Epik High released their 7th album titled “99” under their new label, YG Entertainment, after being gone for nearly three years! According to YG Entertainment, the members of Epik High chose “99” as the name for their album for various reasons: they all love the number nine, there are nine songs in the album excluding a tenth short track, and they aim to embrace the meaning of music for 99% of the people, not just the top 1%. Although most people are stoked about Epik High’s absorption in YG Entertainment, many long time fans were skeptical about how one of the pioneers of Hip Hop is now incorporated into a top gear music agency that produces idols. Will they be turned into just another boy band product of main stream music or will they be able to retain their originality and brilliance that has brought them fame and fortune since 2003? The album speaks for itself.
The very first song in the album is one of the two title tracks, “Up” which features Park Bom of 2NE1. The song talks of overcoming difficulties and obstacles, conquering those who doubt and look down upon those who aspire, and to aim high and go up to reach the top. The slow piano intro was nice and lures listeners in while Tablo’s narration of “still we stand” hypes up the mood because it signifies that Epik High is definitely still alive and that they’re back. Then Park Bom’s picks up the song with her phenomenal voice as she sings the chorus. The “up, up, baby get up…” portion of the chorus is funky and poppish but when Tablo starts rapping the first verse, the music fades back into a hip hop based beat and sums up the song nicely. I feel that this song was just alright; it was interesting but there wasn’t really anything special that pulled me in though I admit that it is catchy.
The second and title track is “Don’t Hate Me”. What is neat about this song is that it was produced and composed for their “Anti-Hate” campaign in which they aim to support those who have experienced hate crimes as well as to stop the act of hate and bullying amongst all individuals. The lyrics depict a person who is forever seen in a negative light but if that one trusted and treasured person is there by their side, then they will be able to make it through all the bs that they have to deal with. The song takes on the Alternative Rock genre with a heavy guitar and drum emphasis. This song is again another strange addition under the Epik High belt but it serves a great purpose. As someone who has gone through a whorl wind of issues in regards to antis and scandals, Tablo is able to clearly send out his message in a very positive and non aggressive way through this song. Other idols that have been in similar situations will surely appreciate this song like G Dragon, Jay Park, Block B, and T-ara’s ex-member Hwayong. I’m sure all those who have ever been targeted by bullies or have been through hate crimes will be able to connect with this song as well.
The third song is “Wrong” and contains strong influences to the rock and new wave sounds of the early 90s. This song is about the relentless cruelty a person is able to commit upon their loved one even though they realize that they have done wrong. The simplicity of the guitar arrangement and the emphasis of the drums is really engaging in that it is able to transport listeners back in time to an era where music wasn’t so electronically synthesized. I actually like this track a lot.
Following the retro-ness of “Wrong” is “It’s Cold” which features another rising talent from YG Entertainment, Lee Ha Yi, who has also recently released her single. “It’s Cold” was beautifully arranged with piano and violin melding perfectly into the R&B/Soft Rock melody. It is a song that sadly but wholeheartedly expresses the feelings of being deeply scarred to the point where walls have been so heavily built that isolation and being cold is all that’s left to be felt. Most people will have bad days whether in the summer or in the winter but when you do, listen to this song so that it may help you cope with the misery. However once a new sun rises, allow its warmth to melt the coldness you feel, things will get better!
Now, “You Don’t Deserve Her” has a familiar sound and feel that all Epik High fans will be glad to recognize. It also features Dynamic Dou’s Gaeko who provides vocals for the song. Right when Tablo says “Drop the Sticks, bring in the lips.” I smiled. The core base for this track’s arrangement is entirely composed of beat boxing aside from the guitar accompaniment. The song basically entails of how girls shouldn’t be duped by those good looking players who will eventually end up only hurting them. Mithra’s voice is also very attractive in this track because it isn’t muffled by unnecessary music. I found myself bopping my head to this song a lot so by that act alone, it confirms that I LOVE this track!
“Get Out the Way” is the sixth song in the album and finally brings back the Hip Hop that I’ve been looking for in this album. There is a deep bass that is prevalent throughout the whole song, making the flow of the song easy to follow. The simple but effective mixing that Tukutz does in the background is also a main reason that makes this song stand out in the album. The song basically follows the diss formula but Tablo and Mithra spit out their verses in such a sick way that it makes this song even greater than what it is with music alone.
“The Bad Guy” takes us back to the more musically versed songs with a 50s Rock influenced composition. Fitting with the title of the song, the music includes this alarming buzz in the background that signifies a villainous atmosphere. The lyrics celebrate the bad guy in all of his forms. My favorite line is when Tablo says “I don’t just spend money, I kill bills”. It is quite a clever play on words that also acts as a shout out to the movie. The villainous laughter at the end of the song also adds a nice touch to the track. This song is fun and easy to sing along with since Tablo’s singing voice is so alluring.
The eighth track is a short interlude called “Ghost”. I don’t know why this interlude is situated towards the end of the album and not the beginning or middle of it but regardless of all that, it was interesting and exciting.
Following the interlude is “Kill this Love” which is an Electro and Dub Step based piece. The female vocals in the background are quite attractive and actually link it closer to its western EDM counterparts due to their heavy use of the feminine voice. The song is about how a person eagerly wants to get rid of the attachment they have for the person that they love. Hearing Epik High do a song like this is actually quite amazing and although it is a fairly new genre for them to experience with, I felt they did a good job with it.
The final song is called “New Beautiful”. It falls back into the Hip Hop/Electronica/Alternative Rock genre, reminding me of the songs that Big Bang puts out. The musical piece is really pretty and has the ability to draw in a lot of listeners. The chorus of the song is also easy to sing while the “oh, oh, oh…” vocalization makes the song catchy and addicting. Similar to “Don’t Hate Me”, I feel like this song is also a part of Epik High’s “Anti-Hate” campaign and teaches people how to love themselves. With statements like “Ugly is…, Broken is…, Different is the new beautiful”, “The world’s standards are too high”, and “You’re not weird, you’re beautiful” it manages to lift up many broken spirits and cheers up listeners who may have been in doubt or insecure.
“99” is seriously different from the Epik High’s past albums. There are so many new things that they’ve incorporated into their styles, it’s really hard to take in. However if you haven’t realized it yet, although it may not have been as visually and audibly prevalent in their previous songs, Epik High has wandered off into other genres and music forms before. In their “(e)” album is a whole collection of experimental Hip Hop tracks, ranging from Classical and Trot to Dance Pop and Rock. They’ve managed to pull hits that thousands of people loved with those tracks and so I’m sure they will be able to do it again with this album. I do admit that I felt the same way as many doubtful fans did when I first listened to the album, but I realized that it’s not the music or Epik High; it’s the fear of the label, YG Entertainment. People may be feeling that Epik High sold out in a way by joining such a major idol producing agency; seemly being in the business just for the money by producing filtered artists. Now this is not in any way a diss on YG or the artists under his name, in fact I love YG Ent, but it just so happens that idols are subjected to make music that caters to a synthesized loving main stream audience. Fans of Epik High are scared that they are turning into a generic boy band instead of continuing to be the amazing artists that they are known as.
Whether the choice to join YG Ent was a good one or not, I think that people should look pass that point and appreciate the music and the songs for what they are. The whole message of the album is actually really fantastic; they are speaking out against hate and ignorance, supporting uniqueness and individuality, expressing vulnerability, and making a statement about still being true artists! Everyone should check this album out, liking it or not is up to you but don’t let the visuals shy you away from giving it a try.
these are the MVs for the two title tracks!
Review By: Samantha Her & Alona
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