the music was used. If P.O were ever to try to sell “Black Vans Authentic,” he’d be hearing from Zion T pretty quickly.

But in general, as long as the music is used only for a free mixtape, everything’s copacetic. Remember the “Control” feud? The one thing that wasn’t controversial about it was that the diss tracks all used music from the same Big Sean song. (Legal beefs around mixtapes sometimes do erupt, though, typically because the mixtape takes off in a big way and can be monetized. So, if Vans came a-knocking on P.O’s door, wanting to use his mixtape song in commercials, he’d need to sit down with Zion T and work something out.)

Why make a mixtape if you can’t sell it? Marketing. If you’re an extremely broke MC who makes a mixtape, you now have a whole bunch of songs to show people how well you rap.

Likewise if you’re a rapper in an idol group, a mixtape can show people that you’re not just a pretty boy who dances well.

As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of the credibility Zico has in the underground hip-hop scene is a result of his mixtapes; the same is true of Park Kyung and P.O.

The downside of mixtapes is, of course, that you don’t sell them. That not only means no money from the music itself; it means that retailers don’t carry it, which can make the music hard to find. This is why Zico started releasing his solo music commercially.

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I can attest to the fact that tracking down the mixtape songs that are currently on BlockB.com was an enormous pain in the ass. It took forever, it involved going into some pretty sketchy corners of the Internet, and it was difficult enough that I didn’t bother to get everything because it wasn’t worth it to go through all that (plus building the fucking pages) just for some song fragment or sketch.

But even if some day I do finally wind up handing the domain name over to Block B’s fancy new U.S. marketing firm–as is my dream!–I intend to keep those pages up. (In spite of the fact that, yes, it will cost me money. Just as BlockB.com costs me money. It’s not a hardship, but be aware that I am among the many people who do not make money from mixtapes.)

Why keep them up? Because I’ve seen how the mixtape pages can change people’s perception of Block B and its members. Yes, that Talent-dol branding is well worth having, and it’s hard for people to argue that the group’s members aren’t “real” artists who don’t “really” write music when they see those dozens upon dozens of mixtape songs.

In other words: If you really and truly care about Park Kyung and P.O, you’ll quit trying to fucking scam me into taking their mixtapes down. I should also point out that I’ve met both men, they both know I do BlockB.com, and they didn’t have one single negative thing to say about it.

Things I have learned from SJWs today

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  1. Koreans should never hire African Americans. This is a deeply racist practice that must be stopped. (Brought to you courtesy of the people who think that Korean musicians should never take pictures of themselves with African-American fans.)
  2. If you see a hip-hop music video, and you object to a visual element in the video, the person who only produced the music for the video and had nothing to do with directing the video is to blame.
  3. People who write hip-hop music, no matter how successfully or for how long, know nothing about hip-hop and should stop now.