Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - Starting in the late 1990s, Afro-American music, encompassing a wide range of music genres including hip hop, soul, R&B and reggae, swept the country's music scene. The popularity of hip hop, in particular, brought a huge influx of related culture. Streets were filled with young people wearing so-called hip hop jeans ? baggy and worn extremely low on the waist ? and extra large T-shirts often matched with baseball caps.
The hip hop fever, however, suddenly disappeared in the early 2000s with major entertainment agencies starting to produce well-trained and attractive K-pop groups. Hip hop artists and their lyrics critical of society and "the haves" suddenly lost much of their audience.
Ten years have passed since the golden era of Afro-American music in Korea. Only a few artists like Drunken Tiger, Kim Jo-han and Bobby Kim survived in the mainstream music industry. Other artists left the scene to make a living in fields.
But some underground artists are stepping up their efforts to revive Afro-American music in Korea.
Lee Se-hwan, publicist for Sony Music Korea, is one of them. Lee, a.k.a Nino, one of the first generation of hip hop artists in Korea, organized a concert series titled "Black Soul" at a club in Hongdae, Seoul, to offer talented but struggling artists a chance to perform.
"Hip hop clubs in Hongdae started to disappear 10 years ago. Currently there is no stage for underground hip hop artists to regularly perform," said Lee.
"We used to have great hip hop artists perform at hip hop-only clubs like Master Plan or Slugger. Now, it is hard to see such great singers performing together," he added.
The first concert kicked off on July 6, drawing interests from hip hop fans. The second and third Black Soul concerts will be held on Friday and Aug. 9 at Prism, an underground concert hall in Hongdae. The list of artists for the July 21 concert includes BEATBOX 2TAK, TAGA, Butcher Boyz, Swagger, Jiggy Dogg and IGNITO. Other artists including Deep flow, Zion.T, Redface, Rude Paper and M.Tyson are to perform on Aug. 6 at the same venue.
Asked why they don't give up on their music, artists say "musical freedom."
"The reason for doing hip hop is to express what I've got to say to people, express and spread my words through recording," said New Champ, another artist who participated in the event.
"In hip hop, especially rapping, you can only put so many words into the music compared to other genres. Hip hop is more about lifestyle, a person's character," he added.
There is slim chance of being successful in the underground scene, but producers need to accept the diversity of the music, artists said.
"I do not understand why they are limiting the styles and music that an artist can do. I feel no sincerity in the music that comes out in the mainstream," said New Champ.
Even though artists are to perform for almost nothing, they say that they feel lucky to have the opportunity.
"When hip hop first came to Korea, it attracted many people because it was something new, but I think many have turned away already, which is why I feel thankful for events like 'Black Soul.' I hope that there are more of this kind of event," said Hengju of Rhythm Power, a hip hop duo who performed in the first "Black Soul" concert.
Tickets are 20,000 won (US$17) and include one free drink. Tickets can be purchased at www.hiphopplaya.com in advance at 15,000 won ($13).