After Gil‘s drunk driving incident in 2014, Leessang has been MIA, leaving plenty of time and space for its rapper half, Gary, to step out on his own. Gary began the path with Mr. Gae, an EP that I described as a descent into madness (review) The EP was a drastic, but necessary, break from the Leessang indie/hip-hop sound he helped popularize. Where “Mr. Gae” was a small grab of crazy, 2002 is a more focused and somber snapshot of Gary, the hip-hop artist.
The album opens with “어차피 잘 될 놈 (루져 날다)(Spring),” a ballad featuring a heavily processed electric guitar loop and the always fantastic, and oddly appropriate here, Koonta. Considering how “Mr. Gae” opened with “XX몰라 (Zotto Mola),” this opener isn’t surprising, nor should it be with producer Simo on the helm for both. The difference between the two is the level of flash and polish; where “Zotto Mola” felt overwhelming and beautiful at once, “Spring” is a more grounded affair, heavy on the drums and bass. Much of “2002” follows in this way, especially the Prima Vista-produced lead single, “엉덩이 (JOA).”
A baby-maker of the first order, the electric guitar loop is the highest element here, with Gary and Jay Park riding this bass guitar and drums sex love romp. The reflective “뚝방의 꿈(Halyang Dream)” is the closest Gary gets to his Leessang days, an indie-esque number featuring indie darling John Park. With help from more somber producers and collaborators, Gary keeps “2002” closer to the ground, aiming for everyday listening than club thumpers.
One particular reason for this is GroovyRoom, a hip-hop producer who helped on four tracks from “2002.” His most well-known credit is the post-Unpretty Rapstar Cheetah track, “My Number.” With Gary, GroovyRoom’s style features instrumental sounds, like piano, drums and strings. For “바람이나 좀쐐 (Get Some Air),” he creates the Jung In-Gary track I’ve always wanted, but with Leessang Company newbie Miwoo, who knocks it out of the park with her strong voice and doo-wop break near the end. GroovyRoom then brings all three together on the funky number, “Shipapa,” a welcome upbeat respite from the record’s heavier moments. I loved that Leessang used their name and talent to being lesser known artists to the fore, and am glad to see Gary do the same with GroovyRoom.
Years in the making, “2002” is a realized vision of who Gary is as a solo artist. Taking aspects from disparate areas, like pop balladry (“JOA,” “Get Some Air”), funk (“Shipapa”) and indie music (“Halyang Dream”), Gary molds everything into a cooler and controlled sound that is his. Gary is one talented artist and “2002” is proof positive of his reign in Korean hip-hop.