‘It’s a Full-Circle Moment’: Epik High on Their New Album and 2022 Tour Plans
When it came to making their 10th studio album, Epik High had a clear goal in mind: stick with the honest themes of self-love, loneliness, and confidence that have made them one of South Korea’s most popular hip-hop acts since debuting in 2003. “Epik High has always been best at songs that are deeply emotional, songs for those dealing with demons within,” says Tablo, who founded the group with Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz. “We’ve dealt with so many of those demons ourselves, and what we want is for our audience to never go through that. That’s what we’re good at, which probably means that’s what we’re meant to do.”
Epik High Is Here (Part 2), released on Feb. 14, follows last year’s Epik High Is Here (Part 1), and sets the stage for a 29-date North American tour and the group’s second time at Coachella. The two-part structure of the project is a nod to the way novels were released in the past in Korea and throughout Asia, a conscious decision given the last few years. “The title itself is the message: We are here for you when you feel like there is no one there listening,” Tablo says. “We are alongside you going through whatever you’re going through. After almost two decades together, Epik High is still here making music and performing on stage. It’s a celebration, but at the same time, it’s a documentation of moments of light and moments of darkness.”
DJ Tukutz adds that Epik High try to approach every album with the same attitude, but that there was definitely some pressure resulting from the fact that this is their tenth album: “Internally, we try not to put too much pressure on the fact that this is our tenth album, but we are definitely aware of the fact and can’t help but feel the eyes on us.”
For Tablo, the group’s longevity has everything to do with the fact that “we don’t have any yes-men. We fight over everything, and because of that, it’s impossible for us to have big heads or go off track. The other two members are there to keep you grounded. There would be no point in continuing if we were high-fiving each other for every verse and beat. We are our biggest critics, and that is what propels us forward.”
Longtime fans will find the album comforting and true to Epik High’s signature lyricism and the members’ easily recognizable voices. Additionally, the guest artists featured on Epik High’s tracks are always a treat, and those on Epik High Is Here (Part 2) are no exception. “We approach the features the way a director would approach casting for a film,” Tablo says. “Each album can be thought of as a different movie with critical scenes that need to be carried by the best actors. For example, on ‘Rosario,’ we needed two characters who embody pain and glory, and are kings and queens, almost royal in how they’ve overcome hardship. We found that in Zico and CL. This new album has laid-back songs, really really sad songs, a vibey hip-hop song. We were able to work with the most talented artists in the space right now — Lee Hi, PH1, Wonstein, all of them.”
DJ Tukutz adds: “There are sometimes cases where we unfortunately cannot ‘cast’ the person we want. In those cases we tend to scrap the song entirely.”
The second track on the album, “Prequel,” is Mithra Jin’s favorite. “Although we can’t put our 18 years of history all in one track, we reflected on everything that has happened and the emotions we went through,” he says. With lyrics like “Our first pay was a $10 bill each in three thin envelopes” and “From the humid basement of Hongdae to the desert of Coachella,” “Prequel” tells the story of Epik High’s journey, filled with callbacks to past albums. “The lyrics contain messages that we wouldn’t be able to say at any other point in our careers,” Mithra Jin says. “It’s the first song you hear when listening to the album, and it’s a song that lets you know what Epik High is feeling at this point in time. The lyrics of ‘Prequel’ are a gem. I think from all the songs we’ve done recently about Epik High’s story, it has the best lyrics.”
Tablo calls out the track “Gray So Gray” as a highlight. “Gray So Gray” is a rough romanization of the song’s Korean title, “그래서 그래,” which roughly translates to “Just Because.” “Quite often in our careers, we were accused of things, we had fingers pointed at us, we had people literally spitting at us, saying ‘Why are you this way? Why are you that way?'” Tablo says. “And the only answer we could give was ‘Because. That’s just the way we are. That’s the way were born.’ The hook ‘I wanted so badly to be good but… /It’s because I’ve been hurt too many times/It’s because I’ve been lied to too many times’ — that’s the story of everybody living in the modern world. We were never taught to love ourselves. We have to live and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes to discover, but the world doesn’t give you a chance, and that’s how you become stronger. This song is framed as a love song, but it’s actually us speaking for our audience, like ‘Dude, it’s okay. It’s okay to be the way you are. It’s because you’ve been hurt a lot.'”
The album closes with “Champagne,” a track that celebrates self-worth and Epik High’s experience these past two decades. The track starts with an audio recording from Epik High’s first live performance of the first track on their first album. DJ Tukutz jokingly mentions that the song can be seen as a conclusion to their 20 years as a group, calling it a “full-circle moment.”
After two decades, could this chapter of Epik High’s story be drawing to an end? “We’re not trying to close the loop as if this is the end of our careers or anything like that, but looking back on our careers this way definitely has an emotional impact,” DJ Tukutz adds. “It gave me a chance to reflect on our past. In the chorus, the lyric ‘Champagne in the air for me’ sounds self-congratulatory and has an element of sadness.”
The trio won’t say more than that — but whatever happens after their upcoming tour and Coachella performance, this spring will be a high note in one of Korean music’s most influential careers.
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