Rap rookies win with sweet loveMaunfacturing a star requires money. So the first problem for aspiring celebrities is how to get a sponsor.
The hip-hop duo Koonta In Nuoliance were exploring this very question when they heard some good news. They had been selected as the next “Melon Rookie,” an entertainer sponsorship program organized by SK Telecom and Seoul Records. The award meant they would receive up to 200 million won ($310,000) to promote their first album.
“It’s a nice start,” said Ahn Tae-hyeon, a.k.a. Koonta, the vocalist of the new rap duo, as he smiled broadly. “It’s going to help us concentrate soley on our music from now on.”
The sponsorship program has already lent support to nine new singers and bands, giving a much-needed boost to Korean musicians, including Gavy NJ, Sweet Sorrow and Howl. All three have made notable entries into the music charts and popularity rankings in recent months.
“We already have a steady fan base in the Hongdae club area,” said the 25-year-old Koonta as he adjusted the knitted hat he was wearing over natty dreadlocks. “But this is exciting, you know, imagining what might come next for us.”
Koonta In Nuoliance had performed extensively at bars and clubs in the collge community before they released their first album together a month ago. They had been scouted for a “hip-hop” project a few months before that, but it didn’t excite them much. Both rappers had worked with different hip-hop teams trying to launch a debut in the past but neither was a success. In each case the production agency had closed down.
Sitting next to Koonta was Choi Seong-beom, a.k.a Nuoliance, the other half of the duo who both produces and composes.
“This doesn’t mean our music is going to change,” he said, adding that money might be a crucial factor in releasing or promting an album but it was not going to alter their creative direction. “We will continue with the hybrid sound we have become known for.”
Based on complex rhythms and grooves from hip-hop and reggae, the group’s music fuses Koonta’s scratchy voice into a thick undertone with lots of percussion and drum sounds that mix funk, jazz and even a hint of folk music.
Unlike the defiant tone and strong message usually found in hip-hop and reggae music, Koonta In Nuoliance insists on being romantic. They mainly sing about love found and love lost.
“Even though he doesn’t look like a romantic type, he writes quite nice lyrics,” said Nuoliance, nudging his partner.
But Koonta became serious when asked to speak about the “nice” content of his lyrics. He clasped his hands in front of him on a table and the exaggerated gestures he had been making came to a stop.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s because I write them when my heart is ready.”
In one of his songs, “Mama,” he calls out for what he calls “cowardly men” to admit they were wrong to behave badly toward those they were supposed to love. In another song, “Rosa,” he echoes Romeo and Juliet’s famous lines when he repeatedly says he misses his lover terribly and that he will sing for her outside her home until she comes out. In “Sorry,” he regrets what he said to his girlfriend and begs her to forgive and forget.
Following this romantic interlude, Koonta became playful again. He began to shrug and slur his words like a typical Korean-American hip-hop musician. Nuoliance, the serious one, interrupted and explained that his partner was only doing a satirical imitation of styles we all see on television. The explanation made Koonta laugh.
“Aren’t I good?” he said. “But I have never been outside the country.
“But wait,” he said, suddenly shaking his hands in the air. “I was in Indonesia when I was in the 8th grade.”
“The hot spring there inspired me a lot,” he said. “If you need to say what was our biggest influence, say that we were inspired by the Indonesian hot springs.”
SK Telecom say they began the Melon Rookie program to reinvigorate the music scene in South Korea. Their Web site for the program says the Korean record market was falling into a “swamp of depression” and the program is designed to bring new creative blood into the industry.
by Lee Min-a