‘Show Me the Money’ exposes good and bad of the industry

MC Meta, member of hip-hop duo Garion and leader of Meta Crew on Mnet’s “Show Me the Money,” poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald on Aug. 9 in Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

This is the third in a series on producers, MCs, DJs and artists working in the Korean underground hip-hop scene. ― Ed.

Despite high ratings and relative success, hip-hop artist MC Meta ― one half of established duo Garion ― said a lot needed to be done for future seasons of Mnet hip-hop audition show "Show Me the Money."

While the hip-hop talent search programme, which just wrapped up its second season, did put more up-and-coming underground artists in the limelight, Meta said for him as a producer, it was half good, half bad.

"I wanted to do a lot more things, but we weren't able to actually do them on stage, because there's a difference in what I think and what the director thinks. And the director isn't specialised in hip-hop," he said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

"There was a big difference between what I wanted and what he wanted."

He said a lot of meaningful footage showing the work, passion and meaning into each song was cut. Both MC Meta and leader of rival D.O. Crew, Lee Hyun-do, did a lot of experimenting, he said, but the audience at home would never know unless they were already familiar with the history of hip-hop.

He claimed that there was a lot of miscommunication, and the show wasn't really for hip-hop ― everything from the lights to the sound to the stage was made more for a show like "K-Pop Star" rather than a hip-hop show.

For his Meta Crew, MC Meta said he came up with the concept of "Reconstruction of Hip-hop." Since he got his start listening to American hip-hop, he started with that as his inspiration and incorporated hip-hop landmarks in his crew's music, such as using samples from the Beastie Boys and Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" which featured pioneer DJ Grandmixer DST.

"We experimented a lot, working with different teams and putting in music and sounds. D.O. did the same thing," he said. "I thought it would have been good for the TV show to at least have subtitles, saying that we tried to mix in the different beats and sounds. I talked about mixed beats and sounds and the meaning behind the lyrics. … But they didn't actually touch on any of that aspect in the show."

He said the show was an accurate portrayal of the hip-hop scene as it is ― both good and bad. Many rappers and wannabes want to be famous, but don't have the chance in Korea, he added. "Show Me the Money" can be that chance for many of them, so it shows that dream. But for him, it was a different kind of dream.

"I felt like (I was in a) nightmare. Very stressed out. They twisted my concept," he said. "On the other side, it's the face of Korean hip-hop. It showed the whole face of Korean hip-hop."

He added that it is simply an entertainment show, but if you look into it, it shows all the different sides of underground hip-hop ― not only the passion and the dreams of the artists, but also how underground hip-hop is treated. It shows that there is a limit to how far Korean hip-hop can go in Korea, he said.

Nonetheless, he expressed pride in his crew, which produced the winners Soul Dive and runner-up Zizo. He wished the show would have put more focus on how hard they worked, he added.

Despite its limits, MC Meta said the show had its good side. There is no stage to really showcase new rappers, and at least "Show Me the Money" provided that. He said he and Lee would do more seasons, but only if Mnet started listening to their input.

The rapper commented that the underground hip-hop scene is still a small market and constantly changing. Their primary audience is still teens, though more people in their 20s are tuning in. More than that, more women are becoming fans of Korean underground hip-hop, which adds unique challenges for artists. He added that artists feel they have to change their image or approach their music a different way.

"But I think it's not bad for women fans (to) come to our scene, because men come after the women," he joked.

He said that up-and-coming rappers need three things to succeed: First is skill, which is basic. More than that, rappers need to be smart and know what opportunities to take. Lastly, they should look at things in the long run and be willing to work their way up the ladder, step by step.

Now that the second season of "Show Me the Money" is finished, he said he is going to work on a digital EP to release with partner Naachal for the 15th anniversary of Garion, the group they formed that pioneered the local underground hip-hop scene. He also hopes to make an album with Meta Crew from the show before starting on Garion's third album next year.