Myoung-Sun Song

Myoung-Sun Song is an Assistant Professor at Sogang University’s Department of American Culture. She received her Ph.D. in Communication from University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and (national) identity in Korean media, popular culture, and popular music. She is the author of Hip Hop Hada: Hanguk, Hip Hop, Geurigo Salm (2016), the first oral history collection archiving the lives of forty two Korean hip hop artists.

"2 Chainz & Rollies: Hip Hop as Self-Development Text in Neoliberal South Korea"
This paper examines the rise and success of independent hip hop label Illionaire Records (2011 - present) to argue that hip hop has become a new type of self-development text in neoliberal South Korea. First, I outline Illionaire Records’ economic success as anchored by two preconditions: (1) staying true to oneself and (2) working hard. By emphasizing these two values in their lyrics, their success story allows hip hop to become a self-development text, one that manifests in accumulation of fame and wealth through hard work and honest labor, especially in times of economic uncertainty. Thus, as a self-development text, their success is twofold: (1) doing music that was not accepted or thought of as possible in Korea and (2) maintaining “realness” in doing so. While the notion of being self-made is not something new in Korean society, the unprecedented economic success of Illionaire Records has fundamentally changed how money and success is negotiated and understood in Korean hip hop, allowing terms like “rap star” to circulate in Korean popular culture. Central to the making of this self-development text are notions of “hustling” and black masculinity (re-interpreted in the Korean context) and filial piety (hyo). Drawing close analysis on lyrics, album covers, and in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with the co-founders and co-CEOs of Illionaire Records, Dok2 and The Quiett, I argue that although comparable to the hip hop mogul and the notion of entrepreneurship in America, much is still left undecided for the future and viability of the “rap star” on becoming a new chaebol figure (large conglomerates typically operated by families) in Korean society.