Nochang is great for Korean hip-hop because he pushes buttons. His lyrics are polarizing, his music is brash, and his rapping and singing style is unkempt. He doesn’t hold anything back and serves up a rawness that Korean hip-hop needs more of.
As a result, all of his work has made a strong impression on me. His work on Vasco’s 2013 album Exodos was remarkable, Just Music was tough but impressive, and his singles here and there have ranged from messy to epic… but they’re never boring. With his first solo album, MY NEW INSTAGRAM, we are treated to an hour of his larger-than-life personality: no featured artists, just pure, raw Nochang.
It’s difficult as a non-Korean speaker to review Korean hip-hop albums because lyrics are such an integral part of hip-hop music. However, I was able to get my hands on a few translations of the songs in this album (you can learn about the background and lyrical content of the album on this tumblr). Nochang packs MY NEW INSTAGRAM with hip-hop satire, self-deprecation, personal anecdotes, and criticism on how the hip-hop industry and Korean fan culture operates (specifically pertaining to his recent Instagram scandal). It’s a bold and brutally honest list of topics that Nochang delivers with plenty of muscle.
MY NEW INSTAGRAM’s sound world is varied and dense. This applies to both the album’s rapping and production. Nochang’s rapping is visceral; he raps with his guts and and isn’t afraid to whimper, growl, burst out in song (both in and out of tune), or scream. He cycles through different personas at a high speed, winning my attention every second of the way. He uses satisfying rhythmic tricks such as resolving his phrases right before the downbeat, squeaking his voice on off beats, and falling just behind or ahead of the main beat.
Rather than looping indifferently underneath him, the instrumentals evolve and interact with Nochang. They develop, enter and exit abruptly, and transform as he passes through his many personas. Nochang has proved himself to be very well-versed with electronics; he fuses and blends layers of sound smoothly and intuitively.
There is a good balance of high and low registers, syncopated and straight rhythms, and sustained and percussive textures in the instrumentals. They mirror the contour of Nochang’s rapping in pitch, rhythm, and dynamic. They get thicker, louder, and more rhythmically rapid as he builds. They fall apart rhythmically when he raps against the beat, and stay with him when he raps on it. They provide melodic and harmonic counterpoint to the contour of Nochang’s phrases, rather than aligning neatly on auto-pilot with him.
If you have to listen to one track on the album, listen to “행.” It’s the most vulnerable track on the album both lyrically and musically. Nochang raps about being deep in a pit of anxiety and trying to find beauty in that state. Throughout the course of the song, Nochang evolves from measured introspection to dark, desperate venting. You can hear the change in his voice very subtly as he grows in intensity up until full-fledged psychological disorder at the fourth minute mark. It’s an extremely personal and exposed track.
MY NEW INSTAGRAM is a tour-de-force hip-hop album with plenty to dig into. Nochang’s honesty, imagination, and technical proficiency makes the album a particularly compelling listening experience. The album has a bigger, rawer voice than any other hip-hop album I have heard this year. Nochang has a gigantic presence and I’m excited to see where it will take him as he continues on with his career.