When Epik High told us “We’ve Done Something Wonderful” in the title of their new album, they weren’t kidding around. The legendary trio’s ninth studio album is stacked with hip-hop treasures and features a number of equally legendary names such as IU, Oh Hyuk, and Lee Hi. The album is more interested in self-reflection than in spitting and dissing, taking us on a mostly mid-tempo voyage that contemplates relevant themes of life and love from Epik High’s unique perspective.
Opening track “People Scare Me” is my personal favorite: a magnificent hip-hop creation that morphs through atmospheres like a caterpillar, remaking itself as it goes and spreading wings at the end over a triumphant string instrumental. It begins with the line “In 1980 when I was born, Lennon died,” and closes with “Be with me, God.” The journey from A to B, in equal parts snarky and grave, had me caught up as I have not been in a hip-hop song in months. Title track “Love Story,” featuring chart-queen IU, has unsurprisingly taken a perfect all-kill three days after its release. The piano backdrop in this song is especially fascinating, rolling with almost faulty haste and turning the otherwise methodical song into a rare gem.
As one might expect from the song name and the long list of guests that follows it, the bombastic “No Thanxxx” featuring Song Mino, Simon Dominic, and The Quiett feels like a party where Epik High invited their favorite rapper friends and decided to see who could swear the most in a freestyle with the theme “I’m Over It.” In all seriousness, the song is delightfully reckless—Mino goes after his family in the line “My farmer uncle may as well be an entertainment CEO, my cousin’s got the attitude of a music critic,” and Simon Dominic curses out his fans before admitting, “I’ve pretty much sh*t on Epik’s album, and this is Born Hater Part 2, yes, the song I used to talk sh*t about.” The rainy “Home Is Far Away” feels like a pilates class in comparison. Its poignant construction hits home especially towards the end, where Oh Hyuk, after waiting (too long?) to break out his big guns, lets loose a gorgeous high note that leads up to Epik High’s outro “It was what I had to do…It was some kind of dream.”
“Here Come the Regrets” is a sinister slow-burn that builds through layers of humming vocal distortions, frenetic bass and eventual electric guitar. Lee Hi’s vocal decisively commands the dark mood, executing wonderful transitions from rap to vocal and back to rap. Performed entirely in English, this breakup song is as lyrically genius as any of Epik High’s best work. An example is Tablo’s brilliantly constructed repetition of “God, I know you’re up there,” which after echoing five times with varying alterations is followed up by the unexpected “But I needed you down here.”
Tablo and Mithra Jin hit a meditative low in “The Benefits of Heartbreak,” and the understated vocal of AKMU’s Lee Suhyun suits the uncertain, vacillating melody. “Bleed” made me yell “NICE!” aloud the first time I heard it. One of the few tracks on “We’ve Done Something Wonderful” where Epik High operates solo without recruiting another artist to vocally fill in a hook or contribute a rap section, “Bleed” comments on Epik High’s present feelings towards their lives as rappers. “What doesn’t kill me only makes me bloody,” says Tablo in the chorus, “so I just bleed on this breakbeat, spit another 16.” With its steadily recurring chord progression and forward-pushing rap style, “Bleed” has a classic feel to it that I loved.
“Lost One” also aims its arrow high, with a more dramatic, rock-inspired instrumental than most of the other songs on “We’ve Done Something Wonderful.” The lyrics of “Lost One,” according to Tablo, are a message to younger artists such as BTS who have mentioned finding inspiration to make music in Epik High’s music. Tablo warns, “Protect [your dream] like a secret and always hold your breath, because the world is a place that takes as much as it gives.” “Lost One” and the album’s final track “Munbaedong,” where Crush’s fluid vocals deliver the chorus’s fluid melody, are both sad tracks that allow just a sliver of light to shine through. “Munbaedong” mourns the way time transforms the sites of treasured memories, but the ending subverts time in the lyrics “Nothing lasts forever, but across time, I’ll be waving…If you think of me sometimes, I’ll come back.”
Epik High, always known for bringing raw honesty to their work, did not disappoint this comeback. Lyrically and musically satisfying from start to finish, “We’ve Done Something Wonderful” is a solid album that I’m sure I’ll be listening to for a while. And Tablo, please make good on that promise you made in “No Thanxxx” to do a Glastonbury concert—I’ll fly in from Spain if you do.
LOVE STORY: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Bop times one hundred.
Take a look at Epik High’s “Home is Far Away/Love Story” MV below: