Why Tymee should be acknowledged as a Korean rap legend

tymee E.via korean rapper k-rap

If you’re a K-music fan who also keeps up with Western artists, you’re probably seeing many female rappers’ names in the music charts and awards, especially in the U.S. right now where Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat are dominating. And you might also be thinking of many other female rappers who deserve more love, just as these amazing ones that are having their big moments right now.

In the case of South Korea, it’s not that female-fronted rap is at all unpopular — with shows like Unpretty Rapstar (2015-2016) and Good Girl (2020) we’ve been seeing female rappers getting more attention. Yet, some of these women’s stories remain unknown, or not acknowledged enough. One of these stories is Tymee’s, formerly known as E.Via, the Korean rapper and songwriter born Lee Okju.

Though newer Korean music fans might not be familiar with Tymee’s work, she has been releasing songs for 18 years, with recent years seeing less and less music from her. Some may know Tymee for the beefs she has been involved in throughout her career, such as the one with Jolly V before and during Unpretty Rapstar, or her super brief participation on Show Me The Money. Or maybe you’ll remember her as E.Via, the controversial rapper who released meme-worthy songs such as “Oppa! Can I Do It?” before memes were even a thing.

But Tymee is so much more than the dramas and the eccentric songs — she’s barely acknowledged by what they represented for the music scene in Korea. Here are eight reasons why she was a pioneer, a total legend, and why she should be acknowledged as such.

She Pretty Much Pioneered Aegyo-Rap

Lee Okju started her career as an underground rapper that went by the name of Napper. When she debuted in the Korean pop industry formally as the controversial E.Via, her impeccable flow and impressive breath control were still there — but the deep voice she used to rap with previously gave place to a cute, high pitched, almost unrecognizable timbre.

Along with her clothes and overall shy girl attitude, the baby voice was not exactly what one would expect from a serious rapper, and the aegyo merged with fire rap. E.Via’s songs would also be the first time Tymee would present her fast rap, a side of hers that would also become her signature – which was a peculiar combination too.

But, whether you’d find her laughable or good, you can’t deny that E.Via was somewhat fascinating to listen to, and years later, the aegyo rap she became famous for would infiltrate the K-pop industry, becoming basically a mandatory in K-pop songs by girl groups such as Girls Generation’s “I Got a Boy.”


Her Music Was Once Banned In Korea 

In spite of looking and sounding innocent, E.Via’s songs weren’t really all that suitable for kids. “Oppa! Can I do it?,” the lead single from her debut album, was pretty ambiguous. It wasn’t really clear what she was asking her oppa permission for: the album version included her moaning, while the lyrics also hint at E.Via asking him to hear her rap. The provocative content and slang led music shows such as Music Bank to ban her performances. E.Via, who wrote the lyrics of “Oppa! Can I do it?”, never fully addressed what the song was intended to be — but such suggestiveness would become a part of her brand.

As much as it may be disturbing to hear an infantilized woman performing sexually suggestive songs, or to hear a woman asking a guy permission to do anything at all, the song raised discussions about what artists and women can do, and the ban would only raise the public’s attention and interest to E.Via and her upcoming music.

She Featured Herself On A Song

So far, you’ve learned that Tymee went by different names during her career. Each one of these “personas” had their own features, but they’re all pretty much different sides of her, representing different stages of her life. But could these personas meet each other? 

Alter egos are quite common in rap, but there are very few cases of rappers featuring “themselves” in a song — and the most popular ones we can think of, like Logic feat. Young Sinatra’s “Warm It Up,” weren’t released before E.Via’s “My Medicine,” a song in which E.Via featured no one less than Napper, her old alias.

In this sweet yet sad song, Napper raps and E.Via sings. It’s not only an example of Lee Okju’s versatility and emotional depth – you can just feel the pain in her voice, even if you don’t understand the lyrics – but also her creativity. Who would think of such a collab? It’s just genius to bring your two personas to meet and perform with each other.

She Broke Free & Prioritized Her Artistic Freedom

E.Via brought Lee Okju fame and success, but she wasn’t happy, and was also severely mistreated and not properly paid by her talent agency, DLine Art. She couldn’t put up with it further than early 2013, when she announced that she was leaving the company.

But breaking free from her contract wasn’t easy: she had to go to court, and ended up with little to no rights to her music, and not allowed to use the name E.Via. She then changed her stage name to Tymee, and later signed to rapper Outsider’s ASSA Communication, where she would find more creative freedom and control. On the songs she released thereafter, such as “On The River,” she spoke about her mental health issues and how she almost gave up on music. The name “Tymee” would symbolize her desire to be “tied” to music, as a promise that she wouldn’t let anything or anyone steal her passion for it.

Was An IP Genius During Diss War

In 2013, when U.S. rapper Big Sean released “Control,” a featured verse by Kendrick Lamar would inspire the beginning of a diss war in the Korean hip-hop scene. Initiated by rapper Swings (with whom Tymee had history), the war consisted of many rappers shooting and firing back at each other by writing their own verses over the “Control” beat. The diss war had pretty much only male rappers doing it, until Tymee stepped in. 

Recently signed off from her previous label and recovering from what almost ended her career forever, she definitely had a lot to say, and she didn’t hold back. “Cont Lol,” which is a play on the words “Control” and “Laughing out loud,” referenced how she found the  other rappers’s skills comically laughable. There was also a reference to the video game series League of Legends, showing Tymee’s angry views on hip-hop culture, stating her place as woman in a male-dominated industry (“I’m not a king, but I’m a queen”), dissing rappers and everyone who mistreated her in the past, with no mercy or filters. And as if that weren’t enough, “Cont Lol” also brought back E.Via, — sort of. In a maneuver that would make Intellectual Property lawyers tremble, Tymee channelled her former persona without the need to say her name or to mention anything about her previous works or label, just by using the cute voice she was famous for.

She Was The Best Unpretty Rapstar Contestant To Not Make It To The Finals

After a short passage in Show Me The Money, during which she got eliminated for forgetting her lyrics, Tymee was given another chance to compete in a rap survival TV show, this time, one meant for female rappers only. Tymee’s participation in the first season of Unpretty Rapstar again got attention for her beef with Jolly V, a rapper who dissed her in the past, to which she responded. They both also competed in the same season of Show Me The Money. While Tymee didn’t make it into the semifinals and isn’t even featured on the TV show’s official soundtrack, her performances there were some of the best of her entire career. She shone in a battle against Jace, and later in a collaboration with the same artist. These two verses were so impactful that Tymee would incorporate them into later elements of her career, performing the first one at live concerts and using the second in “Octagon,” a collaboration with Outsider and other label mates.

When you hear Tymee’s crystal clear pronunciation in these verses, her incredible rhyme schemes, lyricism, fierce delivery, and flow, it’s hard to understand why she isn’t considered Yoon Mirae-level of reference for women in South Korea’s hip-hop scene, or why her skills aren’t given the same glory as Korean hip-hop icon Verbal Jint’s.


One Of The First Artists In Korea To Use The Word “Feminist” In A Song

Tymee’s history with Unpretty Rapstar wouldn’t end after she got eliminated from Season 1. In 2016, she would be invited to be a guest judge in the third season, and also released a diss song to the show on her Youtube channel. On “Fuck Pretty Rapstar,” she criticized the contestants who care more about their looks than their rap skills, and proclaimed herself as a feminist that wants to see a fair race in the show regardless of its gender scope.

There isn’t much, if any, history of feminism being mentioned in mainstream Korean songs before “Fuck Pretty Rapstar.” Feminism, as a term, wasn’t that widely known there in 2016 (when participating in a livestream, Tymee was even asked what that word meant). And to be fair, until very recently, it still wasn’t that well known or perceived, as we’ve seen from the controversies that follow female K-pop stars’ when they’re perceived being feminist.

Makes The Music She Wants

Nowadays, Tymee is a part of a music crew called Freezy Bone and isn’t under any label. She is an independent artist whose latest music is less hard rap-driven and leans more towards smoother alternative hip-hop, although her great lyricism is still present. She has said many times she’s not ashamed of her past, but as is noticeable from the abrupt change of style, she doesn’t let it define what she’s going to do either. 

With almost a 20-year career, having gone through underground and Korea’s mainstream, and several ups and downs, Tymee’s story is one of determination and overcoming adversity with her best weapon: talent. It’s also a story about identity. Tymee has been through many different phases, styles, and names, but her talent would always show through — even when she wasn’t being 100% true to herself, she still excelled as a rapper— and her love for music would always win. Regardless of what she’ll do in the future or what kind of music she’ll release, Lee Okju should be acknowledged for just how good she is, and for all the fields and forces she touched or impacted.

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‘Unpretty Rapstar,’ crooked or boost to female Korean rappers?

Rap music in Korea has gained acceptance in recent years to the point where it’s earned space in mainstream culture, primarily through an increase in rap-focused reality shows. But while male hip-hop stars have begun becoming major players in Korea’s entertainment industry, women aren’t doing quite as well.

In the past, Korean rap has been filled with male artists. Women generally appeared only as members of OG hip-hop crews such as Uptown and Honey Family. Nowadays, we get to see more female rappers in Korea, but still very few compared with the hegemony of male rappers on charts, and awards and T.V. shows. But to say that Korea lacks good female MCs would be a false statement. So why aren’t they getting the treatment they deserve? Shows like Mnet’s Unpretty Rapstar highlight the issue.

Some contestants themselves are more problematic than others, but the larger evil is the show’s format rather than specific individuals. Unpretty Rapstar could be a platform for female empowerment, and instead, it appears just to be usurping it for ratings.

Also on KultScene: ‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate

The first season aired in January 2015 and was not only a local sensation, but also appealed to audiences overseas. The second season aired in September 2015 and brought even more attention to more female rappers. The third season aired in July 2016, and ended up catching less attention for the quality of performances and moreso for forcing beefs between the contestants. Not that there wasn’t drama in the script of previous seasons; battles and diss tracks are a common thing in rap music and the hip-hop movement, but compelling women to take it more personally than they are willing to is a whole different thing.

In first season, for example, Tymee said multiple times that she had no problem with Jolly V and no desire to continue fighting her. But it was suggested through the show’s production that the two do so. Season two similarly did not waste opportunities to pit Heize and KittiB against each other on numerous occasions. Moreover, KittiB was constantly body shamed by the show for her curvier silhouette.

On the positive side, the show has contributed a lot to reveal unknown talents and gave more opportunities to female rappers who already had a solid career or were up-and-coming. However, the premise itself is problematic. It leads one to wonder whether a segregated space for women to rap in would be needed if they already had equal opportunities to showcase their work regardless of their gender. Women are able to appear on Show Me The Money, the male-dominated equivalent of Unpretty Rapstar, but few have made it to the final rounds.

Moreover, it’s not only the need for all-woman competition show that is questionable; the execution of the concept doesn’t help much either. This year’s season had less of a focus on the talent and experience of the contestants and instead veered towards focusing on and maximizing the drama between contestants. More often than not, it centered on their physical appearances — far more than it had during the previous two installments.

It is hard to take a show like this seriously when we see legends like Miryo (former member of hip-hop group Honey Family and current member of girl group Brown Eyed Girls) competing next to artists like Kassy, who is actually a singer that occasionally spits a few bars on her songs. Or when we see Grace, who gained more screen time due to charisma and creative outfits than actual talent.

Is that all women are for? To serve as entertainment?

And since we mentioned Miryo, it is relevant to say that even though, apparently, she was there because she wanted to, her presence on the show only serves to support the thesis that Unpretty Rapstar fails to help the cause of female union and empowerment. Kept in due proportion, Miryo is like Tymee (contestant on Unpretty Rapstar 1) and Gilme (contestant on Unpretty Rapstar 2): a talented and respected rapper with enough history to be on the position of a mentor, not a contestant.

Except for Yoon Mirae (who’s au concour in any discussion about female Korean rappers) and some underground legends such as Choi Sam, Rimi, and Sleeq, almost every female rapper with considerable notoriety in Korea has already been on Unpretty Rapstar. When you unite the majority of female talent as competitors, especially considering that these competitors will be judged mostly by men, what you’re saying is that you don’t have women talented enough to be on a position of power, which is false.

Let’s take the winner of Unpretty Rapstar 3 as an example. The very fact that Giant Pink was inserted into the show after being unfairly eliminated from Show Me the Money 5 is problematic.

Watching the cast of Unpretty Rapstar 3 performing on Show Me the Money 5 already gave viewers an idea of what was to come. Just like during Unpretty Rapstar 2, when Truedy got more bars on the group song and was favoured during the entire competition until she won, Giant Pink played a similar role in season 3 by receiving prominence on a performance featured on the same competition she was previously discarded by, as if they wanted people to be happy for her to be reigning on a female exclusive competition though she wasn’t “good enough” to make it in Show Me the Money. It continually reinforces the “you’re good for a girl” ideology; good enough for the girls, but not quite up against guys.

Also on KultScene: Which ‘Unpretty Rapstar’ Contestant Are You? [QUIZ]

And, of course, Giant Pink won, even though she failed multiple times during the competition.

What’s being questioned is not the contestants talent; that’s arbitrary. Both Truedy and Giant Pink are very competent rappers, but the main thing is that it is hard to believe Unpretty Rapstar 3 didn’t intend for Giant Pink to come out as the winner since the beginning. The whole scenario suggests that she would only be able to succeed as long as she did not try to be as good as a man.

The same could be said about Ash-B, a fierce girl with amazing flow who also got eliminated early on on Show Me the Money 5 for no perceptible reason, that she was a woman. She later got reinserted into the third season of Unpretty Rapstar after failing during the second season. This time, Ash-B did much better and went much farther on the competition. But the concerning remains: if she is so qualified, why didn’t they let her show all this talent in a competition that is supposed to be for rappers of any gender?

It doesn’t help at all that women can only get attention when they are seen competing against each other. Instead of criticizing women, we should be asking ourselves why is it that they cannot get appropriate opportunities to showcase their work outside of the little arena in media designed for females only?

With that said, the benefits gained from participating in Unpretty Rapstar can’t be ignored. It got Cheetah and Yezi to be featured as judges in another rap show; KittiB signed with Brand New Music, being now the only female solo act amongst names like Verbal Jint, San E, and P-Type; Heize got an all-kill on music charts with her single “Star” in Dec. 2016; Jessi’s career finally took off after more than 10 years in the business. Those achievements certainly would have been less likely to happen if those ladies hadn’t been on the show.

Will women in Korean rap ever have the respect and success they deserve? Will they be put in spotlight in situations different than forcefully battling their congenial or serving as entertainment? We sure do hope so. While we wait to see about a fourth season, we can surely say that 2017 has potential to be a better year for female rappers and that’s, in a way, thanks to Unpretty Rapstar.

What are your thoughts on Unpretty Rapstar’s portrayal of female rappers? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

5 Songs to Get You Ready for ‘Unpretty Rapstar’ Heize & Truedy’s Los Angeles Show

unpretty rapstar truedy heize los angeles la show k rap korean hip hop

After starting more than a few highly talked about feuds, performing in major stages like 2015 MAMA, and coming out with some of the hottest collaboration tracks of the year, there’s no denying the popularity and influence of the hit show Mnet “Unpretty Rapstar.” Whether we’re talking about season one or two, there’s no doubt that both installments showcased a lot of talented female rappers that are slowly becoming household names. It was only a matter of time before these acts made their way to the US where they’ve also established a fan base.

The first “Unpretty Rapstar” contestant to hold a show in Los Angeles last October was Jessi. But while we still have to wait for that season’s winner, Cheetah, to pay us a visit, the latest winner Truedy and semi-finalist Heize are set to host a K-Pop Club Night in the City of Angels. The two rappers will perform at the Conga Room inside the LA Live on January 22. Tickets are already on sale through Powerhouse and they’re $35. However, this is a 21+ event — sorry kids!

Also on KultScene: This Is Not A Competition: Jessi Slayed Her Los Angeles Show

Unlike Jessi or other “Unpretty Rapstar” participants, Heize and Truedy hadn’t had a long career before appearing in the show. Despite this, the tracks that they have released, either independently or because of the show, were fire. So let’s revisit a few of their songs to get us hyped and ready for the show.

“Don’t Make Money” by Heize

Among the songs in the semi final, Heize’s “Don’t Make Money” is one of the best. With the concept in mind — Heize telling her family not to make money because she’s going to provide for them — paired with the pump up beats make it the perfect song to turn up to.

“If It Wasn’t for Music” by Truedy

Truedy started off the season strong, and that’s how she rapidly landed a feature one of the first songs. And if Verbal Jint being the producer wasn’t awesome enough, season one’s winner Cheetah also featured on the track. Interestingly, Truedy’s old school flow fits perfectly with Vebal Jint’s clean and modern sound. As a result, “If It Wasn’t for Music” offers a perfectly balanced throwback feeling.

“I Know” by Heize

Based on the fierce and sexy image Heize portrayed on “Unpretty Rapstar” and what she repeatedly said throughout it, we’ve come to associate it her with a harder concept. After all, she wants to be the first female rapper signed to Illionaire Records. So imagine our surprise when we came across “I Know,” a song where she sings more than raps — and is not bad at it. On the contrary, “I Know” is a chill song to sway. It’s unlikely that Heize will perform this track on the concert, but even so, we dig it.

“Bandz Up” by Truedy

Compared to her first win track, “Bandz Up” produced by Dok2 fits her hard image better. On this track, we can honestly say Truedy spit fire and showed that her style fits more traditional hip-hop feels rather than something more experimental.

“My Boyfriend Thank You” by Heize

While Heize was still on “Unpretty Rapstar,” news broke that she had dated fellow Korean rapper Crucial Star. Is this song about him? We’re not quite sure. However, we do know that this song resembles Crucial Star’s laid back flow and soft beats. With Heize’s soft and girly vocals, “My Boyfriend Thank You” is also a feel good song.

Also on KultScene: Artist Spotlight: Crucial Star

“After I’ve Wandered a Bit” by Heize

As previously mentioned, Heize and Crucial Star used to date, so it makes sense that two rappers who share a similar style and flow would collaborate. The end result is “After I’ve Wandered a Bit,” a song about taking a break from a relationship. Even if the theme is a bit somber and the rap is serious, Heize’s voice at the chorus gives the song an overall bittersweet feel.

“Pride (feat. Gummy)” by Truedy

Ultimately, Truedy was the season’s winner. And with her crown came the last featuring song, which was a collaboration with singer Gummy. Even if Truedy didn’t produce it herself, “Pride” was tailor made for her, with it’s bouncy, old school hip-hop feel.

Which of these songs are your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.

Which ‘Unpretty Rapstar’ Contestant Are You? [QUIZ]

If you’re like us, you’ve been keeping up with Mnet’s Unpretty Rapstar and are obsessed with it. All of the contestants are immensely talented and the differences in their personalities have made viewers pick their favorites. You have your sweet ones, like Kisum and Jimin, and then the badasses Cheetah and Jessi. Of course, there are other dimensions in between and beyond that spectrum. So, if you were to be one of the Unpretty Rapstar contestants, we created a quiz in order to know exactly which one you’d be.

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Unpretty Rapstar: Semi-Final Review

I’m going to start this review off with saying that I have watched none of Unpretty Rapstar, so I may not be in the best position to really speculate on the outcome of the show. But after watching a couple of the raps, I felt compelled to listen to them all. What followed were four blistering tracks showing a great range in emotion and tone but all were personal for better or worse. I’m trying to look at these in a purely musical way ignoring the troubling mechanics of the show in order to get a better grasp of these girls as rappers. If we do that, then the show can turn out to be a force for good in giving some of these smaller female rappers a stage to shine on.

The semi final was split up into two rap battles, one between Cheetah and Jimin, the other between Jessi and Jolly V. These were less rap battles and more match ups, as they just performed one after the other.

Cheetah Coma 07

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‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate

[Disclaimer: This article is based on the first three episodes of the show and season three of ‘Show Me the Money,’ and contains cuss words and minor spoilers.]

With the surge in popularity of Korean rap domestically and abroad, it surprised no one that competition shows like Show Me the Money [SMTM] sprung and did as well as K-Pop Star. However, right from the start, the absence of women in the various SMTM installments was evident. Sure, there were some female contestants, but they never made it far or became relevant for their spit (some exceptions apply, of course).

That’s why when Unpretty Rapstar was announced, –despite the offensive title and the omission of male contestants– it seemed like progress, for female rappers would finally be in the spotlight and given proper credit. While I’m not sure if the creators of Unpretty Rapstar are the same as Show Me the Money, they were both televised on Mnet. What’s more, the former’s cast is sprinkled with reject contestants from the latter and other rappers who are already well-known. So from its inception, Unpretty Rapstar was created with SMTM in mind, and therefore sets a striking, sexist contrast.

Right from the start, it was apparent that the only thing Unpretty Rapstar and Show Me the Money had in common was the competition factor. Show Me the Money was all about some good ‘ol fashioned friendly and healthy competition, with contestants choosing their own mentors, being in teams, and focusing on the talent onstage. The feuds between the participants were addressed through verses onstage, with the interview portions only adding background information on them or reactions. On the other hand, Unpretty Rapstar’s format is meant to highlight and promote the pettiness women can have with each other, otherwise known as girl-on-girl hate.

As Tavi Gevinson, creator of Rookie Magazine, put it:

Girl hate is not hating someone who happens to be a girl, it’s hating someone because we’re told that, as girls, we should hate other girls who are as awesome as or more awesome than ourselves. That there can only be ONE cool girl, ONE funny girl, ONE smart, etc., in a circle of people.


To sum up, it’s basically Mean Girls. Starting with the cast, the producers created tensions with their selections. Some rappers had seniority over the rest, some had beef between them, and others were already famous and popular. Jimin, from girl group AOA, is always given preferential treatment, especially from the MC San-E who doesn’t even try to hide his bias (on the first episode, he broke off a tie where the idol won, even though she didn’t even rap in the intro cypher). Jolly V and Tyme brought their SMTM3 feud onto this show, with the producers highlighting and trying to pin them against each other further more. The inclusion of Jessi, a Korean-American who has already debuted and is one of the eldest in the cast, intimidates some of the contestants and unevens the playing field. And then of course is the prodigy, SMTM3’s Jidam who also gets away with things out of potential, which she undoubtedly has, but the exceptions are not a luxury given equally to all of the girls.

‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate
‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate

‘Unpretty Rapstar’ is Sexist & Promotes Girl-On-Girl Hate

via unpretty-rapstar @ Tumblr

Also on KultScene: Victim Blaming In Kim Hyun Joong & Ray Rice Cases Minimize Realities Of Domestic Abuse

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