By Regina Kim
“We have been anomalies after we began,” says Tablo of the Korean hip-hop trio Epik High, which he leads. A Stanford graduate whose given identify is Daniel Lee, he wears a black cap and matching hoodie on the other finish of a Zoom name, giving off a laid-back, unassuming air that belies his standing as a South Korean famous person. Although rap and hip-hop have grow to be infused in the entire nation’s main pop from BTS to Massive Bang to Blackpink, Epik Excessive have been style pioneers once they shaped in 2001, mixing high-speed vocal deliveries with seemingly disparate parts as punk and classical at a time when the sound was thought-about area of interest. “As time went on and different individuals began experimenting with totally different sounds in hip-hop, we turned extra accepted,” he tells MTV Information.
Composed of Tablo, fellow rapper Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz, Epik Excessive craft outspoken, socially aware lyrics that deal with matters starting from discrimination and sophistication wrestle to faith and politics, subjecting them to controversy and even outright bans through the years. However that uncooked authenticity has solely fueled their success: All of Epik Excessive’s beforehand launched albums have charted No. 1 on the South Korean iTunes hip-hop chart. Along with reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s World Albums chart in 2014, they turned the primary main Korean act to carry out at Coachella in 2016. They’re set to reprise their look on the music competition later this yr.
Now the business veterans are again with the primary half of their two-part tenth album, Epik High Is Here, each facet of which they handled like a movie manufacturing. “Each tune is a scene,” Tablo says, as on show within the cinematic, sprawling composition of “Finish of the World” and the luxurious portrait of up to date society “Leica.” That technique extends to their collaborators, which embody the favored South Korean rappers Zico and CL, in addition to contributions from rising stateside abilities, just like the singer-songwriter Hayley Gene Penner, whose writing credit embody tracks for The Chicks and The Chainsmokers. “The artists are like character actors, and we’re within the director’s chair,” Tablo provides. “We all know precisely what we wish for the scene and who could be the perfect actor to ship that scene.”
The ensuing assortment is a real epic, the story of collaborations and inspirations inevitably formed by the coronavirus pandemic, together with the title itself. However whereas the songs cope with somber lyrical themes of unhappiness, anger, and confusion, the album’s core message is one in every of hope — a mirrored image of Tablo’s perception that, if your entire world is collectively experiencing painful feelings, then it may unite in constructive sentiments, too. “We’re all in the identical boat,” he says. “We’re all confused, however Epik Excessive is right here for you and with you.” Talking with MTV Information forward of the album’s launch, Tablo reveals the key to the group’s longevity, in addition to his aspirations for the way forward for Korean rap and hip-hop because it pervades music across the globe.
MTV Information: When did you begin engaged on the album?
Tablo: It is dependent upon the tune. We had demos for “Primarily based on a True Story” and “Acceptance Speech” about 4 years in the past. A few of the songs are utterly new — they got here in a few weeks earlier than we needed to press out CDs. We have been debating every part till the final second, which is generally what we do in any case.
MTV Information: The phrase “right here” comes up loads on this album. Along with being included within the title, it’s discovered within the lyrics of “Want You Have been” and “Acceptance Speech.” The place is “right here” for you, and what sort of significance does the phrase maintain for you?
Tablo: You reside in your house, however you by no means actually give it some thought. It’s simply the place you come again after work or fall asleep, proper? However we’ve had to consider every of our “right here”s in a brand new mild. And for me, I feel “right here” shouldn’t be a set place — it’s an ever-changing place that’s each bodily and non secular. Even if you have a look at the arc of Epik Excessive’s profession, “right here” has modified so many instances, the place typically “right here” is an excellent place and we’re flying excessive, and typically “right here” is the bottom of lows.
People who find themselves bold are at all times imagining a greater “right here.” They need that sure job or that sure life, which implies that you’re by no means truly fascinated by the “right here” that you just’re residing in now. I feel I used to be in all probability the identical approach. I feel I’m lastly studying that my “right here” goes to alter day-to-day and even minute by minute. Typically it’s going to be nice, and typically it’s going to be horrible, however it’s my “right here,” and I’m OK with that. So once I say, “Epik Excessive is right here,” wherever that could be, we’re OK with that. We all know it’s ever-changing.
MTV Information: What do you hope individuals will get out of this album? What’s the general message you’d prefer to convey?
Tablo: I simply need individuals to really feel like somebody understands, that somebody is with them and is simply as confused and offended as they’re. In the event that they’re offended about one thing, I would like these songs to accompany them. Hopefully, on the finish of the tune, a few of their anger may have remodeled into one thing higher, like braveness.
I don’t need my songs to be diversions. I don’t need our music to easily be a solution to get away from or ignore what’s occurring. I feel there are different musicians which can be nice at doing that. However I don’t suppose that’s our forte, and that’s not even near what our music is pretending to do. I would like our music to mirror no matter feelings you’re actually feeling, as a result of more than likely we’re feeling that approach too, and we actually do know what it’s like. It will probably really feel comforting to know that you just’re not alone.
MTV Information: Are you able to speak in regards to the which means of the titles of a few of your songs?
Tablo: “Rosario” has a number of meanings, [referencing] the rosary and praying the rosary. It additionally comes from the Latin rosarium, which implies “a crown of roses.” All of that’s inside the tune. We’re speaking about God and celeb and coping with your individual demons. I imagined that if a Messiah determine have been to return all the way down to earth in the present day, what would individuals say? I feel individuals would assault this individual, and no person would consider them. If this individual have been to make use of a modern-day approach of talking to precise their grievances, how would they do it, and the way would they rap? I imagined these bizarre issues after which put them right into a tune.
“Based on a True Story” is for individuals coping with heartbreak. In moments of heartbreak, you need to put your consideration into any story that’s not your individual, so that you watch TV and films and take heed to songs to overlook. However the irony is that every part you see or hear hits near house and looks like your individual story.
MTV Information: Epik Excessive has been round for twenty years. How has the group stayed collectively for therefore lengthy, and did you guys hit it off from the start?
Tablo: I feel we seem to get alongside very well as a result of, from the very starting, we didn’t get alongside. The three of us have extraordinarily totally different personalities and musical variations. From the start, we fought, even in public and in entrance of the digital camera. We weren’t a bunch that was made, and we didn’t have media coaching, so we had no different selection however to be ourselves. And I feel that labored out as a result of that meant that we had no “sure” males. The three of us are so exhausting on one another that it’s not possible to have a state of affairs the place everybody round you is a “sure” man, which I feel is the worst attainable factor you are able to do to your self, to have everybody agree with you and fake to like you. Musically as nicely, I feel that’s why we’ve at all times been capable of adapt and develop as a result of we’re actually exhausting on one another. We’ll shit on one another’s songs, and it simply by no means stopped. And I feel satirically that’s the solely cause we’re nonetheless collectively.
MTV Information: Who’re a few of your greatest influences, for you and for the group?
Tablo: For the group, A Tribe Referred to as Quest was in all probability the most important affect. It’s one of many solely teams that each one three of us favored equally. Additionally, Outkast. Personally, I’ve been an enormous various rock fan. I really like Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana. Additionally, rising up I used to be in love with The Beatles and Bob Dylan. My favourite hip-hop artist was and nonetheless is Nas. Illmatic was the primary hip-hop album that I purchased with my very own cash.
These days as a bunch, we’re actually into the Rolling Stones. We think about performing as a bunch after we’re grandpas, and we hope that we’ll have the identical power on stage after we’re 90.
MTV Information: Are there any artists that Epik Excessive may need to collaborate with sooner or later?
Tablo: Mark Ronson. Billie Eilish. Child Cudi. Bruno Mars.
MTV Information: Epik Excessive are pioneers of Korean rap and hip-hop, and I feel it’s protected to say that you just guys have been those who introduced these two genres into South Korea’s mainstream music. How would you describe the present rap and hip-hop scene in South Korea? How would you describe the music’s recognition in Korea in comparison with Ok-pop and different genres?
Tablo: I feel rap and hip-hop are the preferred genres in Korea proper now by far. BTS is closely a hip-hop group as nicely. The members of the group began off as hip-hop artists, and even once they’ve branched out into different genres, the best way they method lyrics has by no means left their hip-hop roots behind, and I feel that’s why they’re so standard. Main teams like Blackpink and Massive Bang have at all times been hip-hop-based. Now the scene is so large that there are such a lot of rappers and hip-hop artists that I don’t even know. It’s very vibrant.
We’ve additionally had a renaissance of indie and folk-rock artists, and plenty of of them have been featured in our music. We’ve at all times needed to introduce totally different genres and artists to our followers. We simply need everybody to love one another’s stuff, as a result of there’s no dangerous that may come out of that. I’m all about having individuals develop their circles and break down no matter boundaries they might have between one another. I can’t perceive why somebody who loves hip-hop should hate different genres, or why some followers of Ok-pop idols received’t take heed to different genres like Korean indie. I can perceive that familiarity might be good, however I’ve by no means divided individuals into genres. I don’t see these boundaries, and I don’t need our viewers to see these both.
I consider that if everybody who’s a fan of Korean music in a single type or one other can all share on this expertise and get behind not simply Korean music however Asian music, artwork, movies, and tradition on the whole, then these can do even higher. We’re having a second, however I would like that second to grow to be a motion. I really need some 12-year-old with a guitar and a singular sound someplace in Asia to really feel like the trail to their goals isn’t farther than another child residing in Tennessee. I don’t need anybody of any race to suppose that their path to their goals is farther away.