XIX. Epik High

XIX – Super Junior-M, Epik High, and Lovesick Drama

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*Brace yourself…love drama ahead.

Ladies and Gentlemen…in April and May of 2008, I was blessed by some of the greatest music released in Kpop history.

When I say “greatest,” I’m not referring to album sales or even popularity. But more so the creativity, the courage, and the impact it had not only on me as budding author still shouldering my way through film school but… you’ll see. I’ll show you how a single producer made his stamp on the Korean Music industry. I’ll give props to a rival entertainment label for putting up a good fight. And I’ll express my gratitude to an ever-evolving hip hop group who refuses to release the same thing again and again.

To begin…I have to give you a little personal backstory. Just scroll down past the Rock picture if you don’t want to get straight to it.

If you’ve read my last chapter about Dragon Ash, then you’d know that I was in a good place mentally when it comes to my progress as maturing 21-year-old. Alas, by April of 2008…My patience was beginning to wear thin with my female friend of affection. It’s crazy how there isn’t a word for this kind of person yet. I’m talking about a woman who isn’t technically your girlfriend, but it’s ridiculously clear that you care and have feelings for each other (story of my life).

Since May of 2007, this girl has been working at the same pizza delivery place as myself. While I was the driver, she was a Customer Service Rep who was promoted to assistant manager. And throughout 2007, we really did get along. I really did love this girl. I made all kinds of mistakes and blunders because I was truly inexperienced. But in my stumblings, I’d learn. I’d grow. In particular, my patience got better. I was humbled more than once because I’ve done many regrettable things in which I had every right to feel miserable and guilty.

However…there’s only so many times a man can step into an arena and submit to defeat, acquiescing every time just to make her feel good and avoid hurting her. Through Myspace, we’d go back and forth through epic written battles where we’d take turns laying the blame at each other’s feet. In person, she’d curse up a storm and call me every name in the book while I did my best not to yell and refrained from flat out telling her what I really wanted to say, which caused me to die a little inside with each and every confrontation because I hate holding back.

I think the last straw came when I saw her slacking off in her work. I don’t know why but that shit…a complete disregard of responsibilities really does rub me the wrong way especially when I’m out here hustling, bussin’ my ass. Basically, on several nights, I’d come back from a delivery run in the hot sweltering heat. And while she should’ve been at the front counter, or hell, anywhere in the story ready to cash us drivers out…I caught her and her friend in the Chinese restaurant one store over….dude, on the clock, these bitches were having a full course meal with the Chinese family running the Chinese restaurant.

Just picture it for a second. Hot, humid. It’s 9:45pm. We close at 11pm. We can’t leave until the store is cleaned and all sorted. You can’t personally while you’re out making runs, so, it would be nice if your teammate in the store did their due diligence but no…you pull up and see them sitting down in the Chinese restaurant passing around bowls of food like its friggin Sunday after church. And this happened more than once.

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Yeah…by that point, I was done. My affection had gone out the window and it seemed from then on, the feeling was mutual. Because, yeah. I ratted on her out to the manager. And apparently I shouldn’t have done that. I’m the bad guy here, as per usual.

Now…listening to metal could have helped with the angst…but it wasn’t rage that I felt towards these girls. In my heart of hearts, it was just unfortunate how things got south. And even though she did her level best to make my night a living hell on every shift…I didn’t want to retaliate. I really did love her and felt guilty for everything I had already done up to that point. So, it was sadness mixed with a burning resentment, more than anything. That’s what was in my heart. I could have quit. But that would’ve been admitting defeat and I was here first.

In early April of 2008, I saw that Super Junior had created a sub-unit called “Super Junior-M.” Apparently, it was a group where 9 of the original 13 members were to release an album catered to the Chinese market. Hence, Super Junior Mandarin.

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I didn’t know what to expect. I was still listening to Super Junior’s last hit “Don’t Don” and my favorite Super Junior member was the Chinese member, Hangeng…so I downloaded the album and gave it a try. It was my first time listening to music with Chinese lyrics.

Honestly…the release of their album, “Me,” was quite surprising. The songs were smashmouth hits expected to dominate the chart. But the spite I had for Super Junior and SM Entertainment for their “manufactured” quality…it dampened a bit. Perhaps it was because Super Junior were no longer rookies.

They had debuted at the end of 2005, and by April of 2008, they had the clout as commercially viable artists, not just an “idol group.” But in listening to “Me,” I acknowledged them as artists. Their vocals were amazing. And the music, the composition definitely evolved to match the quality of 2008, where everyone was putting out this smooth, mature, sophisticated sound.

In particular, this song really got me:

I remember listening to that song in the depths of my despair on many a nights. Nights, where I was mistreated and belittled and poked and prodded all night by my paramour. Nights, where I was depleted and lacked the strength to lash out. I’d simply put in my ear-buds to escape. I’d listen to this Super Junior song as I mopped and cleaned and closed the store. It got me through the night…It made me feel as though…“I’m not the only one who’s got it bad. But chin up and do what you’re supposed to do. You’ll overcome.”

That kind of vibe. It was like this all the way up until Epik High released their next album and said, “One! Time is Tickin’!”

In late April 2008, Epik High released their fifth studio album, “Pieces: Part 1” and dude…up to this point, I was used to full albums having at least 3-4 good songs with the rest being fillers. Wheesung’s “Eternal Essence of Music” was probably the first album where every song was golden. I’d have to say Epik High’s, “Pieces” followed suit.

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I’ve already mentioned Epik High in previous chapters. I first learned about them when I was learning about Super Junior. When Super Junior debuted in 2005, the member Siwon recognized Tablo of Epik High backstage and acted like Tablo was royalty. Indeed they are. Consisting of the rappers Tablo and Mithra Jin, along with DJ and genius composer DJ Tukutz, Epik High has been shaping the music landscape since 2001.

The thing that’s so awesome about Epik High, something that resonates in myself as a fellow artist of a different medium…is that it’s extremely difficult to box Epik High into one genre. They do hip hop. They do R&B. They do Pop. They do electronica and they do club music. Maybe all of that fits into hip hop. I dunno.

EPIK HIGH – BREAKDOWN SUPREME MIX

When I first heard “One,” I immediately thought of Big Bang’s album “Always” with their hit single “Lies.” This isn’t to take away from Epik High in the slightest. And forgive me if this is coming from a place of ignorance, because I can only write about what I know, what I’ve observed. But before Big Bang released “Lies” in August of 2007, kpop artists were releasing a completely different sound. It’s like they were still following the wave, the American pop music of the early 2000s, what you’d expect to hear on a “You Got Served” or “2 Fast 2 Furious” soundtrack.

But after Big Bang released “Lies…” Perhaps others were already going in that direction and Big Bang beat them to the punch. But kpop music became more focused on the melody than the bass and beat. The songs left you with a lingering nostalgic feeling of transcending bliss. You could still dance to it. You could still play these tracks in the club. But the visceral aggression took a back seat to a more suave, sophisticated approach. If any of that makes sense.

And like I said in the last chapter…this new sound couldn’t have reached me at a better time in my life. Yeah, I was dealing with that girl drama, but when I put on my headphones it was like stepping through a portal to another reality, far away from her, family drama, and school anxieties. Like Dragon Ash and Clazziquai, Epik High had heavenly tracks that gave its listeners the ability to levitate, to fly above all the noise and appreciate the world for what it is…beautiful in the absence of negativity.

The above video has to be one of my top ten songs of all time. It’s never gotten old and there’s been countless days where I’ve spent the whole day writing with that single song on replay. And on nights where I’m delivering pizzas, I’d daydream about dancing to that song in the rain, my best imitation of Se7en’s freestyle dances.

Epik High really did get me to the finish line. Because on May 7th 2008…I walked into work and found out that the girl/thorn-in-my-side/assistant manager had quit. No two weeks’ notice. She just came in with her friend and handed in their uniforms. Hahaha! It truly was one of the happiest days of my life. I was so juvenile. I went out and got cupcakes and balloons for everyone and we celebrated. Everyone knew the torment they put me through and apparently, they had had enough as well.

EPIK HIGH – “Falling Flower

To me, it really was that I had survived. I had weathered the storm and reached my port safely. I was so elated that I wrote a 20-page memoir about my year with them. I gave it out to friends, family, and co-workers. It really was so childish and stupid. But going back in time, I probably would have done the same thing all over again. Because it really was as if a heavy stone was lifted. And other than God, no one would ever have known the war, the battles, the suffering I endured.

However…all that said, all of this was well over 10-years ago. I think you’ll be happy to know that she and I have long-since mended our fences, become Facebook friends, and she has two kids. I have no doubt she’s a great mom. She’s a good person. Both of us had a lot of growing up to do.

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