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Album review: Epik High, ‘Shoebox’

epik_high

Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

“Shoebox” is Epik High’s eighth studio album since its inception in 2003. The trio, comprised of Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, returned from serving their mandatory years in the military to release “99” (a nod to the 99 percent) in 2012. Which isn’t that great of an album. “Shoebox,” on the other hand, is a real return to form for the killer alternative rap group.

So, let’s talk about “Born Hater.”

“Born Hater” is a masterpiece. (“Dali, Van, Picasso, / I’m Velazquez, Millet, El fuckin’ Greco,” as Tablo puts it.) The song features powerful rappers from three different generations of Korean rap: the well-established Verbal Jint, the second generation Beenzino, and the up-and-coming B.I., Mino and Bobby. Mino, a rapper from the boyband WINNER, has a standout verse about the criticism he’s drawn for being signed to the YG Entertainment label.

The song’s accompanying vertical music video uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a theme, and it’s all brilliant. “Born Hater” is a much-hyped song, but it’s totally worthy of all the praise. It’s a sick, stripped-down rap jam in its rawest form.

Epik High - Shoebox

Epik High’s “Shoebox.” Photo courtesy of YG Entertainment.

The whole album gives off a vibe reminiscent of the authenticity and awareness of early ‘90s hip-hop with a modern, cutting-edge twist. The songs are substantial, touching on issues such as religion in “Amor Fati,” which opens with Tablo declaring “God doesn’t love me,” and contains the refrain “I believe in myself, / I believe in the sweat on my hands, / I believe in my heart, / I believe in love, / But they call me a non-believer.”

A few simpler, straight-up party jams include “Burj Khalifa” and “Life is Good.” The former features Yankie of TBNY and Gaeko of Dynamic Duo; it has a strong beat and name-drops a lot of drugs. What more do you need in a party anthem? Layered over this, a robotic female voice echoes, “My high is epic.”

As for the slower tracks, “Spoiler” is a gorgeous, broken-hearted ballad, and the cover of Taeyang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips” is a fabulous spin on the original. Tablo really elevates the song: the Epik High version is significantly less drippy than Taeyang’s without losing the emotional impact and is, thereby, much better. The climax of the song comes toward the end, when Taeyang harmonizes with Tablo’s lower-pitched vocals, and it really brings the track together.

Taeyang (of Big Bang fame) is also featured on “Rich” and provides some uncredited background vocals for “Amor Fati.” “Rich” is another great track — a play on Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal “C.R.E.A.M.” In the song’s hook, Taeyang sings, “I wish, I wish, I wish I was rich. / My drive rules everything around me.”

There is so much variation on “Shoebox” and so many different featured artists, but it’s still such a cohesive album that reinforces Epik High’s place in hip-hop. Excellent release.

Epik High
Shoebox
Release Date: Oct. 21
Genre: Hip-hop, Rap
Grade: A-

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