Asia’s Homegrown Hip-Hop Artists are Ready for the World

Asian hip-hop's growing popularity reflected at SXSW

With a population of an estimated two billion people in the 16-34 age range, demographic numbers alone illustrate the Asian music market’s potential. At SXSW 2018, a number of hip-hop and R&B artists are out to demonstrate the region’s commercial promise.

Hip-hop first took root in Japan. According to Ian Condry, a professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at MIT and author of Hip-Hop Japan, the country’s homegrown scene took root after “Rapper’s Delight” made the rounds at discos in 1979.

Hip-hop grew through dancing— in both the higher-class clubs and with the breakers in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. “You have a couple breakthrough hits in 1994,” Condry says. “Up till then the record companies were skeptical.” The success of rap trio Scha Dara Parr in the ‘90s helped Japan’s grassroots hip-hop grow, and the genre is represented at SXSW by Rude-a and PRANKROOM.

What started in Japan spread to Seoul, South Korea, which has asserted itself as a music hotspot with a well-developed industry promoting K-pop to a worldwide audience. More recently, hip-hop and R&B have challenged the K-pop establishment for commercial dominance.

“Before it’s rise, there were only a handful of artists that were able to make a living through hip-hop and R&B music,” explains Jessica Oak, Editor-in-Chief of Billboard Korea.

“The influence has been big in fashion as well. Street brands are performing far better than other lifestyle brands … Also, there’s always a rap verse in most Korean pop songs.”

Among the most prominent of the Korean artists at SXSW 2018 is Jay Park. The Seattle-area native started as a member of K-pop band 2PM before breaking out on his own. Since then, Park has become a major star, even signing with Roc Nation. In 2017, Park partnered with musical collaborator Cha Cha Malone to launch H1GHR MUSIC Records, a venture focusing on rappers from both the U.S. and South Korea. The two will MC a H1GHR showcase at SXSW.

“I respect an artist who is an artist,” explains Malone about the type of acts H1GHR RECORDS looks to work with. “Someone who can write their own songs, melodies, and have their own aspirations but could use some help fulfilling them.”

Crush has dominated the Korean music charts recently with his airy falsetto and R&B sound, which he says is influenced by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Musiq Soulchild. He is excited to see the diverse array of artists at SXSW. “Watching the performances of the musicians from around the world,” Crush says. “I want to receive positive energy and be inspired by them.”DPR LIVE and L.A. native Junoflo represent the more grassroots side of Korean hip-hop at SXSW, earning acclaim without major label backing. “Overall, I think the music scene in Korea has shifted a lot,” observes DPR LIVE. “I’ve noticed lots of new movements happening... And because of this, the scene has become exciting with all these new players involved.”

“They’ve been waiting for a media brand that speaks to their taste, but also celebrates and communicates that to people outside of Asia.”

Rappers have also emerged from Indonesia and Vietnam, not to mention Taiwan, which has been a focal point since MC HotDog’s streak of regional success throughout the 2000s. At SXSW 2018, Taiwan will be represented by the multi-award winning Dwagie.

Whether or not the East Asian twist on hip-hop and R&B will turn into a global phenomenon remains to be seen. This week, music fans at SXSW can catch some of the artists trying to make it happen.

For the latest SXSW 2018 Music Festival showcase information, visit or the SXSW GO app.

Crush. Photo by Amoeba Culture

Crush. Photo by Amoeba Culture

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