The last time Epik High put out music was on October 21, 2014, with their eighth (and marvellous) full-length album Shoebox. Since then, aside from a few OSTs here and there (notably for the 2016 drama Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo), fans were left pondering and wondering about a new release, until it was confirmed that the trio would come back in 2017 with another full album—at last!
Epik High has attained somewhat of a legend status in Korean hip-hop—active since 2001, and achieving mainstream success in 2005 with their album Swan Songs (another marvelous collection of music), the group has only proved again and again just why they are the best in hip-hop. It is through the simplicity of their musical tracks (proof of DJ Tukutz’s genius), paired with Tablo and Mithra Jin’s unparalleled flows and the wide range of themes explored through their lyrics, that the trio has stayed at the top for over 10 years now. Fittingly enough, We’ve Done Something Wonderful is the group’s ninth opus to date, released on October 23—and it wears its title perfectly, if I dare say so myself.
The album really is nothing short of wonderful—it is cohesive in sound and themes the way only Epik High can do, but it never once falls on the boring or static side of things. Each of the tracks has a startlingly unique aspect to it, somehow both bringing novelty to Epik High’s repertoire while also sounding very much like the group’s usual style; each song also fits within the overall atmosphere that the album gives out so that there’s not one of them that feels out of place.
“People Scare Me” opens this album, and we learn as we listen that it is also where the title of the album comes from. It is a social critique like no other—pointing out the flaws of not only society in general, but specifically in media and religion (despite often bringing in God and the Devil in the lyrics, as Tablo often does). It all escalates into the members’ fears being out in the open: “My diary is in danger of going out of copy; 37 right now, I can’t figure it out.” Then come the lyrics that close the song, and that somewhat hint at the whole feeling behind the album itself: “Songs I made not with sound but with scars; I’m all bloody but we’ve done something wonderful, I can sleep in peace.” It’s a telltale sign of what else We’ve Done Something Wonderful has to offer: songs that come straight from the heart, sure to display honesty and care both in lyrics and in music.
The first highlight for me on this album is “No Thanxxx,” which features WINNER’s Song Mino, Simon Dominic, and The Quiett—talk about an impressive lineup! Just with the way the bass starts the song, it is obvious the song is about to become yet another incredible cypher of Epik High’s, along the lines of Shoebox’s “Born Hater” or [e]nergy’s “Rocksteady.” Alternately, each of the rappers takes the stage over a catchy, bass-heavy drum beat, with a modern soul touch as we can also hear, at times, a saxophone, a piano, and even guitars if you listen closely enough. Each of the verses is unique, letting the performers show their skills their own way—and so it is hard to pick my favorite part. The vibe of the song alone is enough to charm me from the first listen though; as the chorus goes, “never give a f**k about a thing,” the carefree and confident tone of the track is well-executed and definitely a hit.
The title tracks, “Home is Far Away” and “Love Story,” share the spotlight in a joint music video, though the first song is featured in full while the second only takes up about 30 seconds of the whole video. “Home is Far Away” features vocals from Oh Hyuk of hyukoh, while IU lends her voice to “Love Story.” Both songs are structured in a similar fashion, where the vocalists carry out most of the chorus with their (amazing) voices while Tablo and Mithra Jin take over the verses with skill, all of it over a simple melody laid over a fairly simple bass and drum beat. “The Benefits of Heartbreak,” which features Suhyun from Akdong Musician, follows a similar pattern, but leaves way for more melody (led by a beautiful piano hook), and the beat is a bit more laid back and subtle. This is what I mean by Epik High’s very typical sound—classic hip-hop at its best—yet all three songs still sound very unique, mostly because the feelings carried in each of them are different, and it shows.
Fair warning: track number five is a gem. “Here Come the Regrets” is dark, heart-wrenching, even—the distortion of the music, the way Lee Hi’s deep voice carries out the despair of the lyrics perfectly, the way both Tablo and Mithra Jin seem to pour out all their pain in their delivery; all those elements give the song its notorious haunting vibe. “Here Come the Regrets” is a very sad, very emotional song, and you can feel it through the music alone—but the lyrics, written entirely in English, give the song an even more striking depth. There is no resolution given to the helplessness they carry; my personal favorite line is the chilling closing line to Tablo’s verse: “God, I know you’re up there, but I needed You down here.”
The rest of the tracklist just keeps getting better and better—notably, the poignant “Bleed,” or the song “Lost One,” which is not the first time Nell singer Kim Jongwan was featured in an Epik High song—but there is something special about the closing track, “Munbae-dong.” The style is slightly different at first from what the trio usually produces in terms of sound, with EDM-like distortion opening the track. We’re soon brought back into the usual drum and bass beat we hear, but the distorted vocals still stay, showing up from time to time throughout the song. Crush’s voice at the chorus is beautiful, tending more towards his ballad vocals rather than his R&B strength and delivering the nostalgia and melancholy of the lyrics perfectly. It ends the album on a bittersweet note—but we’re left far from dissatisfied, on the contrary. As “Munbae-dong” ends and “People Scare Me” starts playing again, we can’t help but let ourselves be taken back into the stunning, dark world hidden behind We’ve Done Something Wonderful.