Epik High Explores Dark, Personal Struggles & Tells Off Haters on 'Shoebox' Album

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Epik High

The set includes a slew of standout guests including Beenzino, Gaeko, WINNER's Mino and iKON's BI and Bobby.

After an extended hiatus since the release of 99 in 2012 that landed them the K-Pop Hot 100 chart-topper "It's Cold," Epik High returned with recharged ambitions on its newest album Shoebox. The arresting LP -- lavish both sonically and lyrically -- dives deep into dark subjects like lament, self-torture, the pain of soured relationship while also including classic rap braggadocio. The combination has made hip-hop heads and music fans happy as it went No. 1 on various music charts in and outside of Korea and is trending towards a high debut on Billboard's World Albums chart and potentially other charts.

One of two lead singles from Shoebox, "Happen Ending" (a witty play on words as the title means "careless ending" in Korean) is a bittersweet, hip-hop ballad about one feeling hopeless and disheartened about love after yet another collapsed relationship. Over the gloomy production, members Tablo and Mithra express passive-aggressive laments while exhibiting their lyrical chemistry. Cho Wan Sun, vocalist of Rollercoaster, vocally highlights the subdued, atmospheric soundscape as she repeatedly doubts herself throughout the track's lyrics: "Am I really in love?/ Or am I dating to break up?" delivered in a blasé tone and flat vocal delivery.

Meanwhile "Spoiler," the record's angst-ridden second lead single, narrates a story of a man predicating the demise of his relationship as if he's watched a movie spoiler.

On the album's hardest-hitting rap anthem, "Burg Khalifa," Korea’s top rap maestros -- which includes Tablo alongside Yankie and Gaeko -- jibe perfectly together over crunchy, trap-inflected beats and parade their vocal assaults through lightning-fast verses about their undying ambition to reach higher.

"Born Hater," which was pre-released to build anticipation for the release record, is one of the most exciting rap-posse cuts released in recent memory. The star-studded lineup features established to rising mic prodigies (including Beenzino, Verbal Jint, BI and Bobby of iKon, and Mino of WINNER) taking turns jabbing at their "haters." More than anyone else, "Born Hater" seems to cement Mino and Bobby as rap's hottest new prospects. 

The track also sees Tablo brushing off his longtime haters with a short but sweet punchline: "TaJinYo/ You're cute/ I'm trying to love ya." Longtime fans will remember that TaJinYo was a group of anonymous Internet users that tore down Tablo at the height of his career by trying to prove his graduation from Stanford University was faked. 

"Amor Fati" featuring Kim Jong Wan of Nell -- the band's first duet with the singer in seven years after hits "Let It Rain" and "I'm Happy" -- is a powerful display of an introvert's emotional inner struggles. The track opens strong as Tablo angrily spits, "God doesn't love me/ I have a lot to get off my chest." The intensity of the tracks explodes as Tablo rants about the society and disapprovals as Kim adds depth with his acrobatic falsettos and pained vocal delivery.

All in all, Shoebox is a brilliant summation of Epik High's signature perceptive storytelling. The group's trademark sound of emotional melody combined with an honest musical narrative -- the base of trio's career -- proves that it is still a winning formula for the hip-hop veterans more than a decade into their careers.

Check out a sampler of Shoebox below and check back later this week to see where the album bowed on the charts.