Live Review: Hiphopplaya Festival – Nanji Hangang Park, Seoul (07.04.18)

Despite the bitterly cold wind whirling through Seoul’s Nanji Hangang Park, a selection of Korea’s finest established and upcoming hip hop talent kept the atmosphere hot at the Hiphopplaya Festival 2018. For the second time running, the Korean hip hop festival held by Korean hip hop website Hiphopplaya, hosted a day of pure Korean rap over two stages.

On the main stage, maverick group Legit Goons opened the festival with a warm energy that set the mood for the rest of the day. The group were laid back and welcoming, and spoke to the crowd like old friends. With this vibe, their set was full of banter and jokes. Yet it didn’t stop them proudly parading their Hip Hop Album of the Year plaque from their recent win at the 2018 Korean Hip Hop Awards, in an act of pure hip hop bravado. And if the award wasn’t proof enough, the group’s set was a solid display of hearty rap like on Trucker and Drunk Junk Love.

Sets from Olltii, Hash Swan and No:el on the Tsingtao Stage drew more trendier crowds. At 18, the youngest rapper on the bill, No:el brought a youthful energy with his danceable trap and rnb infused hip hop. Although the young rapper’s delivery missed the mark on some songs, the crowd weren’t bothered; he had them wrapped around his finger, whole heartedly chanting after him on songs like Heel.

On the main stage, rising rapper DPR Live had the weakest rap of the day. He relied too much on his backing tracks and the help of the audience, rather than his own rap. And while what he did rap was delivered well especially on Jasmine, too much it was disjointed to get a real sense of his skill.  Yet, what he lacked in technicality, he made up in coy yet charming stage presence. Much to the displeasure of DPR visuals man Christian Yu trying to get good footage, DPR Live was more focused on having a good time. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing when his energy spread throughout the crowd, who sung and grooved to his sentimental lush danceable style on songs like Martini Blue and Text Me.

It was then time for long-time fan fav Giriboy on the Tsingtao Stage. Giriboy shared DPR Live’s  coy, lovable stage presence, making the crowd dote on his every word uttered between songs. Yet when Giriboy rapped, he took no prisoners. With a mixture of old and new songs his delivery was sharp and still managed to have the crowd echo him perfectly on songs like Wewantourmoneyback and Whyyoumad.

By the late afternoon it was time for shared sets with record labels MKIT Rain Records, H1gher Music and Vismajor Company on the main stage. First up it was Owen Ovadoz, Young West, Bloo, Nafla and Loopy of MKIT Rain Records. Owen and Bloo gave solid performances that engaged the crowd well, while Nafla and Loopy were crowd favourites with their charismatic stage presence and robust rap especially on collab track 사과상자. However, with his underground trap style, it was hard for Young West to connect with a crowd that weren’t really interested in his music. Yet despite that and microphone difficulties, Young West kept his energy high on songs like Swish. Eventually when the five rappers united at the end of the set, they had great chemistry and energy together and the crowd loved it.

AOMG CEO Jay Park’s second record label H1gher Music showcased rappers PH-1, Woodie Gochild and Sik-K. The three rising rappers got the crowd grooving and hyped to their high energy and danceable hip hop, all the while serving well delivered rap in different styles.

Jay Park himself closed the festival to a considerably smaller audience than expected as it seemed the former-idol-turned-rap-mogul’s polarising reputation proceeded him. Yet regardless of his reputation, he was a great performer. Bringing his rapping, singing and dancing triple threat, he had an enigmatic stage presence grooving on All I Wanna Do and delivered with good rap technique opening his set with On It.

The last of the record labels was Vismajor with Part Time Cooks, Odee, Bigone, Wutan, Nuksal, Don Mills and even CEO himself Deepflow. Of all the record company’s sets, this was the most electrifying. The culmination of heavy 808 bass style beats, solid delivery and commanding, self-assured rapper attitudes, Vismajor had the crowd, to use the hip hop colloquialism, turnt.

Yet coming straight from the high energy set of Vismajor, a joint set from established rapper Paloalto and up and comer Justhis, the two had to fight for their place on the stage. The crowd’s mood shift after Vismajor was so jarring that Paloalto couldn’t help but comment on the crowd’s sudden lack of energy. It was almost heartbreaking to watch the two rappers try and keep their spirits up in the face of the uninterested crowd. But it was clearly difficult for the crowd to connect to the two’s very lyrically driven rap from the two’s new album 4 The Youth. Which was a pity because the two offered some of the cleanest and well delivered raps of the whole festival.

Yet when Korean hip hop legends Dynamic Duo took the stage next, they didn’t have to fight for anything. Their place was assured a long time ago. Naturally the two brought their A game, rapping with precision over funky old school favourites like BAAM and medley of producer Primary’s 씨스루 and ?. The crowd worshipped them; if they weren’t singing along to every word, they were gaping in awe of the two rappers’ flawless delivery. With the crowd screaming for not only one, but two ‘encores’, it was clear, Dynamic Duo were the heroes of the festival. And with the confidence of being able to tell the crowd to clap for them, they knew it too.

For the second time running Hiphopplaya Festival 2018 was a Korean hip hop fans delight. The festival’s lineup offered a mix of new upcoming talent, trending rappers, established rappers and even some hip hop royalty. At the same time, it offered a variety of Korean hip hop styles and even a literal taste of the Korean scene in burger form thanks to AOMG rapper Loco’s burger joint, The Famous Burger. Yet sadly the only thing missing was women. While half the audience was female, there was not one single woman on the 100% male lineup. Still at the end of the bitterly cold Seoul day, the festival gave a nice taste of what the Korean hip hop scene has to offer.