Korea Has a Queen of Soul?

Korea Has a Queen of Soul?


While Korean pseudo-rap/hip hop artist Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is busy invading the webspace, as well as daytime television talk shows like Ellen, there’s time to step back and remember the breadth of the Korean music scene aside from K-pop and its accumulating cult following.

All right, so the full scene may be difficult to uncover beneath the homogenized tarp of Korean pop music, but it’s still there – from nu-metal/industrial rock bands like Schizo (the Korean version of Rob Zombie) to R&B/hip-hip artists like Yoon Mi-Rae, a half Korean, half African-American female rapper out of Texas.

Need to hear that again? Yes, Natasha Shanta Reid, better known by her Korean name or simply as “T,” hails from Portland, Texas with a mixed race heritage that is often reflected in her lyrics. The biracial, bi-national rapper acquired her African-American father’s passion for music at a young age and learned to express it through her mother’s language. She’s been an influential presence in Korean rap music since the 1990s and is known in Korea as the “Queen of Soul” (insert hackneyed joke about Korean “Seoul” here). But as over-hyped as that moniker may sound, she is unmatched in her breadth of bilingual lyrics and their content, describing her unique experiences with race, discrimination, and self-image.

Based solely in Korea, the rapper doesn’t shy away from describing her personal struggles to overcome prejudice against her African-American heritage. In a country that has traditionally prided itself on ethnic homogeneity, Yoon Mi-Rae is one of few half-Korean celebrities in the music world to lament its exclusivist attitudes.

“ 검은 행복” or in the unfortunately stilted translation, “Black Happiness,” is one of Yoon Mi-Rae’s more poignant tracks, as the bridge of the song consists of an audio clip of Yoon Mi-Rae’s father offering some life advice on how to overcome adversity. And since she is, after all, Korea’s Queen of Soul, the music video can’t quite do her justice like a live performance can, especially one with home videos and photographs streaming behind her onstage. An English translation of the lyrics can be found below.

(Admittedly, the discreet but catchy backup singers don’t set her entirely apart from her K-pop counterparts, but at least she isn’t wearing sunglasses indoors and doing a horse and pony show. I mean – really, Psy? Just, really?)

“검은 행복 (translated Black Happiness)” by T. Reid (Yoon Mi-Rae)

My skin was dark from my past
People used to point at me
Even at my mom
Even at my dad who was black, and in the army
People whisper behind my back
Said this and said that
I always had tears in my eyes
Although I was young
I saw my mother’s sadness

Everything seemed like it was my fault
Because of my guilt
I washed my face every time during the day
With my tears I melt the white soap
I always hated my dark skin
Why does the world judge me
When I hate the world
I close my eyes

I put my soul into the music my father gave me
I feel the volume
And fly higher and higher
Far away

(When I hate the world)
(Music soothes me)
(you gotta hold on)
(and love yourself)
(When I hate the world)
(Music raises me up)

Time passed and I was thirteen
My skin was dark brown
Music doesn’t judge color
They give me light
I lead my music
We lean on each other
I don’t feel lonely
Then one day
I was given a chance
I held on to my microphone

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