Over several years, HI-LITE rapper Huckleberry P. has rightfully risen to the status of one of the most prominent figures in underground Korean hip-hop. With his virtuosity and a voice that is packed to the brim with delicious snark, he’s captured the ears and hearts of many in his collaborations with dozens of respected names in Korean hip-hop, namely Soul Fish (in the duo Pinodyne) and Sudachangie. He has less of a comprehensive solo discography: an EP, Man in Black, a mixtape, gOld, and singles here and there, all of which seem to be built around demonstrating his skill as a rapper. But since everyone knows by now that Huckleberry P.’s got it, he puts his loops and high-octane performances on reserve and makes room for a new level of vulnerability on his new EP, Dot.
There are three things about this album that cannot be denied: it’s savvily produced, well-performed, and delivered straight from Huckleberry P.’s heart. Even if the album doesn’t live up to your standards in other ways, you can’t deny that it shimmers with a considerable level of individuality and polished craft.
Dot reveals a crucial development in Huckleberry P.’s artistry: rather than focusing on exercising his swagger (he’s already accomplished that over the course of nearly a decade), he instead offers his mind in the raw to the listener. The album plays like a personal diary: stream of consciousness, ruminative, and free of any artificial, cookie-cutter sentiments or musical tropes. Although I am not a Korean speaker, the lyrics that I have been able to pick up are stunning.
The breath of Humbert, the main producer and composer of Dot, infuses just as much life into this album as Huckleberry P.’s performances. The jazzy arrangements are intelligent and crisp and sensitively mirror Huckleberry P.’s energy. Humbert brings out the arrangements’ warmth with samples, percussive details, and silky electronics the way a little bit of salt brings out a dish’s flavor (all of this can be witnessed in the time-slowing interlude at the two and a half minute mark of “Dalmation”). The mixing makes Huckleberry P.’s voice sizzle, and the keyboard, guitar, bass, and saxophone lines sing as if they, too, are human voices.
Even without the fiery sass that makes his rapping so juicy, Huckleberry P.’s performances on this album are thoroughly engaging. Per usual, his voice is elastic, making for rhythms and inflections that are intricate and expressive like conversations. He also has a knack for maneuvering build-ups, knowing when and how to gain momentum so that the big, swooping climaxes (such as in “Everest” and “Espresso”) pop as cathartically as they do. Hearing him let go in these moments is downright invigorating.
Part of me thinks I should reserve my opinion about how the tracks “숨” and “아름다워 (feat. Soulman)” work; lyrics are integral to the hip-hop listening experience and I’m definitely missing that as a non-Korean speaker. These tracks are good, but they never really engage me, and I’m not convinced that they effectively continue the sparks set by “Everest,” “Espresso,” and “Dalmatian.” I would have preferred to see them push the album’s vulnerable energy even further, either by being a lot louder or a lot softer.
Bravo to Huckleberry P. for reaching this new peak in his artistry. Dot is a delight to listen to, not just because it’s well-done (and bravo again to Humbert), but because it makes me feel welcome as a listener; as a result of letting himself go so organically, Huckleberry P. creates an intimate and cathartic space for both us and him to inhabit.