Epik High is getting its own record label and they are calling it High Ground
If you're a fan of Korean hip-hop you'll know that there are two very distinct camps: The underground, which meets in small venues and bars across Hongdae, write about struggles in society, turning up, usually works part-time jobs, and is responsible for 50% of all Jordan purchases in Korea. Then there's the idols, made up of baby faced rappers like G-Dragon, Bobby and RapMonster (who came from the underground); the idols, spend years as trainees in entertainment companies like YG and SM, generally don't write their own lyrics and have their image created for them by a highly specialized pr group run by their management companies. I'm a bit biased, but before you Kanye West me, let me finish. Until recently the only time these camps crossed paths was when the underground took shots at their b.b.creamed brethren for being sellouts, impersonators or worse, defectors.
The point of tension seems to arise at exactly what hip-hop is. For the underground its a way of life that requires sacrifice and authenticity. This, as B-Free so infamously argued, is concisely why the underground snubs idol rappers who often didn't know much about the culture until being groomed for years in one of the big music factories like YG. True hip-hop comes from inside the rapper who is engulfed in its culture. To the underground, using rap for the sheer purpose of acquiring fame is disrespectful to the way of life that is hip-hop.
But recently there have been collaborations between the two worlds and bridges such as Show Me The Money are giving the underground a chance to shine in the well funded lights of the mainstream, while allowing idol trainees such as Bobby to earn some street credibility. A couple of years ago when I asked my friends about Beenzino or Verbal Jint, they had no idea who those rappers were, but today the underground is gaining a solid fanbase that's not just your average hip-hop head. Fandoms, which traditionally are formed in idol groups are starting to pop up in the underground and marketers are picking up the signals, giving endorsements from major companies like Samsung. Yet for all the success there is no denying that the underground is not nearly as financially capable as their idol counterparts. This is what makes Epik High's new label such a timely announcement. Epik High is a group that sits at the bridge, having come from the underground and maintained their independence even after signing to YG. Epik High's label will have credibility and major financial backing to allow for a new camp to emerge that can give the underground's culture, the audience of the idols.