By Chang Dong-woo (translated by Yonhap)
SEOUL, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) — Celebration is in order for hip-hop trio Epik High, with its ninth studio album having stormed major music charts in South Korea after being released Monday.
But the atmosphere surrounding the trio — Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz — carried a tone of relief as opposed to being more celebratory, with the group, now in its 14th year, stressing how each time they enter the recording studio they think “this can always be our last album.”
“I tend to work on projects thinking each time that this may be my final work (in music). You never know what may happen tomorrow,” Tukutz, whose real name is Kim Jung-sik, said Tuesday during a group media interview at a cafe in western Seoul.
He added, “In the greater scheme of life, this may be a small moment. But still I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it if my final work didn’t satisfy my own standard. I’ve seen comments that say the album does convey that kind of impression. We did our best indeed.”
Mithra Jin said he tried to manage his expectations in fear of being hurt from lower-than-expected results. “We’re grateful for the better-than-expected results,” he added.
The album’s title, “We’ve Done Something Wonderful,” perhaps speaks to the group’s uncompromising vision when it comes to its music. Epik High’s first project in three years includes its two lead tracks “Love Story” and “Home is Far Away,” both sentimental tracks that feature vocals by IU and Oh Hyuk of Hyukoh, respectively.
“The back and forth process or potential collaboration is joyful. Oh Hyuk is a person that’s very hard to contact. He’s known to respond to text messages after a week. But we got a reply right away and recorded that day. We were truly grateful,” Tukutz said.
Tonally, “Wonderful” leans more towards being contemplative and serious both in sound and lyrics, drawing from themes of regret, fear, pain and alienation. Besides IU and Oh, Mino of WINNER, rapper The Quiett, along with rising R&B singers Lee Hi and Lee Su-hyun of Akdong Musician are also featured throughout the album.
“It’s a bit serious. In a way, it can be considered a suave album. The songs aren’t exactly extravagant, with most of them being more calm,” said leader Tablo, attributing their age to the overall sound. “We’re in our late 30s. We’re actually calm in person.”
However, “No Thank You,” arguably the album’s most hard-hitting rap number, was caught up in controversy after some listeners thought Mino’s rap lyrics sounded misogynistic due to profanity. The group has deemed the song inappropriate for listening by those under 19.
“Honestly we had no such intention. The message of ‘No Thank You’ is about judging others by subjective standards. Its about the social conditions where people engage in the reckless judgment of others,” Tablo said.
The three hip-hop artists said they have matured not just musically but as ordinary people, with Tablo and Tukutz, both parents, having fully embraced a work-life balance. They said they have mastered the art of spatially and cognitively separating and compartmentalizing work from family.
“Balancing child care and music, I truly love it…She’s a child but I try to consider her as an equal person. I’m so glad that I have a place to go back to after working on my music,” Tablo said.