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 difficult to clearly link to one influence.
With a Zen-like balance of a few soothing horn strains, a rawly funky drum beat and even reverberated droning vocals distantly placed in the mix, “Always Awake” has the sound of an artist willing to throw anything into a mix, but who also knows when to stop.
Perhaps the anthemic quality of the hook also played into Beenzino’s impassioned delivery on this lost gem from his breakout full-length release. If you’re looking to deliver a musical manifesto, declaring you’re “Always Awake” certainly isn’t a bad place to start.
Listen to the 2012 bonus track “Always Awake” from South Korean rapper Beenzino’s classic album “24:26” RIGHT HERE