In the face of adversity, no matter its inherent nature, artists feel the need to contemplate and respond. Epik High Is Here 上 (Part 1) is the hip-hop group’s best answer to a situation that has still no resolution, and the knowledge of it spreads to the 10 tracks with a feeling of melancholia, familiar to the rappers.
The opening song, “Lesson Zero,” sets the tone with the haunting vocals of Hayley Gene Penner and blunt words from Tablo, criticizing what society has taught him in order to make him (and us) believe in a particular vision of the world, something that doesn’t work anymore:
“Feed you things to fight about instead of things to fight for
Teach you everything you want, but nothing you need”
As the song progresses, both Tablo and the melody grow bolder and almost triumphant even in the last part, when he admits that he doesn’t know anything and needs to start again.
“Rosario” features established artists CL and Zico in a latin-infused track, a logical choice for a lead single. A clear departure from their previous work, Rosario still shines with confidence and contagious fun. “수상소감 (Acceptance Speech)” ft. B.I goes back to safer grounds for the band and successfully cements the reflective feeling of the EP, notably with Tablo referencing “Bleed,” from their 2017 album We’ve Done Something Wonderful.
However, “정당방위 (In Self-defense)” fails to convince despite the help of Woo, CHANGMO, and Nucksal. Sonically more similar to Epik High’s earliest work, it still remains the EP’s weakest song with an incredible lack of energy.
Unsurprisingly, the ballads with Heize, “내 얘기 같아 (Based on A True Story),” and Kim Sawol, “Leica,” were the most awaited features and don’t disappoint. Both songs explore a more vulnerable side of Tablo and Mithra, with a simple production to accompany them.
Although, it is worth noting the use of the accordion with Heize and a saxophone with Kim Sawol, giving a nostalgic atmosphere. “True Crime” ft. Miso borrows roots in european EDM for its chorus, another musical challenge for the band but its heady melody with the airy vocals of Miso tied up is excellent.
“Social Distance 16” sounds like it was recorded quickly between both rappers and is effective. After all, is there anything left to say about this pandemic? The short track (only one minute long) is enough to hold their thoughts, bitter feelings and slight sliver of hope with an old-school production.
It’s not surprising then to have “End of the World” ft. GSoul coming next, perhaps the most surprisingly popular song out of the EP. Helped with repetitive strings and a soulful voice, the band delivers a peculiar performance with powerful lyrics,
“Living with both eyes and ears closed but asking for the truth
Right and wrong bear no meaning before twisted questions”
Epik High Is Here 上 (Part 1) reminds us that we’re listening to one half of an entity thanks to the outro, “Wish You Were,” almost too quiet and sad compared to the previous songs. The ticking of a pendulum clock along with breathy vocals gives a hypnotic vibe and leaves us hanging for more. And it actually works.
With this new EP, Epik High reinforce themselves as key players in the musical landscape, always gracefully welcoming newcomers in the industry and leaving their comfort zone. The three chameleon artists offerts a strong body of work that will make both fans and new listeners satisfied enough to wait for the second part, promised to be released some time this year.