Words Amy Andrieux. Interview Suyeon Kim.
By the end of 2009, fans of Korea’s most talked about hip-hop group found themselves totally confused. Not only was DJ Tukutz, who makes up one-third of the group called Epik High, enlisting in the military that year, as a result the trio announced what would become a three-year long hiatus to the disappointment of K-Hip-hop fans everywhere. A few months later, as the reality of what occurred was finally starting to settle for fans and the members themselves, the group dropped their ten-track album, titled Epilogue—their final hurrah and gift to their fans while they waited for their comrade’s return from active duty. The special project debuted at #1 on the US and Australian iTunes charts, in addition to charting in multiple other countries. So while it initially appeared that Epik High’s run was over, the truth was the stars were just starting to align for the hip-hop trio that had gone rogue, that independently launched their own record label and won— even now, with the absence of one member.
And that was only the beginning. The trio’s other two members, Mithra Jin and Tablo, were well on their way to pursuing solo careers by 2010 thanks to the group’s growing fame. Tablo had already written his book, Pieces of You. Their label, Map the Soul, Inc, was beginning to make ‘noise’ so to speak. But then the controversy surrounding whether or not Tablo attended Stanford erupted, followed by Mithra’s enlistment in the Korea military. What was happening to Epik High?
With all the drama cleared and their military service long behind them, Epik High reemerges in 2012 as part of the YG family, and bigger, better and stronger than ever. Their latest project, 99, is one for the people they say, for the ones who stood behind each of the members as they faced the possibilities of failure, fear and the scary side of fame, the ones who make up the real 99%. Sure, the stakes are higher for the group and all eyes are on them right now, but nothing will stand in their way this time. And if you let Tablo tell it, as he does in the special interview, Epik High is definitely on the rise.
It’s been a year since you’ve joined the YG family (where your wife Kang Hye-Jeong had already been). Would you say that you’re now a full-fledged member of the team, or are you still learning the ropes?
I’m still the new kid in school, but everyone here gives me a $hit ton of support. These are the people that were there for me when I was down, so up up we go as one!
Epik High has become the newest addition to the YG Family. Who first suggested the idea?
It wasn’t an idea that needed to be suggested, but my boss (Yang Hyun Suk) played a giant part in bringing us back together (and under one roof).
Korean band Epik High makes the perfect Halloween party video. You’ll root for the villains on this one for sure…
It seems only natural for Epik High to join Tablo at YG, but it also must have taken a lot of careful thought. What were the biggest factors in making this decision?
As some of you may know, my life was hell the last few years. I thought about breaking up the group at one point, because I didn’t want the hate against me to spread to my members. We’re back together because our fans miss us, and we owe it to them to kick ass again. Or at least die trying.
Did Mithra and Tukutz have any reservations about joining YG?
They said, “THANK YOU!!!”
Your album Fever’s End was written during a period of personal hardship. Artists have said that writing dark albums during difficult times can be cathartic, and leaves them feeling refreshed and ready to begin anew. Do you feel that your own experience of releasing Fever’s End and promoting the album has had a similar effect?
Making that album kept me sane. And alive.
As you well know, fame has its pitfalls. How would you advise young people in the entertainment who desperately want to be famous more than anything and might not recognize celebrity’s costs?
If what you want more than anything is to be famous, you’re not gonna make it (past fifteen minutes). Love what you do, not the love you get for doing it.
You’ve spoken of the pride you felt seeing your album’s name written in the Korean alphabet when it was at the top of the iTunes charts. Why was that moving for you?
Because the Korean language is beautiful.
Epik High was a groundbreaking hip-hop group in Korea. How do you think hip-hop has advanced in the country since you first came up as Epik High? What do you predict for the next ten years?
We were a groundbreaking hip-hop group? We’re just a pop group that raps here and there haha.
Can you tell us anything about 99, the new release from Epik High?
Nine songs that we hope you like. And maybe grow to love. We’re trying on new sounds and genres with this album… it’s gonna sound very different from what we’ve always done. I’m very happy with what we’ve cooked up. Check out the videos for “Don’t Hate Me” and “Up”!
You speak freely and with pride about caring for your young daughter. What is it like being a modern dad in Seoul?
It’s like being a dad anywhere else. AWESOME.
Who are some artists coming out of Korea at the moment that MTV K should be keeping an eye out for?
The left eye should be on Epik High (please), and the right eye should be on all of the other groups that are cuter, prettier and younger than we could ever be.
Who are your hip-hop idols? Please choose one from each pair, and where you feel appropriate, include a few words of explanation. Write-ins are welcome as well! Tupac or Biggie? Jay Z or Nas? Gang Starr or A Tribe Called Quest? Lil Wayne or Kanye? Lauryn Hill or Nicki Minaj?
I hate choosing sides… so, Nirvana.
What are you most excited about for the rest of 2012?
Watching our fans’ smiles grow!
Epik High’s seventh studio album, 99, is now available to purchase on iTunes, buy it now here.