A hip-hop stage for "Everyone"
For many new rappers on Korea’s hip-hop scene, opportunities to perform are few and far between. Big clubs and festivals often only book famous acts, and high rental fees make other venues off limits to new rappers with little or no money. Many rappers are thus relegated to busking in the streets.
Which is why the open mic competition Everyone’s Mic (모두의 마이크) has become an important part of the hip-hop scene for new rappers looking to gain experience.
“The reality is many chances to step up to the stage are disappearing, causing many rappers either to become studio rappers or perform with a short number or even no audience at all,” says rapper A.Jack, a regular competitor. “Rappers like us are eager to perform more on stage at our best and I believe the rappers who participate in Everyone’s Mic are doing a great job trying to fix these problems.”
Everyone’s Mic was started in December 2012 by veteran rappers MC Meta and Nachaal, who make up the duo Garion. The show continues a tradition that dates back to their beginnings in the 90s. Back then, MC Meta would open up the stage after shows to whoever wanted to try performing.
The show wrapped up its third season in November, which took place at hip-hop club Cream every other Sunday and was sponsored by athletic brand Fila. Season four is set to start in March.
According to Everyone’s Mic Facebook page, each show has space for 36 performers and three judges – Nachaal, music critic Kim Bo-hyun, and a guest judge. Participants sign up on the day of the show – sometimes as early as 9am – on a first come, first served basis. It is open to amateur rappers of all ages, and though it is primarily geared towards Korean rappers, foreign rappers are welcomed. The shows starts around 6:30pm.
Each show is split into two sections. In the first, each rapper is given a beat and allowed one verse – either freestyle or prepared as long as it is the participant’s original work.
From there, the top 10-20 percent from round one go through to round two, where they perform an original song. From those, the top three are chosen based on the judges’ scores and an audience vote. Each receives points and at the end of the whole season, the three with the most points receive awards that help them to debut as artists.
According to MC Meta, the winner of season three – a rapper named Skillito – was given a free music video, coaching by Garion, beats produced by veteran producer Keeproots, and media monitoring by media writer Kim. Second place, Jackal, received everything except the music video and third, Bray, received just the beats.
MC Meta says that he started Everyone’s Mic and opened it up to performers of all ages in order to give new rappers a chance to build their own performance styles and learn to tell their own stories in their own ways.
“It might appear dangerous – though I guess it’s safer than in the U.S. – to let minors into a club. However, all these teens – these young guys – they don’t have stages,” he said. “They are eager to rap. They want to perform… So, I decided, let’s include the young kids as well.”
He recalled one instance from this past season where a high school student competed and ended up beating Skillito, the season winner. He said watching that show left a strong impression on him. He felt as though he helped provide this opportunity to a young kid who otherwise may have just been known as “that kid who raps” among his classmates.
“I provided them with confidence – to this high school kid – so he can say, ‘I can perform, not only for myself, but I can also perform in front of all these people and be known by people.’ Which is great,” MC Meta says.
He said that he is also very thankful to the sponsor, Fila, without which they wouldn’t have been able to rent the venue or provide such big prizes, as well as all the guest judges who took time out of their busy schedules. Season three saw the likes of Beenzino, Jerry.K, Deepflow, Eluphant and Tablo gracing the guest judge chair.
For the competitors, Everyone’s Mic is not just a chance to perform, but also to meet other rappers. Keezy, another participant, believes it is important for MCs to come together and share their experiences.
He added that the show is important for the community because in hip-hop culture, rappers need to share their messages with each other.
“Like JJK-hyung said, MCs must come out to the stage and grab the mic and spread their messages. As a result, this movement could help out with building the basic part of hip-hop culture in Korea.”
A.Jack argues that, along with few performance opportunities, there are also not enough opportunities for listeners to fully embrace rappers. But Everyone’s Mic, which saw its crowd size double and triple over season three, provides that.
“When seeing rappers who rap better than I do, it gives me determination to hustle harder and become a better rapper. The more you try, the better the results, such as gaining confidence, being able to communicate with many rappers, and even opening the ears of many listeners and have them listen to your music often,” he says.
“I strongly believe Everyone’s Mic is playing an important role in improving the hip-hop community in many ways and hope that the improvements continue.”
To follow updates on season four of Everyone’s Mic, check out their Facebook page by searching “모두의 마이크”.
Emma Kalka is a freelance writer who runs the blog Discovering the Korean Underground on Tumblr, which focuses on the Korean underground hip-hop scene.