On the final song of their last release, ‘Epik High Is Here 下, Part 2’, Tablo declares, ominously: “Epik High was here.” Later, in an interview with NME, he explained he was strangely OK with the idea of the album being their swansong. “It just sounds right. You don’t know with life. So, if that becomes literally the outro of my last work, I would like people to remember that Epik High was here,” he said at the time.
Ironically, it’s taken a brand-new release to make clear that ‘Epik High Is Here 下, Part 2’ was indeed a farewell – but only to the last 20 years of their career. Or the first 20 years: knowing them, Tablo, Mithra Jin and Tukutz will probably be making music when they’re 80. With the past behind them and given its due, Epik High’s new EP ‘Strawberry’ begins a new chapter for the group. It introduces their “villain arc”, as they say on ‘On My Way’, where they push, with vigour and cheek, even harder against convention.
‘On My Way’ features Jackson Wang – who has poetically been facilitating his own renaissance with ‘Magic Man’ – and sees Epik High turn their back on the past, both the good and the bad. They rap about the inevitability of endings: “In the end, parting is something that can’t be avoided / Birth becomes death / Where the flowers bloom, the snowflakes bloom / Just as darkness falls where the light once shone.” Their bravado, however, is contrasted by Wang’s uncharacteristic vulnerability: “Please baby can you gimme room to breathe / You don’t know what it feels like to be me,” he sings. It seems this resolution to move on was prefaced by resignation to the fact that things might never change.
Even so, you’ll never ‘Catch’ Epik High slipping. For all the wounds they’ve licked in private, they’re also thumping their chests and claiming their place in public. It feels right to have MAMAMOO’s Hwasa on a track like this, given how she’s waged her own wars against haters on songs like ‘Maria’ and ‘I’m a 빛’. “I don’t make the rules / You’ll never catch me putting on a noose / God is real, I’m the living proof,” Tablo fires off on ‘Catch’ – possibly referencing the TaJinYo witch-hunt that nearly destroyed his career – before proclaiming he’s above it all by poking fun at Korea’s obsession with the MBTI personality test and claiming his is ‘IDGAF’. It’s funny because it’s true.
Tablo’s irreverent contempt for trends du jour continues on ’90s hip-hop throwback ‘Down Bad Freestyle’, condensing the madness of the times into a casual, succinct salvo. “Who needs a metaverse? / Yo, it’s a meta curse / Diggin’ up metadirt to put you in a metahearse,” he quips. There’s some relief here from the mini-album’s otherwise combative tone, but you also know that Tablo is only half-joking.
It’s the ethereal, atmospheric closing track ‘God’s Latte’ that provides the most insight into Epik High’s trajectory post-‘Strawberry’. In this song, Tablo meets God for a coffee and asks: “What kind of people end up in hell?” God doesn’t answer, but Tablo tries to. “Who’s pointing a finger at who? / It’s funny, while you pretend to hold good and evil in your hands / while you decide a prize or punishment for others / It’s you that is on the scale.”
It’s clear that Epik High are not interested in stooping to the worst of a world where “there’s no one below and no one above / but everyone is trying to be God,” as they put it on ‘God’s Latte’, but in creating their own. The trio have always shown naysayers a huge middle finger, and on ‘Strawberry’ they reiterate their renewed, mature ethos: Epik High will be out here evolving and being who they are. Everything else will work out.
- Release date: February 1
- Record label: Ours Co./Genie Music Corporation