While it began as a South Bronx sensation, it didn’t take long for hip-hop to take hold worldwide. Along with his group, Boys, Seo Taiji was one of the first artists on the Korean peninsula to recognize its potential.
Back in 1992, Seo Taiji and Boys released their first single, “Nan Arayo.” It would be the first smash hit in a long string of successes for this shapeshifting artist, but it also stands as a strong example of how rap music could remain compelling as it began to dovetail with mainstream pop.
It also layed the groundwork for the entire K-pop movement.
Seo’s career began at age 17 as a member of the pioneering Korean metal band Sinawe, but it was with Seo Taiji and Boys, a boy band with metal and hip-hop influences, where he found an audience that stayed with him through his various incarnations.
Hip-hop has proven to be highly a versatile style, absorbing elements of all kinds of musical traditions through sample-based songwriting. “Nan Arayo” is a perfect specimen of this sponge-like quality, bouncing along on an affable breakbeat while urged on by snippets of Public Enemy, heavy metal guitar and scratchy orchestra hits.
Perhaps this was why hip-hop was bound for mainstream success, its ability to adapt to many different styles allows for a wide degree of appeal. Certainly, Korean audiences have responded positively, based just on the spectrum of local acts classified as rap by their record label, from folk performers to EDM DJs.
That said, all the myriad musical styles wrapped up in a big “We Are The World” burrito wouldn’t mean a damn without a good hook.
“Nan Arayo” delivers that, too.
With a slightly nasal delivery, Seo Taiji and Boys offer a bubblegum-style melody that doesn’t sound the slightest bit out of place juxtaposed with the New Jack Swing-ing drums. It fits in perfectly, in fact.
While the drops, breaks and turntable-abuse that runs throughout “Nan Arayo” convincingly communicate a playful kind of toughness, the final product is pop music of a high order. It took a particular kind of visionary to deliver this combination to Asian audiences, and in the years since, Korean rap has flourished.
It couldn’t have happened without Seo Taiji and Boys.
Watch the music video for Seo Taiji and Boys’s classic single “Nan Arayo” RIGHT HERE
Jeff Tobias is a composer, musician and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. As of late, he has been studying arcane systems of tuning and working on his jump shot.