[INTERVIEW] Epik High Talks Latest Album & Gives Fans The Inside Scoop On The YG Family

Korean hip-hop trio Epik High recently made their official Japanese debut with the release of their latest album Shoebox in the country on December 24.

Members Tablo, Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz recently sat down with KpopStarz Japan to discuss their critically acclaimed new album and give fans insight into working under one of Korea’s most respected record labels, YG Entertainment.

◆We hadn’t expected EPIK HIGH to start working in Japan for real!

TABLO: We also didn’t imagine it at all. The reaction after the YG Family’s concert in spring was powerful, and fans sent many requests saying, “Please hold an EPIK HIGH solo concert! Our Twitter was overwhelmed! Hahaha! No it wasn’t funny, when we announced our Twitter account during the concert, 30,000 more fans were added in one day after the concert. So, we could not help but … [debut]

◆Huh? “Could not help but”!? (Laughter)

TABLO:Since fans are asking for it, we have to do it! (Laughter)

◆With 30,000 new followers in one day, Were you shocked?

TABLO: Somehow we managed to follow back 45,000 within a few days, but conclusively, my Twitter followers exceeded one million by now. And most of the followers are Japanese fans. So EPIK HIGH has no other choice but to go forward (Laughter)

◆ Among YG Family, what kind of existence has EPIK HIGH experienced?

TABLO:DJ TUKUTZ will answer this question.
DJ TUKUTZ:Yes. EPIK HIGH is like an independent castle. Younger brothers like BIGBANG and younger sisters like 2NE1 are impacted a lot by us.
All members: (Laughter)
DJ TUKUTZ:We give a lot of advice to them about what to do when they go up on the stage or receive interview. (*TABLE&MITHRA are holding back laughter) Recently we are giving advice to WINNER.

◆ What kind of advice do the younger brothers heed to?

DJ TUKUTZ:There was not even once they heeded to our advice!
All members: (Laughter)
TABLO:When I advised G-DRAGON, “When you sing next time, please smile while singing,” G-DRAGON smiled a lot from the next stage. The skill of smiling while singing is a difficult one that I learned from 11 years of singing, but Japanese fans also loved it.

◆So it’s a difficult skill! (Laughter)

TABLO:Well, it’s not as difficult as you think.
All members: (Laughter)

◆What kind of advice does MITHRA give?

MITHRA: I am not so close with the juniors.
TABLO:Haha!
MITHRA: I haven’t talked with them a lot. I am not in the position to give advice. (Smiles gently)

◆MITHRA, you are very humble.

TABLO:Then, the two of us are conceited!? (Laughter)
DJ TUKUTZ:They are joking!

◆I saw an article that said, during recording, you were told not to use the YG studio. Why was that? Please explain.

TABLO:EPIK HIGH is always making EPIK HIGH’s independent music. So the CEO was worried that, when we work in YG studio, we may get influenced and produce “YG sound.” So we were asked to use outside studio to work within EPIK HIGH alone.

◆From EPIK HIGH members’ view, what is “YG sound”?

TABLO:More than “YG sound,” when musicians work together, they get impacted by each other and grow similar. We and BIGBANG are close like brothers, so the CEO was worried that two groups may become similar in atmosphere, and perhaps gave such instructions this time.

◆Not to give an objection, (Laughter) but this time SOL from BIGBANG and WINNER members have joined EPIK HIGH’s recording as featured artists this time.

TABLO:Even the featured artists were cooperating according to our direction. We asked thme to sing matching to the direction of EPIK HIGH. Arrangements and MV creation are all done with our ideas. This time, by recording in an outside studio, we could create music in an environment that we desire more than before.

◆Through the recording of album SHOEBOX – Japan Edition, what was most impressive?

TABLO:SOL [Taeyang]!
MITHRA:BIGBANG’s Taeyang.
DJ TUKUTZ:He is such an energetic person!
TABLO:EPIK HIGH’s best friend. (In Japanese) Tomodachi! &Tamagocchi. (With rhyme)
MITHRA:(Bitter smile)

◆Does SOL understand what EPIK HIGH wants to do?
All members: Yes.

TABLO: In the past, he has joined my solo album. We always get along, and it’s very nice.

◆What kind of request did SOL make in this time’s recording?

TABLO:He didn’t make any special request. Just by simply listening to the songs, and being told “please do as you like,” he sang in a perfectly fitting way.

◆Are there other impressive episodes?

TABLO:Two songs – “Happen Ending” featuring Lee Hi [JAPANESE MIX] and “Spoiler” ft.Taehyun (from WINNER)[JAPANESE MIX] – have choruses in Japanese. These songs have different people for ft. than when we published them in Korea. These songs were loved in Korea, but when we made them for the Japanese edition, it was impressive to work together with different artists than before.

◆What do you think about your sound in the Japanese language? Especially for rapping, the Korean language has sharp ends, so people say it may fit raping better in terms of the sound. How does it compare to Japanese?

TABLO:Oh! Actually it was the other way around before. When a label called FUTURE SHOCK (a Japanese Hip Hop label) did a performance in Korea, MITHRA was on the stage together, but back then, Japanese rappers like Zeebra and SOUL SCREAM said that it sounds more difficult to pronounce RAP in Korean.
When EPIK HIGH first worked with dj Honda, dj Honda also said “I think it’s difficult to RAP in Korean.” But we have worked hard for 11 years, and meanwhile, BIGBANG and G-DRAGON also appeared, and now Korean RAP has come to the stage where Americans also comment that “it sounds natural and good.”

◆From now on, would EPIK HIGH also want to try Japanese RAP?

TABLO:We are good at it (Laughter)
MITHRA:Huh? (Laughter)
TABLO:(In Japanese) Moshimoshi, Tomodachi, Yo! Yo! Moshimoshi! Tomodachi! Tamagocchi! My name is TABLO! Yeah!

◆Wow! Improvised RAP (Laughter)

TABLO:We are prepared like this (Laughter) Japanese may be easier to rhyme.

◆From the feeling now, TABLO seems to be No.1 in Japanese among members?

TABLO:(In Japanese) Really!? Thank you! (Handshake) My best is…. Umm… (Japanese)
DJ TUKUTZ:At most this is the best of his Japanese (Laughter)

◆This time, your live concert in Japan takes place in a club.

TABLO:Those who have been to a club in Korea should know this, but the Korean style is to work hard from Monday, and play hard in club on the weekends! In Japan too, since the stage is in a club this time, we want to make sure that those who join can sweat, get excited and enjoy the concert a lot. The concert will compose of not only this album’s songs but our songs from the past 11 years.

◆How many songs do you have for the past 11 years?

TABLO:We have around 200 songs. Because we have 200 songs, they cannot fit into the concert’s set list, so we change the list every time and perform many different songs.

◆And this time’s album was released on December 24, Christmas Eve! Do you have any good memory of Christmas?

TABLO:Memories… I have many. When I was in twenties, I dated one woman on Christmas Eve… hahaha.
DJ TUKUTZ&MITHRA:(Laughs looking at TABLO with an expression of “Huh!? That kind of story?”)
TABLO:Well… haha…

◆Nice~ those stories are fine too. (Laughter)

TABLO: We ate pasta together. Afterwards, there is no sign that she would take out her wallet. Of course I was determined to pay for it from the beginning. But when the woman thought of it as granted, looking at that, I thought, “I need to earn money well!” (Laughter) And this time, if we hold a live concert on Christmas, I can now buy pasta for all those who come to the concert!
DJ TUKUTZ:For me, when Christmas approaches, my heart is painful and tears well up.

◆Why?

DJ TUKUTZ:Because I come to recollect when I was little. We were very poor, and I didn’t have money to go out, let alone go for a date. Seriously. One Christmas, someone gave me a CD as a gift. I remember I was really happy and thankful for that. So everyone, please buy a CD and give it to someone on Christmas.
MITHRA: As for my memories for Christmas… when we were popular, we always had a performance on December 24. I was wondering if there is anything this year, and our album is released. We are watching the results in Korea.
TABLO:So this album is a gift to ourselves as much as it is a gift to fans.

◆Then about the album, please PR something that “we want to convey at least this point!”

TABLO:If you listen to the songs in this album from the first to the last without skipping anything, I believe you will feel like you are watching one movie. In one person’s life, there are ups and downs, happy times, difficult times – you can feel all of that, and feel at the end that life is still beautiful. It is that kind of album.

◆By the way, TABLO, you were also a member in the judges to decide YG’s next artist iKON’s members. How did you feel?

TABLO:I didn’t become a judge by my own request, but CEO Yang seems to have considered me someone who can see the talents, so I accepted the request.
iKON’s B.I and BOBBY are doing HIP HOP, so I think that’s why they were entrusted to me. The CEO seems to have acknowledged EPIK HIGH as producers.

◆As a producer, how do you view your juniors who want to do HIP HOP?

TABLO:I feel like I am looking at ourselves from some years ago. Generally producers or school teachers would give an image that they are not currently at work but those who have worked previously, but we are actively working now, and have experiences as seniors in HIP HOP. So more than the image as teachers, it is fun to work together as “buddies” or “co-workers.”

◆Lastly, please share your resolution for your works in Japan and a message to fans.

TABLO:Honestly… we want to have a great hit. When we hold a concert in Japan, just like our concerts in Korea, I wish 90% of the audience would be the popular models. (Laughter) We would also want to be on stage for fashion shows.

◆How about male fans…? (Laughter)

TABLO:For male fans, just like we used to be, they can just buy our albums and listen to them!
All members: (Burst into laughter)

Credits: Kpopstarz; Text: Kiyori Matsumoto; Photo: Akiya Uchida
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