MINO Lays his Soul Bare with First Solo Album XX

MINO Lays his Soul Bare with First Solo Album XX

Recently, Song Minho has built himself a character of his own in the variety scene. Through the famous show New Journey To The West, Minho, or Song Finger (a nickname built on his perfect balance), came across as slow-witted and lovable, a complete contrast to his persona on stage. However, this month MINO finally came back to remind us of the field he dominates in, with his long-awaited album XX.

Aiming to start anew with a fresh image, XX acts as a blank canvas for MINO to vent his creative energy on. However, instead of classifying it as a certain genre or putting it in a box by giving it a name, he leaves the title blank for listeners to fill in themselves. The blank title also acts as a refresher, sort of like he’s going back to square one to build his image to one that’s more reflective and appropriate of himself today. This is also perfectly reflected in the vast genres and sounds of the tracks on the album itself. While still remaining true to his roots of hip-hop, he varies between different sounds, taking you on a whole new auditory ride with each track. Even the representative title track is layered with trot inspiration, creating a whole new genre of “trot hip-hop.”

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“Fiancé” or “아낙네” in Korean, kicks off MINO’s first official solo debut in an intriguing mix of traditional and modern. The song hooks you in with its interesting guitar riffs, solidifying a unique vibe from the get-go. The lyrics come in, complementing the quirky rhythm of the instrumentals. The lyrics tell of his desire and longing for a woman who is unattainable for some reason, although the title of the track suggests that the reason may be that she has chosen to wed another man. Rich in traditional Korean influences, the song samples an old trot song called “Sonyangang Maiden” by Kim TaeHee. Basically emitting emotions of similar intent, the song not only fits with the theme of the track lyrically, but also manages to add an extra dynamic to the pre-chorus. The traditional instruments further enhance the brash, madman tone in which MINO delivers his lyrics. Throughout the track he manages to move between different rap flows, managing to tie it in with the captivating pre-chorus and chorus—which stay consistent throughout.

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The video truly stands as an enhancement of the song itself, taking it to another level. The music video starts off serene enough, with him lying on a bed in a field of reeds. The reeds referring to a common Korean metaphor “여자의 마음은 갈대 같다” or “a woman’s heart is like a reed,” which basically refers to how easy it is to sway a woman’s heart. The music video transitions between a variety of aesthetic scenes, effortlessly moving between traditional and modern. “아낙네” in Korean is a very traditional, almost outdated term for a married woman, which is reflected by the Joseon dynasty inspired set. As the music video goes on, MINO progressively gets more delirious to the point where he collapses with the wordplay “나 가리” meaning “I’ll go” or “I’m out of the race.”

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The rest of the album, much like the title track, contains an interesting selection of tracks that range over many genres. Starting with “Trigger,” we are introduced to more of the hip-hop vibe that we’re familiar with when it comes to MINO. Laid atop a dirty beat, the lyrics introduce listeners to his confidence and hard-working nature as an individual. Much like the title, the track works as a “starting point,” and the content also attests to the dual meaning as a “trigger” for haters.

“Hope” takes us on another turn into a different genre, with another surprise awaiting us. Definitely a surprise on the collab list, this track features comedian Yoo ByungJae. Surprisingly, his vocals do work quite well with the melody and flow of the track. The track itself refers to the tug of war between the innocence and confidence of a sexual encounter.

“O2” is more of a light-hearted, refreshing track. Here we get more of a taste of MINO’s vocal qualities as he sings about a woman breathing oxygen into him and giving him life. It works as a sort of light, airy track for us to float through before we get to the gritty beat of “Rocket.”

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With “Rocket,” we go back to the his raw hip-hop persona. His “boss” persona is scattered with little sound effects done by himself that sort of contrast the strong vibe he has going through the song, which is basically a perfect reflection of his character in itself.

The next track “Um” definitely is up there as one of my favorites off this album. We finally get MINO singing with no restrictions. He once again weaves in his signature wordplay using the word “흠” in Korean as both a way to say flaw and as a sound of hesitation. The song itself refers to the dissolving feelings of a disintegrating relationship, an emotion that is expressed well by MINO’s rough voice and Blue.D’s smooth, thick vocals.

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“Lonely” is a track that almost acts like a continuation of “Um,” singing of lingering feels and MINO going back to the girl on a night he feels especially lonely. While the lyrics of the song itself sing of loneliness, the beat of the track remains quite upbeat almost like a dance track, with an addictive chorus.

“Aurora” is a track that feels quite familiar even before a listen. If you are a regular viewer or have watched New Journey To The West, MINO’s love for the aurora lights is made quite clear throughout many episodes of the new seasons, so it doesn’t surprise me to see this as a track on the album. Here MINO taps into another side of himself once again, this time revealing how much WINNER is ingrained in his persona. While it does not seem like a song that could be sung by WINNER, the vibe that the track itself carries is quite WINNER-esque. The song sings of the light produced from the person of his interest, with little sounds in the beat acting as an audio version of the lights.

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A perfect 3am song, “Her” is sort of like a slow take on the title track “Fiancé.” He sings of the sadness of seeing the person he loves moving on with someone else. While the lyrics are quite heavy, the instrumentals paired with MINO’s deep voice are quite comforting.

From the slow track we move on to the strong beat of “Agree.” This track, while not as gritty, is probably the most raw out of all the songs on the album. The track refers to the obstacles he faces as an idol, not just from his haters and sasaeng fans. We get more of an insight into the intrusions that he faces in his private life and how superficial aspects of the industry can be.

Through the track “BOW WOW,” MINO affirms his talent of acting as a chameleon, fitting in perfectly with YDG’s style while still retaining his originality. The song sings of confident energy on top of a classic beat that allows both YDG and MINO to spin their own spiel on their verses.

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The album closes with the track “Alarm,” a track that sings of his honest feelings about his career and future. This song gives us some raw honesty from MINO about his concerns of his career and the pressure he feels of surviving in this industry. This probably is also the most relatable track amongst all of the ones on the album with lyrics like “time to rest is a luxury.” The track ends with MINO reassuring himself and telling himself to rest up well, and finally waking up.

I, along with plenty other listeners, was expecting MINO to go quite hard with this comeback. Seeing how much clout he has achieved with Show Me The Money, it would have been completely understandable too. But I’m so glad he didn’t and chose to stray away into unexplored areas. This album is quite an interesting reflection of his creative process and it was definitely evident how much effort he put into the album. One thing I did wish for though was a bit more of a connection between tracks since they did feel a bit disjointed at times. All in all, I found this comeback to be very successful, with “Fiancé” showing all signs of dominating charts for the weeks to come. To think this is only his first solo album, one can only imagine what to expect next.

“FIANCÉ” TITLE SCORE: 8/10

MUSIC VIDEO SCORE: 8/10

XX ALBUM SCORE: 6.5/10

OVERALL: 7.5/10

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