Hate it, love it, call it whatever you want, but it is here to stay. Mnet’s unprecedented empire of a series Show Me the Money has become so prevalent it’s already integrated into Korean popular culture. Summer and K-Hip Hop are forever associated with the series. Back for a sixth victory lap, the show features the best lineup yet of the hottest, most reputable producers: team Jay Park & Dok2, team Tiger JK & Bizzy, team ZICO & DEAN, and team Gaeko & Choiza (known together as Dynamic Duo). The show’s magic formula is so easy, it’s genius: pit contestants hailing from South Korea, Los Angeles, and New York against each other for a total of nine rounds and let the spitfire rhymes and slick rhythm determine the strong from the weak, the topdogs from the underdogs and, finally, the winner from the losers.
This season features an epic turnout of 8000 hip-hop hopefuls, with old-timers and new blood vying for camera time and, ultimately, the producers’ support. In round one, judges stare down contestants as they try to prove themselves worthy through a capella rap to hopefully win the show’s coveted heavy gold logo necklace that allows them to proceed to the next round. It’s only the premiere episode but nerves are already showing. Hip-hop is cutthroat, and so is the competition. Show Me the Money 6 is proving that in this game of hip-hop survival, it’s still too early to be anyone’s game.
Pomp and Circumstance for the Producers
It ain’t hip-hop if there’s no swag. The introduction of the season’s producers is always something to look forward to as the contestants are subjected to the swaggering presence of the producing teams. First up was veteran team Dynamic Duo. With their signature anthem “Three Dopeboyz” blaring as they literally rise from flames, rapper Choiza and Gaeko walked down the runway to join host Kim Jinpyo on the main stage.
While it’s great to be the first to receive a robust welcome, they also had to watch as the second team of producers, Jay Park & Dok2, rose up to the stage amidst ardent fanboy shouts. It certainly pays off to have two veteran producers team up with each other as both teams have produced winning contestants in past seasons. The duos have certainly increased the visibility of Illionaire and AOMG, their respective labels, on past seasons with their surprisingly down-to-earth attitudes and, dare I even say, nerdiness that is contrary to their image. Introduced next to the hyped-up crowd were flowerboy-faced, silver-tongued producers ZICO and DEAN. Perhaps the most anticipated producer team of the season, the duo lacks nothing in looks, musicality, or rap, and it shows as they slink down the runway to the adoring looks of the audience and chagrin of the previous two producer duos.
Last but certainly not least of the producer teams was forefather of Korean hip-hop, legendary Tiger JK, and his crewmate Bizzy. Striking apprehension into the contestants’ hearts, and even those of their fellow producers, Tiger JK definitely didn’t lack any street cred. The inclusion of Tiger JK and Bizzy marks a shift in how the Korean hip-hop community now favorably views the show. The show was previously regarded as all fluff and no substance, but now veterans view the show as a chance to reacquaint themselves with a globalized audience and worldwide recognition. Many questioned the intention of Tiger JK’s agreement to produce for the show, but his own words shatter any unfavorable attitude towards the duo. He is here to learn as a rookie alongside the contestants in this new world of highly publicized hip-hop.
Unable to Forget or Unable to Accept Failure
In all previous seasons, cries of victory have rung loud and clear but, more often than not, heads have been hung in defeat and frustration. Unable to accept their defeat and unable to forget the taste of the stage so close, yet so far, contestants have returned in season six with great anticipation from the public. Hash Swan and Junoflo have already been marked in a rivalry to watch out for as the latter was eliminated in favor of the previous, and Mnet never fails to smell potential blood spillage as both contestants easily pass round one.
You’ll also see a lot more familiar faces from Mnet’s spinoff rap survival show High School Rapper with the appearance of Young B and Jang Yongjun, now known as NO:EL. If Young B’s face looks familiar, it’s because you probably know him as the uniformed kid whom SMTM5 contestant Seo Chulgoo nobly gave up his mic to in a harrowing freestyle battle. Then known as Yang Hongwon, Young B emerged as victor of High School Rapper, started a cross-earring wearing trend, and is, in short, a legend looked up to by high schoolers. Despite having such street cred at a young age, he couldn’t forget how powerless and vulnerable he felt. He’s no longer a guppy but a shark, and my eyes are on him to spit some serious lines, provided his new-found fame doesn’t get to him first.
Boi B (SMTM 5) and Geegooin (SMTM 4) of well-known crew Rhythm Power are trying to stay in the limelight as they try to pass round one. Having personally heard Geegooin live during SMTM 4’s stateside tour, it was such a pity to watch him fumble over lyrics and lose his chance at continuing while crewmate Boi B safely went to the next round. That is the sad reality of a survival show. A few seconds determines your fate with no regards to your reputation, nor usual performance. In those moments, you best bare your soul with lyrics, clear away extra thoughts, and not look back with your first breath.
In the most surprising turn of events, among the 8,000 contenders was season one’s winner, Double K. Why in the world is an actual winner of the show back again? Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if he didn’t win? No doubt viewers are asking these questions, but in the humbling explanation provided by the rapper, he explains it’s because he simply needed the exposure. Season one of SMTM was not the cultural phenomenon it is today, as it didn’t gain momentum until season three. Although a past winner, Double K released his album in April to no fanfare. Absurdly so, because his tracks lack nothing in production value or freshness. I sincerely hope his appearance on the the show will give him the recognition he deserves for his music, not only in his home country, but internationally as well. Episode one did not show his a capella rap, so stay tuned for episode two to see this rapper live in action.
Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?
As the success of Show Me The Money continues its wide-reaching run, it isn’t surprising that veterans of the hip-hop game will come to prove their OG titles. MC Hansai, Onesun, and Digili are the latest to attempt to return to the spotlight. As someone who started delving into Korean music back in 2000, I was pleasantly surprised to see MC Hansai dust off the cobwebs and reintroduce himself to the far corners of however far Hallyu reaches. Known for his poetic rap, he was one for the sensibilities but, along with Onesun, failed to impress DEAN.
Last of the veterans is Digili of legendary rap group Honey Family, Korea’s version of Wu Tang Clan. If you are a fan of Korean hip-hop and even music, you best familiarize yourself with Honey Family because their then-influence was so far that their song “Rap School” was the manual of how to rap.
You might even know alumni members. Gary and Gil of Leessang and Miryo (Brown Eyed Girls) made their debut with this crew and went on to lay claim to their slice of fame. Digili and his former crew have been rapping longer than all the producers and contestants, but perhaps that isn’t always an advantage. Not only was Digili unable to provide fresh lyrics, but his flow was stilted. Nonetheless, years of spitting rap still had to be for something as Gaeko decided to pass him amidst contestant disgruntlement.
Trend, Trend, Trend
As the premier trend-consumers in Asia, “Koreans are fashionable” is a gross understatement. The hip-hop scene isn’t just a wrestling ring where rappers prove their grit through rhymes and flow, but also through their trendy image. Penomeco of FANXY CHILD (yes, that one with ZICO, DEAN, and Crush) and Punchnello of Club Eskimo (oh, look, with DEAN again) are at the forefront of a trendier hip-hop style. Complete with trendy clothes, trendy rap flows, and megaton talent, these two have helped attract the public’s attention to this season’s show. Penomeco’s high tone rap has a hypnotizing force that just demands your attention and was best showcased in the a capella round one. Punchnello’s lyrical mastery cannot be underestimated either. Safely passing round one, these two will no doubt prove they aren’t just a trend but here as heavyweights as well.
Mnet definitely doesn’t fail to let the audience know who the top dogs of the competition are. Nominated for hip-hop album of the year, Nucksal surprised hip-hop critics and fans by joining the show as a contestant. He certainly has nothing to prove. Whether it’s his music or his performances, the rapper has only kept amassing more and more fans. His album God of Small Things was even nominated for 2017’s “Best Hip Hop Album” at the Korean Hip-hop Awards. With such veritable street cred, he has the producers scrambling for his favor. It’s pretty cute seeing these outwardly tough rappers try to woo the rapper to their side. Perhaps what’s at stake for the “rapper of rappers” is pushing his boundaries in a sudden death environment like SMTM. Whether or not you pass the next round, all previous contestants have testified that the show pushes your limits and improves you as an artist when faced with tight deadlines and tougher competition.
As the summer heat intensifies, so does the show competition. Stay tuned for more episode coverage as this season serves up the most amount of talent ever!