If there’s any one style in Korean indie music that I know the least about but am the most interested in, it’s hip-hop and rap. I listened to and loved Gary’s Mr. Gae this year, but outside of a few exceptions I am a bona fide neophyte when it comes to Korean hip-hop. Paloalto presents a lot to devour on the smooth Chief Life.
At thirteen tracks and only one of them an interlude, Chief Life runs the risk of losing steam before the end of the album, which it does right when it hits the middle of the album with the irritating “Circle (feat. 화지)” and the unwieldy “솔선수범.” It’s important then that Paloalto infuses his songs with smooth, dreamy production that goes down with ease. “Ideal Moment” introduces the sounds that make the album so pleasant with the addition of a saxophone that brings its own flavor while the rest of the album is mostly horns.
Based on the song titles, you get the impression that Chief Life is a very positive album, and that comes through in the songs that are held up by joyous samples and a marvelously cheerful mood. When it’s not lifted up to the skies though, it’s swamped in a murky soundscape haze, which compliments the unrestrained positivity of the other songs.
His flow is great as well, always fluid except when it works well against the rhythm like on my favorite track “또 봐 (Au revoir).” I particularly love when his voice gets low and sounds almost out-of-tune. There is as much pleasure to be derived from when sounds are contrary as when they are complimentary, and at times his voice has a discordant quality that is very appealing because of how it doesn’t quite fit.
The one area where the album misses the mark though is in its choice of collaborating rappers. There is not much of a difference between Paloalto’s own voice and the voices of those he works with on a couple of the songs. “Genuine” is a fantastic track, but I can’t help but feel that it could have been even better had he worked with other rappers that were more different from him – no disrespect at all to Okasian or B-Free who perform their parts with style. However, the only feature that I think really works is Reddy on “유명세” whose rapping is choppier than Paloalto’s.
Despite a few missteps, Chief Life is overall a great album with a smooth style and some very fine elements to bring it all together. Fans of indie hip-hop will be very pleased with this release.