News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Throwback: Epik High Show The World What Real Hip-Hop Sounds Like On ‘Watch Ya Self’ From Their 2003 Debut Album [AUDIO]

K-Pop Throwback: Epik High Show The World What Real Hip-Hop Sounds Like On 'Watch Ya Self' From Their 2003 Debut Album [AUDIO]

For the last three years, a healthy amount of space has been spent in these review columns examining what so-called “real hip-hop” is and where it comes from. For more ethnocentric rap music fans in America, the idea that hip-hop more authentic than the local variety can come from another country would most likely be met with derision. But I’ll take the honesty and fire of many of the underground MCs I’ve reviewed in favor of the over-hyped, over-processed dreck that has dominated the genre in the US for the 15 years. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of an authentic hip-hop sound produced far from foundational streets of the South Bronx, then Epik High’s hidden album track “Watch Ya Self” featuring rappers Yankie, Double K and Digili from the South Korean rap group’s 2003 release “Map Of The Human Soul.” One after the other, Tablo, Mithra Jin, Yankie, Double K and Digili drop rhymes that are burning with the urgent intensity that could only come from a group of ambitious artists hungry to make their mark on their debut offering. And the beat, did I mention the beat? DJ Tukutz drops an atomic bomb of a musical

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Throwback: Why Beenzino’s 2012 Bonus Track ‘Always Awake’ From ’24:26′ Still Tops Most Modern Hip-Hop [AUDIO]

K-Pop Throwback: Why Beenzino's 2012 Bonus Track 'Always Awake' From '24:26' Still Tops Most Modern Hip-Hop [AUDIO]

You know you’re in the upper echelons of talent when your old throwaway cuts still sound doper than almost anything being released this side of Kendrick Lamar. “Always Awake” may have been billed as a “bonus track” on Beenzino’s 2012 album “24:26,”  but along with the cuts “Nike Shoes” and “Aqua Man,” it deserves its due as some of the most creative music to come out of South Korea’s burgeoning hip-hop scene so far. Who knows what makes a great rap beat? I certainly don’t. But whether it is luck, raw talent or his hunger for notoriety as a virtually unknown artist at the time (perhaps some combination of all three) the musical highpoints Beenzino creates on “24:26” are striking not just for their subtle sophistication, but also in how satisfying they sound. Though, as MCs in Korea and elsewhere prove on a nearly constant basis, even a great beat can very quickly be made unlistenable by an MC who isn’t up for the task. Beenzino doesn’t just deliver, but he brings something unique to the table. Whether or not he’s speaking in a language that you understand any true hip-hop head should be interested in a flow that is

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Throwback: Epik High Turns The World Into One Big Dance Party On Their 2003 Track ‘GO’ [AUDIO]

K-Pop Throwback: Epik High Turns The World Into One Big Dance Party On Their 2003 Track 'GO' [AUDIO]

Music, it’s been said, is one of the least fascist ways to bring people together. On “GO,” the laid-back leadoff cut from Epik High’s 2003 debut album “Map of the Human Soul,” the South Korean rap crew shows how certain styles of music hold sway across the globe, highlighting the similarities we all share over our differences. While they would have many hits in years to come (and are still going strong), Epik High had some dues to pay first. When the trio of Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz united under the Epik High moniker, their brand of alternative hip-hop got a tepid response in their native country. 2003 was a far cry from the current musical landscape, which sees artists like CL and G-Dragon collaborating with American superstar producers like Diplo and Skrillex. Epik High’s approach was nowhere near as club-friendly as the aforementioned efforts from Korea’s contemporary hip-hop superstars. Instead, songs like “GO” demonstrated Epik High’s allegiance to old school hip-hop. While it didn’t win them many fans at the time, “GO” falls on one’s ears nowadays as a welcome slice of the golden age of MCing. Fans of classic rap from Brooklyn to London and beyond

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Classics: Hallyu Forefathers Seo Taiji And Boys Bring Hip-Hop To Korea On The 1992 Track ‘Nan Arayo’ [VIDEO]

K-Pop Classics: Hallyu Forefathers Seo Taiji And Boys Bring Hip-Hop To Korea On The 1992 Track 'Nan Arayo' [VIDEO]

While it began as a South Bronx sensation, it didn’t take long for hip-hop to take hold worldwide. Along with his group, Boys, Seo Taiji was one of the first artists on the Korean peninsula to recognize its potential. Back in 1992, Seo Taiji and Boys released their first single, “Nan Arayo.” It would be the first smash hit in a long string of successes for this shapeshifting artist, but it also stands as a strong example of how rap music could remain compelling as it began to dovetail with mainstream pop. It also layed the groundwork for the entire K-pop movement. Seo’s career began at age 17 as a member of the pioneering Korean metal band Sinawe, but it was with Seo Taiji and Boys, a boy band with metal and hip-hop influences, where he found an audience that stayed with him through his various incarnations. Hip-hop has proven to be highly a versatile style, absorbing elements of all kinds of musical traditions through sample-based songwriting. “Nan Arayo” is a perfect specimen of this sponge-like quality, bouncing along on an affable breakbeat while urged on by snippets of Public Enemy, heavy metal guitar and scratchy orchestra hits. Perhaps this

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Throwback: f(x) Rock Out With A Message On The Poignant ‘Pretty Girl’ From Their 2013 Album ‘Pink Tape’ [AUDIO]

K-Pop Throwback: f(x) Rock Out With A Message On The Poignant 'Pretty Girl' From Their 2013 Album 'Pink Tape' [AUDIO]

It’s difficult to deny that, at their best, the K-pop girl group f(x) is one of the most groundbreaking acts in the history of Hallyu. Combining melodious harmonies with hard-edged beats and aggressive rhymes, f(x) staked out a sound that is, as the old ad slogan goes, “often imitated, but never duplicated.” Nowhere in the group’s catalog does this formula come together for a more powerful result than on the song “Pretty Girl” from f(x)’s solid, dance-inducing album “Pink Tape,”  released in 2013. Though any K-pop fan that hasn’t sworn allegiance to one artist only is likely to be familiar with “Pink Tape,” (or, at the very least, the solid album’s chart-topping single “Rum Pum Pum Pum”), the song also offers everything that motivate someone unfamiliar with Korean pop music to check out the genre-a creative take on dance music as unique as it is catchy. But, as much as anything in the f(x) catalog, “Pretty Girl” is also notable for the feminist message the group slips in between dance breaks. The lyrical references to alienation and the objectification of women are subtle but poignant. They don’t beat the listener over the head, but offer a unique glimpse into the

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Throwback: Take The Strange Musical Journey Of Neon Bunny’s 2014 Spazzkid Collaboration ‘Daytime Disco’ [AUDIO]

K-Pop Throwback: Take The Strange Musical Journey Of Neon Bunny's 2014 Spazzkid Collaboration 'Daytime Disco' [AUDIO]

Electronic dance (or “EDM” as its typically referred to) tends to illicit strong reactions in people. And though its not hard to understand why, after hearing the endless variations of unimaginative house music permeating cheesy dance clubs and gyms around the world, one may be sent screaming at the sight of any DJ cuing up his next Serato selection, writing off the entire genre because of the lameness of its biggest stars would be like dismissing rock and roll ‘n’ roll after only hearing the Foo Fighters. Like any art form, EDM has its innovators, its wannabes and everything in between. Falling firmly in the first camp, are South Korean electro vocalist Neon Bunny and Los Angeles-based Filipino composer-producer Spazzkid (aka Mark Redito). Each of these artists has extensive catalogs that, if nothing else, confirm their willingness to have fun pushing the envelope. When the two team up as they did on the 2014 track “Daytime Disco,” they form a formidable creative force. Released back in November, “Daytime Disco” was barely discussed in Korean entertainment news (KpopStarz included, unfortunately). But for any longtime Neon Bunny fan, this probably does not come as a shock. The South Korean vocalist has made

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Classics: Remember When Primary, Zion.T And Gaeko’s 2012 Track ‘See Through’ Made You Want To Dance All Night? [VIDEO]

K-Pop Classics: Remember When Primary

What makes a K-pop song a classic? For the purposes of this review column, for which this happens to be the first installment, it’s more than chart success or a music video with millions of YouTube views. Rather, we’re going with classic in the timeless sense–songs that sound as good today as the day they were released and will probably sound just as good when we’re all old and grey. That’s why my first selection for this high honor goes to “See Through,” the highly funky 2012 dance track from South Korean musician and producer Primary, featuring vocalist Zion.T and rapper Gaeko of the hip-hop act Dynamic Duo. On “See Through,” Primary was clearly drawing from modern dance floor innovators from Kanye West to Frank Ocean, but there is also the clever mixture of early East Coast rap with a dash of Nile Rodgers-produced ’70s disco. One of the things that make Primary a strong contender for the best producer ever to come out of South Korea, is that he doesn’t ever seem to have any detectable formula. He is clearly just going for the groove the feels the best to him. Besides, any artist whose onstage persona includes throwing

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Throwback: The Quiett, Jerry.K, B-Free And Mad Clown Are At Their Best On ‘People’s Radio’ From 2010 [VIDEO]

K-Pop Throwback: The Quiett

As the great poet Nas once said, ” it ain’t hard to tell .” Finding a hip-hop beat that lights your fuse often feels like the easiest yes or no question in the world, it only takes a few minutes to see if this is something worth your time. Once a rap song has that going for it, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope that a wack MC or a producer who’s never met a problem that Auto-Tune can fix doesn’t ruin the whole thing. “People’s Radio,” the 2010 collaboration between South Korean rappers The Quiett, Jerry.K, B-Free and Mad Clown, finds each of the rappers young, hungry and at their best, producing a sound that is every bit as great as the beat they are rhyming over. There are shades of other Latin-infused hip-hop and R&B grooves on “People’s Radio,” like Jay-Z’s 1999 smash ” Big Pimpin ” or R. Kelly’s ” Fiesta ” from the following year. But what makes The Quiett, Jerry.K, B-Free and Mad Clown’s collaboration unique is the way that they manage to plant the Afro-Cuban sample firmly in the rhythmic context of hip-hop. The result is the perfect springboard for

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News, Old K-Pop, Reviews

K-Pop Throwback: Dance Yourself Silly To The Noisy Chaos Of Idiotape’s 2011 Track ‘Wasted’ From ‘11111101’ [AUDIO]

K-Pop Throwback: Dance Yourself Silly To The Noisy Chaos Of Idiotape's 2011 Track 'Wasted' From '11111101' [AUDIO]

Melodies are fine. Notes are great. I have nothing against music, believe me. However, there’s something to be said for an aspect of music that’s much more elemental–namely, sound. On their exciting 2011 cut “Wasted,” Korean electronic trio Idiotape seem to use music as a vehicle for exploring just how far pure sound can take an audience. In 2010, lifelong Korean DJ Dguru enlisted the help of synthesizer player Zeze and drummer DR to create the power trio Idiotape. Since then, they’ve bloomed into a globetrotting sensation, gracing stages at the Glastonbury and South By South West festivals. “Wasted” comes to us from the group’s debut album, “11111101,” which was released in 2011. Some of you tech geeks some can probably see what they did there with the binary numbers. While the first thing we hear on “Wasted” is a sleek, sequenced bass line, things get messy quick. A hiss of static-like sound is draped over the introduction, followed by a few gradually ascending keyboard moans. It’s not so much a collection of harmonies, and it sure as hell isn’t melodic. It’s the power of noise and sound being used to create and release tension. It’s a full minute-and-a-half until

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K-Pop Beyond The Charts: Dok2 And Garion Start A Rap Revolution On The 2010 Track ‘Pandemonium’ [AUDIO]

K-Pop Beyond The Charts: Dok2 And Garion Start A Rap Revolution On The 2010 Track 'Pandemonium' [AUDIO]

K-Pop Beyond The Charts is a weekly review column highlighting Korea’s modern day musical innovators who have yet to find mainstream success. In an interview last year with Angle Magazine , DJ and producer DOL of the innovative South Korean indie rap group ILLAP  credited another act as being the genesis of his nation’s hip-hop scene. “Korean hip-hop has developed with the bulletin board of Internet society with the first generation of Korean hip-hop, a [rap group] named Garion, as the center,” DOL said. Listening back to “Pandemonium,” from the hip-hop act’s 2010 album “Garion2,” it’s not hard to understand how they could launch a local rap movement. With a beat that could easily fit in on a vintage Wu-Tang Clan album from the ’90s, “Pandemonium” packs a punch that is rarely heard anymore in the era of rappers singing through Auto-Tune. And that’s not to discount the rapping. This is not a hot beat without the MCs to back it up. Garion members MC Meta and Naachal lay down rhyme after rhyme, with complementing styles that are as proficient as they are unique. The duo is joined by another icon of the South Korean hip-hop underground, rapper Dok2, who

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