Seung-hyun (Hangul: 최승현; born November 4, 1987), better known by his stage name T.O.P, is a South Korean rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor who rose to fame in the mid-2000s as one of two rappers in the boy band Big Bang under South Korean record label YG Entertainment. The group became one of the best-selling groups of all-time in Asia and one of the best-selling boy bands in the world. In 2010, while the group was on hiatus, T.O.P and G-Dragoncollaborated to release the album, GD & TOP. As a solo rapper, he has released two digital singles, “Turn It Up” (2010) and “Doom Dada” (2013), that have peaked at number two and four, respectively, on the Gaon Digital Chart.
T.O.P ventured into acting at the advice of Yang Hyun-suk, beginning with the TV series I Am Sam (2007), Iris (2009) and the TV movie Nineteen (2009). He made his film debut with 71: Into the Fire (2010), for which he received praise and won multiple accolades including Best New Actor at the 2010 Blue Dragon Film Awards and the 2011 Baeksang Arts Awards. Subsequently, he garnered lead roles in the films Commitment (2013), for which he was awarded New Asian Actor of the Year at the Busan International Film Festival and Tazza: The Hidden Card (2014).
Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, Choi Seung-hyun became interested in hip hop at a young age. Six months later, Choi returned for another audition and was signed.
Given the stage name of T.O.P. (Korean: 탑) by senior YG artist Se7en, Their first album, Big Bang Vol. 1, received lukewarm receptions, and included T.O.P.’s first solo song “Big Boy”. The group achieved mainstream success with the release of the song “Lies” (Korean: 거짓말; Revised Romanization: Geojitmal) from the extended play Always (2007), which topped several charts upon its release. The singles, “Last Farewell” (Korean: 마지막 인사; Revised Romanization: Majimak Insa) from Hot Issue (2008) and “Day by Day” (Korean: 하루하루; Revised Romanization: Haru Haru) from Stand Up (2008), became chart-toppers as well.
Following the release of the band’s albums and singles, T.O.P. began working on his solo career. In April 2007, he was featured with fellow Big Bang members Taeyang and G-Dragon on singer Lexy’s single “Super Fly” for her album Rush. Later that summer, he appeared as an actor in Red Roc’s “Hello” music video. He became the first member of Big Bang to venture into acting, starring in the KBS2 drama I Am Sam, portraying the school’s top fighter, Chae Musin. Despite wanting to use his stage name when acting, believing it reflects his professional side more, he is often billed with his real name, with his stage name included in parenthesis. He also became a host of MBC’s music program Music Core.
While promoting his group’s materials in 2008, T.O.P appeared on other artists’ records, including Gummy for the song “I’m Sorry” for her album Comfort, veteran singer Uhm Jung-hwa for her single “D.I.S.C.O.” and ZiA for her single “I Only See You”. The same year, he was admitted to Dankook University in the theatre department. The following year, T.O.P. portrayed the assassin Vick in the critically acclaimed Korean television drama Iris (2009). He also recorded the song “Hallelujah” for the drama’s soundtrack with Taeyang and G-Dragon. Following Iris, T.O.P. starred in the suspense film 19-Nineteen along with fellow member Seungri. The duo released the single “Because” for the movie’s soundtrack.
T.O.P’s performance the 2010 war drama 71: Into the Fire was well-received, earning him several Best New Actor awards at local award giving bodies. The movie also gained one million admissions in a week. Simultaneously, T.O.P began to prepare for his solo musical debut. During Big Bang’s Big Show Concert in January 2010, T.O.P. performed his new single “Turn It Up”. Released as a digital single, it peaked at number two, and sold over 1.3 million downloads by the end of 2010.
Later that year, T.O.P and bandmate G-Dragon formed a subunit to release the album GD & TOP (2010). Prior to the release of the album, the duo held a worldwide premiere showcase for their album at Times Square in Yeongdeungpo of Seoul, South Korea, which was also broadcast live on YouTube. Three singles were released in support of the album: “High High”, “Oh Yeah”, and “Knock Out”. All three singles preceded the release of the album and attained commercial successes: “Knock Out” was a chart topper while “Oh Yeah” and “High High” both peaked at number two and number three respectively. The album was released on Christmas Eve, and debuted at number one with pre-orders of 200,000 copies.
From 2011 to 2012, T.O.P was extensively involved with Big Bang’s promotional activities for their EPs Tonight (2011) and Alive (2012) which included a ten-month world tour that travelled to four continents. After group activities wrapped up, he focused his attention back to acting, starring in the film Commitment (2013), playing the son of a North Korean spy who is falsely accused. T.O.P first became attached to the role because he “felt sympathy for the main character, Lee Myung Hoon.” While filming a combat scene for the movie, he injured the back of his hand on a glass fragment and was later admitted to the hospital for surgery. For his role, he won the Rookie Award at the Asia Star Awards, held during the Busan International Film Festival.
T.O.P was named one of the hottest sex symbols of 2013 by Rolling Stone. That November, he released his second digital single, “Doom Dada.” The song was performed for the first time at the 2013 Mnet Asian Music Awards in Hong Kong. “Doom Dada” earned the #1 position on Dazed magazine’s Top 10 K-Pop tracks of 2013, where it was called “inviting and alienating… it’s K-Pop but sly, frenetic and slippery.” He later featured on English artist Pixie Lott’s Japanese album alongside G-Dragon for the song “Dancing on My Own”.
In 2014, T.O.P starred in the gambling film Tazza: The Hidden Card, based on the manhwa of the same name. After debuting as a furniture designer in 2015 in collaboration with Vitra, he was awarded the Visual Culture Award at the Prudential Eye Awards. Later that year, he starred in CJ E&M’s web drama The Secret Message alongside Japanese actress Juri Ueno. Despite being a rapper, he sang on the single “Hi Haruka” as part of the drama’s soundtrack.
After spending the majority of 2015 touring and promoting Big Bang’s materials for their album Made (2016), T.O.P was cast in the German-Chinese film Out of Control alongside Hong Kong actress Cecilia Cheung. The movie is scheduled for release in China.
T.O.P began his two-year mandatory military service on February 9, 2017 as a conscripted police officer, where he was set to be discharged on November 8, 2018 after completing the requirements. After news broke in June that he would be prosecuted without detention for use of marijuana, T.O.P was subsequently transferred to a different police division to await notice of prosecution, and was suspended from police duty pending verdict on his case. A few days after the announcement, T.O.P was found unconscious in police barracks due to a suspected anti-anxiety medicine overdose of prescribed benzodiazepine, and was hospitalized. On June 8, T.O.P’s mother confirmed that he regained consciousness and was recovering.
On June 29, at his first trial for the marijuana usage charges at the Seoul Central District Court, T.O.P pleaded guilty, admitting that he did smoke marijuana on two out of the four instances. T.O.P received two years of probation, with an additional 10 months in prison. After undergoing a disciplinary review by the police to decide if T.O.P should return as a conscripted policeman or complete his service as a public service officer, T.O.P was eventually assigned reservist status by the Ministry of National Defense and transferred from the police department to complete his mandatory service as a public service worker. The time T.O.P had been dismissed from duty during his prosecution will not count towards his total service.
T.O.P resumed his mandatory service as public service officer at the Yongsan Arts and Crafts Center in central Seoul on January 26, 2018. With 520 days left in his service after taking count of the 117 days he was enlisted in the military, his expected discharge will be in June 2019.
While K-pop is notorious for producing highly manufactured bubblegum groups, T.O.P and Big Bang have been praised for their individuality and ability to fuse a pop sound with rap, R&B and dance elements. Columnist Jeff Benjamin of Billboard K-Town noted how T.O.P is known for his low-bass timbre rapping, while fellow journalist Tamar Herman, wrote that T.O.P’s rap is “an integral part to the group’s sound” and that he tends to favor an “confident, almost mocking, tone”. Adrienne Stanley of Kpop Starz also praised the rapper for his “speed and accuracy” when delivering bars. Both his solo releases – “Turn It Up” and “Doom Dada” – are hip hop influenced, with the latter drawing critical acclaim for its “lyrical rhythms are both inviting and alienating” from Dazed magazine, that declared that T.O.P was leading the evolution of K-Pop. Additionally, Billboard noted how the song’s melody “is magnetizing with its whirring synths, tribal beats, and chanting, all of which pale in comparison to the rapper’s aggressive, multi-tonal delivery of his verses,” affirming that T.O.P “revealed his true artistry” with the song.
While working on materials with G-Dragon for their subunit, the two experimented with different styles. Co-writing majority of the lyrics, the pair noted that as “rappers attempts” to create their own style, preferring to mix several genres together in order to “bring out more of our character that we don’t get to show when we’re Big Bang.”
T.O.P often edits his lyrics “more than a hundred times,” and draws inspirations from “things that don’t speak. While internationally, Big Bang is often referred to as a “K-pop” group, T.O.P has expressed distaste with the label noting how “ou don’t divide pop music by who’s doing it. We don’t say, for instance, ‘white pop’ when white people make music.”
In August 2014, T.O.P joined the Ice Bucket Challenge, an international campaign to develop medical treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He made a donation to the Seungil Hope Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides aid to Lou Gehrig patients. In October 2016, in partnership with British auction house Sotheby’s, he curated a collection of contemporary art as part of a special charity auction in Hong Kong. The project was named #TTTOP, and it showcased 28 works by both Asian and Western artists. The auction saw a sale of more than HK$ 135 million and a portion of the proceeds was donated to the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) to support emerging Asian artists.
On November 4, 2018, in celebration of his birthday, T.O.P’s fans from four Asian countries donated ₩11 million ($9,900 USD) in his name to the Yongsan Welfare Foundation to help the less fortunate.