Live review: NBA Buzzerbeat Festival 2019 – KBS Arena (13.07.19)

The 2019 NBA Buzzerbeat Festival wasn’t just your typical Korean hip-hop music festival. For its fourth year running, the festival was held across two stages at the KBS Arena and sports complex in Seoul’s west. But what was different from usual hip-hop festivals was that the NBA Buzzerbeat Festival also offered a look into the other aspects of hip-hop and street culture that Korea has to offer.

Early in the day, Anklebreakerz, a freestyle basketball trio, mesmerised the crowd with their basketball spinning skills. While B-boy crew MB Crew got the crowd pumped with their slick synchronisation and b-boying skills. Naturally too with an NBA partnership, there was also a heavy basketball presence. Concert goers could enjoy a game zone and have photo ops with their favourite basketball player. Even other parts of hip-hop music, like DJing, were also on display. In Back n Forth’s set DJ Spray had a chance to show his mixing skills, and likewise DJ Tezz officially opened the show. But where usually non-music performances are kept to the outer areas of the festival, these aspects were in the main arenas for all to see.

Another difference was a noticeably bigger presence of women. This year saw the inclusion of six women on the lineup, which is more compared to previous years’ lineups and to other Korean hip-hop festivals.

Singer Moon was the first musician to play on the main stage. The singer and producer brought a lush RnB vibe topped with well delivered vocals, though it did take a while for her to get warmed up. Yet the singer’s stage presence wasn’t strong, as her face betrayed her nervousness, looking awkwardly around the stage in-between songs.

Up next, singer Cherry Coke kept the sultry RnB vibe going, yet as a regular performer at the Buzzerbeat and it’s sister festivals, her stage presence was much stronger. She interacted well with the crowd, waving and conversing as if she wanted to get to know each individual. This was all topped of with strong live vocals.

Other RnB singers like much loved Junggigo and Zion T gave solid performances with strong vocals that had the crowd all singing in unison. Yet neither artist couldn’t bring out the energy that their rapper counterparts could.

Singer Colde also had strong vocals, and opening his set with atmospheric instrumentals, he really tried to create an experience and mood throughout his set. However the audience didn’t care much for it. Even after he himself admitted that his more “chill vibe” wasn’t suited well to the hip hop festival, his set was not wisely chosen by leaving high energy songs off it. However, he played two songs gold and Dance from his other project offonoff, which were much better received than his own and actually had most of the crowd singing along.

Yet the best vocals of the day by far came from singer and producer Sumin and singer Kirin performing together as Club33. The two brought killer 90s RnB ballad vibes to the show, which initially seemed out of place to the crowd. But the two ended up winning the crowd over with their powerful vocals especially with their perfect harmony on ‘I’m an Idiot’ from collaboration album Club 33.

Getting back to the rappers, sets from both Basick and The Cohort crew had the crowd well engaged. Basick did so with rap skill alone, delivering his super-fast rap effortlessly. While The Cohort brought a high energy stage presence.

Group Legit Goons brought their laidback attitude and alternative rock influenced style of hip hop, performing songs from their latest album Rockstar Games. Individually, each members’ rap delivery was strong and clear. However, the group dynamic was also strong, with great chemistry as they played along with each other on stage. They also played and joked along with the crowd. But while they were able to make the crowd laugh with their jokes, the wider audience didn’t seem to connect as well to their performance and style of music, which was different to majority of the other artists on the bill.

Rapper Ash Island on the other hand was a crowd favourite. The emo rapper signed to Ambition Musik, brought so much vivacity to his performance. Yet his greatest strength was that he delivered his rap with so much genuine emotion. As with much of emo rap, he had an interesting blend of trap beats, with personal and overtly emotional lyrics. This helped him connect well with the crowd emotionally and physically which made for an exceptional performance.

Other crowd favourites were rappers Coogie, and Superbee and Uneducated Kid. Coogie’s rap was well delivered and he gave great energy in his performance. He was also joined by his fellow Hive Crew members Dive in Purple and Blasé, but the set was dominated by Coogie and his two crewmates were more like hypemen. Though this wasn’t needed as the crowd jumped and rapped along to Coogie’s catchy trap songs like ‘Saimsaim’ on their own.

Superbee and Uneducated Kid performed songs of their own but also came together to perform songs from their collaboration album Catch Me If You Can. The two offered very different stage personas; Superbee, brought great rap skill but his attitude came across as slightly arrogant. While Uneducated Kid was charming with his goofy, yet lovable stage presence and brought light hearted and feel good vibes. Yet together they each balanced each other out and had fun with the crowd.

The final slot of the day began with rapper and Illionaire CEO The Quiett. Even with a career spanning almost 15 years, the crowd were just as excited to see him perform as the newer artists on the bill.  Playing a set of mainly new songs, the crowd sung along to his raps, proving his longevity as an artist. With such experience, he had great command of the crowd and his delivery was infallible. Yet he was also still gracious to his fans, signing CD’s or receiving art work in the middle of his performance.

But the man that everyone came to see was Beenzino after recently returning to music after his 21-month military service. He and the Quiett shared the stage to perform their collaboration songs ‘Profile’ and ‘YGGR’, then Beenzino was left to take up his podium.

From the moment the crowd heard him utter his first words, the atmosphere was ecstatic. When he finally began rapping, a feeling of pure love and respect erupted from all. Yet he wasn’t complacent and put in just as much energy to his performance that the crowd gave him.

His set was full of old favourites like ‘Dali’, ‘Van Piccaso’, ‘Aqua Man’ and ‘Boogie On and On’, which the entire stadium rapped along to every single word. Yet even after almost two years away from the stage, he didn’t miss a beat. His rap was effortlessly delivered, while his stage presence was paradoxically unassuming yet completely commanding.

As the darkness of night brought relief from the heat of a summer’s day, Beenzino brought the festival to a close. As the stadium filled with the echo of the crowd rapping to ‘Always Awake’, an ode to youth and life in the sleepless city of Seoul, we were reminded of hip-hop’s ability to simultaneously speak to people and for them.

But also, what the 2019 NBA Buzzerbeat Festival reminded us was that music is not the only aspect of hip-hop culture. While the music lineup gave us a diverse mix of rap styles and even genres, the festival also showcased other aspects of hip hop culture. With dance and basketball also on show, the festival also allowed us to enjoy a more immersive experience of Korean hip hop culture.