Korea’s premier philosopher-poets return from a three year hibernation, with a new label, new image (for better or worse) and new songs to make up for years of military service and netizen hatred (more on that later). The album called “99”, named according to Wikipedia,
…for a number of reasons: their love of the number “9″, the 9 songs in the album (plus one short track), and the aim to “embrace the meaning of music” for 99% of people, not the top 1%.
Clearly Epik High is looking to reinvent themselves after their hiatus, and looking to change themselves from their rather dark, serious and critical message to a more radio-friendly, YG-coated and popular scene more fitting for the ears of 2012. The album attempts to be more experimental, more “cool” and relevant to each member and listener, but unfortunately, fails. Understandably, Epik High needed a label; no longer would Woolim Entertainment or the independent label map the soul work out, and with Tablo’s connections to YG, it was the reasonable choice. To this reviewer’s dismay, the albums makes mistakes frequently, from the lack of consistency with past albums/songs/image, just not very powerful songs compared to before and a strange lack of feel. Now, on to the songs *Note, I skipped some songs because I didn't find them interesting or was too lazy to finish reviewing them all. Maybe I might come around to reviewing them all as well*
"Up (featuring Park Bom of 2NE1)
This song simply felt like a “Fly” for the 2012 crowd, and simply feels too samey from the 2003 song. It is another anthem song for those who did not bother to listen to Swan Songs. They share the subject of “Flying Up” (hahahah) from a bad place and into a better place with one’s will and strength.
It’s hard, right? I push my past behind,
I don’t even know why I was scared
The enemy is in front and behind me is a river
but I fly high, above all the eyes
I’m scared of failure but I still try, flapping
my wings hundreds of thousands of times
Going higher than the place
I fell is the limit I must overcome
Isn’t it tough? (It’s tough) The cruel world
Will laugh at you behind your back
In front of the mirror ki gook ko
You’ll have to support yourself
Don’t know where to go
With one mistake, everything else will be lost
When your head is down, fold your hands
Spread your wings, you can fly
And you thought I was crazy? The songs sound the same, which was quite disappointing as Epik High knows how to make a song that pumps your blood and gets you ready for the world, but one can only listen to the same song so many times. A good message, but one that has been repeated far too many times.
Don’t Hate Me
Now I’ll be honest, I HATE THIS SONG. The music, the lyrics, even the music video is simply subpar. We get it Tablo, you are really stressed and tired from the whole TaJinYo scandal, and it should not have been on you. A whole album was dedicated to that issue, and you still want to make more songs about it? Grow up. The music video fully displays YG’s bastardization of Epik High, who despite not making many music videos at least was kind enough to not wear stupid costumes (well, often) and kept it related to the song. Basically, if you want a better feel of the whole TJY scandal, listen to 열끛 (Fever’s End) rather than this horrible song. Some rappers are simply born not to sing, and Tablo is someone in that camp.
춥다 (It’s Cold)
One of the few songs I truly enjoyed on the album, because it invokes the old Epik High themes of depression and coldness which I fondly remember for their great lyrics and music (1분2초 and most of MotHS). Lee Hai lee is a decent singer who adds a desolate feeling to the song, but there were always better singers like Yoonha who I felt were stronger singers. I suppose the music is decent, but compared to the other songs, fairly tame and boring with little experimentation and change beyond most K-Pop sounds with a sad emotion.
Get Out The Way (비켜)
A pretty good song if you like Epik High’s hip-hop roots, but it shares the fate of the “YG curse” simply because it sounds like any other hip-hop song around. A notable thing to watch is for Tablo and Mithra’s really fast rapping which we rarely heard, but that is one more addition from YG’s tendency to copy American style hip-hop music. I guess a decent addition to Epik High’s hip-hop repertoire, but nothing too special.
The Bad Guy (악당)
Another song I actually enjoyed, because it ACTUALLY SOUNDS DIFFERENT. There is a really interesting 60-70’s tone throughout, reminiscent of Surf music or the 007 theme song. The lyrics touch upon all the old to young movie villains which anyone not living under a rock should know. A look into modern humanity’s obsession with being evil and acting like a villain, with evil being the only thing people really see in the media, it reflects the creeping influence of evil on people themselves.
An instrumental “ghost track”, it is a decent one which could be compared to the openers from [e]motion and [e]nergy, it never really touches your mind or heart like Lovescream or RMTHS and Pieces, Part One, but it is a nice break from the mediocrity.
Kill This Love
The most experimental track on the album (finally), a dubstep/electronica influenced song that adds some energy with a strong backing of music and lyrics touching on “dead love” which simply refuses to die. I’ll admit it, I like dubstep, and having dubstep on this album makes it somewhat tolerable because;
a) It is different
b) It is different
It does tend to become a little repetitive, and sounds a little childish for a 32-year-old rapper to be repeating “Somebody help me kill this love!” for the umpteenth time. A recommended song, but just slightly.
Fairly simple anthem song, but never really came around to enjoying it.
What can I say? You cannot imagine my happiness when I heard Epik High’s return from a three year hiatus, and the equivalent drop when YG became their label. The feelings gradually degraded as their image changed from Korea’s social conscience to another product packaged and labeled by the makers of Big Bang and 2NE1. I still love Epik High, their albums and songs will always be an important part of my musical taste, and their poetry will continue to influence and inspire me, but this was not a very pleasant change from “Epikness” to mediocrity. This album is supposedly a “concept album” akin to Lovescream, but at least Lovescream was good and mercifully short compared to this overall travesty. Some will say I am just a nostalgia freak and cannot take the new scene in Korea, but to them I say,
The more I listen to the big three K-Pop labels, the more I remember why I feel a little shamed whenever my friends mention the newest K-Pop song, or Gangnam Style is on the radio. As proud as I am for my country to come from the mud to a cultural phenomenon, I sometimes wonder whether it was truly worth wasting thousands of lives for THIS.
Epik High, I truly doubt you will even read a single letter from this review, and I prefer it that way. I want to love you, really, I do, but the direction you guys are taking is simply turning me away from the hypocritical message you guys are sending. Remember FLOW, which absolutely shit on the established media and musical scene? Or Fan, which looked critically at fan obsession? Or RMTHS all together which brought a fresh new look at hip-hop in Korea with social/political/philosophical/religious/intellectual lyrics and poetry? Now the group which did all that wears Mickey Mouse hats and dances around with YG. Far from the expected comeback, there is a significant lack of soul in the album, and it feels puked out and recycled from rejected YG songs and some decent ideas that Tablo had for Fever’s End. Strange how Epik High’s music and image is going backwards, how the “Map the Soul” motif albums were so mature in the past, yet Epik High is gradually going more immature and childish. Strange to see people in their 30’s and late 20’s to turn such a 180 degree turn into pop music from serious hip-hop. I just hope that Epik High makes a better effort next time, but jeez, this was a horrible disappointment to any hardcore/real Epik High fans, and especially to me.
Tl;dr: Better songs and albums are had in Epik High’s past, not this travesty