The track’s metaphor-rich lyrics recount “swinging” like Korean baseball player Choo Shin-soo, acquiring money like casino developer Kangwon Land, and “stacking cheese” like dak-galbi, a dish of spicy chicken.
Even threats of violence are uttered with a distinctly Korean flavor: “My chopsticks open you up, smoking, leave you lying like a dumpling,” raps half of the duo, Park Sung-jin, who goes by the name Jimmy Paige.
“I didn’t expect overseas YouTubers to make reaction videos or the song to trend on platforms like TikTok,” said fellow Silkybois member Kim Dae-woong, whose rap name is Black Nut, in a video interview from Seoul. “We just did what we wanted to do in our style. I enjoyed watching people’s reactions, which were unexpected.”
Although exercise originated in Chicago in the early 2010s, the South Korean scene borrows heavily from a British subgenre dubbed British exercise. With equally gritty and provocative lyrics, but faster beats and more melodic gliding basslines, the sound has since spread from South London to influence stages around the world, including, in turn, the ‘America.
Silkybois members Jimmy Paige (left) and Black Nut (right). Credit: Courtesy of JustMusic
But while drillers in the UK and US have been known – sometimes controversially – for rapping about knife and gun violence, things are somewhat different in South Korea, which has the one of the lowest gun crime rates in the world. References to physical violence are prominent nonetheless, and drill rappers nationwide are uncompromising in their portrayals of urban hardship.
“The lyrics are about city stuff,” Park said. “Good or bad, it has to be facts. Things that happen on the streets, in the neighborhood and in our mentality – it’s all about us versus them.
“To me, exercise is just another (art) form,” he added. “We like tough lyrics… We’re always looking for ways to create tough metaphors and punchlines, and I guess it worked.”
The number of boring artists may be small by comparison, but several of the country’s best-known rappers – including Keith Ape, Changmo and Korean American artist Jay Park – have recently released genre-influenced music.
Shin said he discovered British exercise through the television drama “Top Boy”, which chronicles the difficulties faced by young people in inner-city London. Although initially uninterested in the Chicago scene, he was drawn to the London sound (which he described as a “whole new genre”) and began studying British pronunciation to use when delivering lines. in English.
“The British English I knew came from ‘Harry Potter,'” he said in a video interview. “So I was interested in the difference between rappers’ accents and what I knew. The more I listened to (British rappers), the more appealing I found them.”
The 27-year-old artist’s lyrics are often autobiographical, addressing personal issues – like the struggles he has faced during the Covid-19 pandemic – rather than social issues. To imitate gang or gun-related content from other countries would, he said, be inauthentic.
“Hip-hop is not native to Korea, so when you bring the sound from overseas, sometimes people also bring the feeling (of the lyrics),” he said. “There are cases of (copying lyrical content) but these days, Korean audiences will see it as fake or fanciful. Artists don’t want to take that risk. Rapping a story that isn’t yours doesn’t ain’t cool.”
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Kim said rap content is taken “too seriously” in South Korea, adding, “It’s frustrating that people can’t understand your lyrics and perceive them negatively.” His teammate Park also dismissed the possible impact of aggressive music on real life: “If you listen to James Brown, do you feel good right after? .”
Kim’s case aside, the country’s drilling scene has — perhaps due to its relatively small mainstream profile — been largely spared legal troubles. None of the artists interviewed for this article reported any other police restrictions on performing or recording music.
And the lyrical content of South Korean artists makes an official crackdown on the exercise unlikely, Park said, saying rappers from the UK and US have caused trouble by openly discussing the crime in their music.
In a genre that often sees artists denigrate the abilities of rival rappers, it’s fitting enough that he thinks the biggest challenge facing the South Korean scene isn’t politicians, police, or even a lack of control. Interest – this is the quality of his contemporaries. .
“They try to make drill songs, but they’ll fail because they can’t rap,” he said. “You have to know how to make bars, that’s the priority in this job.”
Top image: Korean artist Blase.