The past few years have felt like a fever dream. Many of us have been stirred into major life choices and unexpected series of events. At times, it feels as if life completely changed its course. But, in hindsight, our world has constantly been changing. It’s our personal experiences and perspectives that either drive us to a wall or pave the path to enlightenment.
Epik High’s story relates to this narrative; pioneering a genre of Korean music, having a bittersweet taste of fame from both ends, and living with the same reality we all know. After releasing Epik High Is Here 上 (Part 1), we had a glimpse of a personal journal filled with raw, reflective, and unhinged thoughts. The roster included old friends and well-loved artists such as CL, ZICO, and B.I. It showcased a much-awaited reunion, but during a time when reunions aren’t the first thing we’d consider. The album ends with a gloomy cliffhanger, 'Wish You Were Here,' which transitions to 'Here' – the beginning of Epik High Is Here下 (Part 2).
Epik High Is Here下 (Part 2) adapts and evolves with the world, letting the power of music thrive. While the trio is set to return to Coachella this 2022, celebrating the release of their latest album, Tablo continues to shake things up for fans on Twitter (dropping hints for the album before it was released and unlocking live videos for every 10,000 Retweets). It feels like we’re reborn in the same era with a fresh pair of eyes and a heart that continues to heal.
As we unfold the chapters of Epik High Is Here下 (Part 2), we recollect Epik High’s momentous journey, dust off memories we’ve locked away, and paint the future with a glimmer of hope.
Painting the Future With Colours From the Past
In Korean cuisine, there’s banchan (side dishes) which are often served on small plates and many varieties. At times, meals are composed of an assortment of banchan and rice. I remembered banchan after listening to the album a couple of times. Every track had its own sentiment and core memory. It didn’t feel like a grand, luxurious banquet but a comforting meal after a hard day’s work, accompanied by family and friends under the same roof.
'Here' is a distant echo, connecting to the final verse of 'Wish You Were Here' which ended on a cliffhanger. It starts off on a sombre note and then leads to the powerful entrance of 'Prequel'. The wishful thinking becomes an empowering manifestation, claiming their place in the world and gathering the community they’ve made over the years.
My poetry was born from the blood I’m soaked in.
Every verse recollects its hardships, facing controversies created by anti-fans and striving in a generation where one’s craft can be harshly critiqued and buried alive. But the message is clear: hardships are meant to be shared and, as long as you stand up for what’s right, the truth prevails.
The track ends with back-to-back verses referencing their discography (Map Of The Soul, Swan Songs, and Shoebox to name a few) which is also one of the concepts behind their album cover art. Visual artist HONNO, who has collaborated with Epik High, Crush, Heize, and many South Korean artists, shared the ideas behind the album art leading back to the pigeons from International Peace Day. The album cover art and packaging are thoughtfully designed to depict a plethora of emotions, making sure that we’d get the message at first glance.
The trio preaches the value of authenticity on 'Super Rare,' featuring Korean rappers Wonstein and pH-1. The exchange of verses is casual and playful, proudly carrying the quality of work over publishing content only for attention. With the rise of Hallyu, Korean media is easier to access and consume yet filtering these by taste and relevance becomes more challenging. The track focuses on how people can be easily captivated by viral content like dance challenges, but it doesn’t capture the heart of an artist. Music, art, and any form of expression is more meaningful when it comes from the soul.
As we traverse from creation to production, it’s easy for anyone to question the value of our work and how it defines our purpose. In 'Gray So Gray,' we are placed in the middle of commitment and self-doubt. Epik High reunited with 윤하(YOUNHA) who worked with them in 2011 for 'Umbrella.'
A throwback feature produced with contemporary flair, the track unearths clips from 'Umbrella' while telling a familiar love story from a different light or, rather, from the shadows.
가진 것을 다 준다 했지? (I told you I'd give you everything I've got)
약속대로 내 모든 상처를 주네 (I kept that promise by giving you all of my pain)
사람이 어떻게 그래? ("How can a human being be like this?")
사람이라서 그래 (It's because I'm only human)
While 'Umbrella' evolved on heartache and the fear of letting go, Gray So Gray is a monologue and modern love story that tells how one’s past corrupts their chances of building healthy relationships. While we may try to outgrow our bad habits, there are pieces of our past that manifest in our choices.
When It Rains, People Feel Two Common Emotions
In the Philippines, we only have rainy or sunny days. I used to wish for more rainy days, so I could pretend that there’s a piece of winter sitting outside my house. In the past few years, however, I’ve anticipated sunny days more often because it’s always warm and bright. The mood barely changes or plummets drastically. Isolation does change how we see our surroundings.
I noticed that, whenever it rains, people either feel gloomy or relieved. In those moments, we seek comfort and company. Epik High draws us into this scenario with 'BRB,' repeating lines with reassuring words. It unpacks a suitcase with clothes, a passport, and a blank arrival card while; looking back at the plans we’ve paused and the moments we miss. Tablo fills the chorus with the words we need to hear or tell ourselves; a reminder that comfort is one call or text message away and circumstances will be better in time.
However, even in the light of day, there are shadows we can’t escape from. In 'I Hated Myself (Tablo's Word),' we encounter a brief reflection of one’s persona. It’s doused in self-loathing but it gives us a taste of reality and a glimpse of what Tablo experienced over the years in his personal life and career. The track is a scream in an empty, soundproof room; releasing anger and sadness until it dissipates.
Then, again, it could rain unexpectedly and we’ll find ourselves stirred in our thoughts. 'Rain Song' encapsulates the feeling of comfort and longing. The Korean title “비 오는 날 듣기 좋은 노래” translates to “a good song to listen to on a rainy day”, keeping the track lighthearted while immersing in one’s thoughts and emotions.
비가 오고 (When it rains)
또 비가 오고 (Oh, when it rains)
슬픈 음악이 흐르면 (And sad music plays)
옛 노래처럼 yeah (Like an old song)
네가 생각나 (I think of you)
Featuring 콜드 (Colde) and YOUNHA, this alternative R&B piece surrounds listeners with a slow yet steady rhythm and smooth vocals. It would take anyone to a small cafe in the heart of Seoul while it’s raining and a hot cup of coffee feels like a familiar memory.
There’s a Glimmer of Hope in Our Mundane Routine
As we enter another year, I feel it is more manageable and fulfilling to celebrate small-scale achievements. The little things like waking up in the morning, having a good meal, or purchasing merchandise you’ve been saving for. 'Rich Kids Anthem' celebrates these moments when we see that our hard work has paid off.
Accompanied by 이하이 (Lee Hi), the track bounces off its rhythm with stunning vocals. It’s a composition for parties by yourself or with your closest friends. The centre of this track comes from a mix of “ignorance is bliss” and an immeasurable amount of self-love. With every hobby, fandom, or interest we’ve gained in the past years, we deserve to celebrate our individuality and the people who support us along the way.
An Epik High album wouldn’t be complete without a riot of a collaboration with talented rappers from the South Korean music scene. Tablo and Mithra Jin exchange verses with GIRIBOY, Sik-K, and JUSTHIS for an enthralling performance on 'Face ID.' It brings us back to a brand of underground hip-hop where hard-hitting beats fence a fast-paced, adrenaline-induced battle among wordsmiths. More than a battle, this track is a proclamation of the trio’s success and their fellow rappers’ strong foundation in the scene.
Even Silence Makes a Loud Sound
The music slows down when 'Piano For Sale' goes on, and we’re greeted by a sombre melody. It’s fluid and intimate, and I can imagine a dusty old piano still working in great condition. Yet, what memories does this piano hold? How many hearts has it touched? Maybe it’s up for sale because the previous owner no longer sees its charm, or it could occupy a space that needs to breathe life through music.
It’s lonely yet full of life in its own ways, leading us to the message of 'Family Portrait'. It’s the longest track in the album, opening with a gentle rhythm from a music box, continuing with the same rhythm on piano, and Kim Feel’s soft yet cold vocals.
우리 집은 정적이 쌀만큼 귀했네 (Silence was as sacred as rice in our homе)
이젠 좋은 날 에도 (Now, even on good days)
웃음소리 보다 빈자리의 고요가 더 크네 (The silеnce of the empty seat is louder than laughter)
마지막으로 아빠의 야윈 품에 안겨 깨달았지 (The last time I was in my father's arms, I've realized)
천국도 나이 드네 (Even heaven ages)
Tablo and Mithra Jin both share the stories of their families and how time is the most precious gift in the world. In an interview with Teen Vogue, Tablo recounts the passing of his father and how it affected him over the years. As much as we make every moment count, it feels like we’re racing against time. But, even through that race, time will slow down for us and give us memories that we’ll cherish for a lifetime.
'Champagne' finishes the album on an encouraging and good note. It acknowledges the long road Epik High has tread over the years, dedicating the track to everyone who has supported their work. The last line, “Epik High was here.” leaves a permanent mark and reminder that they’ve always been here.
Whether this may be the last album or the end of a chapter, their music will be carried onto the next generations like wisdom passed down from ancestors. With an album as momentous as this, there’s bound to be a brighter future of creators who will follow suit. Epik High has set a standard from the day they started their career, and their work will continue to reflect the growth of South Korean music, and Asian artistry, on a global scale.
Epik High are set to tour North America starting 1 March. Check out the tour dates here.
Listen to Parts 1 and 2 here: