Kpop News
Epik High maps the soul, redefines kpop business model
by | March 29, 2009 | 59 Comments

By now, I’m sure y’all have heard about Epik High‘s newest album — and their new, independent business model by which they’re distributing it.

Namely, they’re opting out of the major-label system and putting out their record themselves, via their spankin’-new website mapthesoul.com and iTunes. The site’s got everything written in Korean and English, is taking overseas orders, and they’ve even got a Twitter account (mapthesoul).

This isn’t the first time a band has done something of the kind — recall Radiohead’s 2007 “In Rainbows” album, which they released online (for free! — they accepted donations but didn’t charge a set fee) — but for a Korean artist or group, it’s a bold step. I don’t think they’ll be changing the kpop landscape single-handedly, because if anything, bands like Radiohead and Epik High have something important that struggling indie newbs don’t, and that is a huge and loyal fanbase from which to draw. Naturally, this makes their jump out of the “system” into self-production easier than, say, had they attempted this as unknowns.

But the buzz and the likely success of their endeavor is promising for the future, and — as the band proclaims on their website — revolution begins with one step.

Below is a new interview from Chosun.com, which talks to Tablo about the album, the business behind the decision, his personal philosophies, and all that other good stuff.

 
Instead of a “Song of the Day,” here’s Epik High’s newly released “Map the Soul” MV:

 
“Why did I choose zero won over 2 billion won?
Because things had to change.”

Tablo (29) is as full of assurance as usual. His expression brims with confidence, and he unreservedly answers questions about social issues. He’s also full of conviction about his album, which went on sale on March 27. He openly revealed his relationship with film actress Kang Hye-jung, which heated up the internet earlier this year. On March 11, I [interviewer Park Shi-young] met Tablo at one café in Seoul’s Cheongdamdong.

 
The Story of Tablo’s Twenties

Tablo’s group, Epik High, is a popular hip-hop group receiving the absolute support of university students. In particular, it appears that their popularity is especially high among top students. Let’s look at that reason first.

Tablo: “If that’s really true, it’s probably influenced by my past history and image [as a master's in English literature from Stanford]. It’s probably also a result of our serious lyrics. That makes me feel good, but also worries me. Among university students, the number of people who think for themselves is gradually decreasing, and I wonder if that means our fanbase is also shrinking. [Laughs]”

Q: How was your twenties?

“In my early twenties, I graduated from graduate school and entered the real world. Forging ahead without a definite plan, I spent the first half feverishly making music and faced failure. The remaining five years, I’ve been busy out of my mind being active with music. But because I’d poured myself out in mind and body during my twenties, I also have a clean slate.”

He also meets the public as a DJ on MBC FM radio. Last year, he revealed in an interview, “The reason I DJ is because I have a sincere hope to be heard by people.”

Q: Why do you feel such a desire for communication?

“Since I was young, I didn’t have many people to talk with. I was a loner. I lived mostly abroad, and felt a lot of racial discrimination. Some people looked at me like I was a bug. Fortunately, my hobbies were reading and writing, so I didn’t really conflict with people that much. Even now, I don’t have a wide range of interpersonal relationships.”

Q: I sense you have distrust for this world that emphasizes networking.

“When I see books or newspaper reports that emphasize the importance of networking, I just laugh. If people aim to cultivate networks, they can’t help but turn malicious. It’s better to spend that time doing your work and taking care of your loved ones and family. I’ve never gained anything from networking.”

Q: What sort of message do you want to convey through your activities as radio DJ or your albums?

“I want to say that you can make things change for the better. Also, I want to tell them that although people think, ‘You have to succeed in order to do what you want to do,’ that’s really untrue. No matter what your circumstances, it’s already possible for you to do what you want. If you say, ‘I’ll do that after I’ve succeeded,’ it’s already too late.”

Q: Isn’t that possible for you because you’re a famous musician? Average twentysomething people are facing growing troubles in the job market.

“My father was an orphan. When he attended school, he’d go barefoot. That person allowed me to become someone who dreams. The environment or conditions don’t matter at all. There will always be adversity in any time. Here, look. If there’s a societal problem, you can choose to do one of three things: run away, create change, or adapt to it. If you adapt, you can’t say anything, because you’ll soon become a reason for the social environment. And there are very few places you can run away to. In the end, you must make change.”

Q: What are you saying should change, and how?

“Even if I don’t talk about a concrete thing, everyone can see that there’s something wrong going on right now. I want to express the message that the people who feel this can come together to discuss and fix it. Personally speaking, after Epik High’s contract came to an end with our management, offers came in for 1 billion, 2 billion won. But I chose zero won instead. I was called crazy, but I thought this was something I had to do, and that I had to make change.”

Q: Why did you have to set up your own company?

“If you look at pop-music chart programs, performers have no choice but to compete. Everything’s a competition. What I’m doing is definitely different from what other artists are doing. The format is different, the content, the goal, the message are all different. But it was frustrating that I had to be shown via the same music charts. We wanted to take on a new challenge with our own formula.”

The conversation naturally turned to Epik High’s sixth album, which went on sale on March 27.

“We released this album along with a book. It contains essays, work diaries, and photos. I think we put out our best album. Not only have we put out the album, we’ve also created a website that we’re operating. We’ve really worked ourselves to death. I’ve even wondered if we really need to do this much. It’s the same price as a CD that someone else spent two weeks making. [Laughs]”

Q: Looking at past interviews, you’ve said, “For people who want to become pop singers, ask yourself if you want to make music yourself, or if you just want to be a person who makes music.” What about you?

“Of course, I’m the former. People who are truly passionate about it are different. When they listen to music, you can tell. People who really love music don’t have to say they want to become singers. Someday, they’ll be one.”

 
The Korean Twentysomethings of Whom He Speaks

Q: What space or area symbolizes the twentysomething generation?

“The airport. Not necessarily a real airport, but something that continually departs and returns. It doesn’t make sense for them to want a place to settle. They are prepared to leave somewhere.”

Q: A person symbolizing twentysomethings?

“Umm… Big Bang? [The reporter laughs and claps.] Why not Big Bang? It’s an honest answer. Big Bang is like the twentysomething generation, and among them Daesung is most like it. He’s not completely grown up yet, but it seems like he wants to try everything fearlessly, and enjoys whatever he does. Twentysomethings usually don’t know what they want to do.”

Q: What would you like to tell them?

“I’d like them to go to our site, mapthesoul.com, take a look around and make a site like that themselves. And please listen to our music. This album contains music and a book that I hope will entertain people with dreams of their own, even those who aren’t interested in Epik High.”

After the interview ended, I carefully asked about his relationship with movie actress Kang Hye-jung. He answered with an expression that wasn’t bashful, but happy and full of confidence: “The person I’m seeing now is really like my other half. I think I’ve lucked into meeting a person who matches my soul perfectly.”

Note: Personally, I love Tablo and I love Epik High, but my love has been tempered lately with mixed feelings the more I read and see from them. Tablo’s idealism is to be commended, and I truly think he believes in what he’s doing. His passion is evident, and more power to him. I also think (and hope) that their model will succeed — and succeed wildly, because the higher the success (by whatever measure we use to designate that), the more that the “system” and the “machine” must take notice. And respond.

On the other hand, Epik High likes to point out how Serious and Meaningful they are, when they could just trust that their fandom would figure that out. I could also do without the constant refrains — literally, it’s even in their lyrics — that imply how much Better They Are than everyone in “the system.” (Yes, I know, hubris and posturing are an inevitable facet of rap/hip-hop, but I think they’re at their best when they avoid that.)

I think there are certain elements of Tablo’s personal philosophy that ring of privilege (and having an orphan father doesn’t mitigate that), and I’m not sure his message is as universal as he’d like to think it is. For instance: Dreams are great, but not everyone has the same worldview and list of priorities that, for instance, a musician or artist does, and this “Follow your heart’s desire!” mantra works really well if you fall into that particular — but narrow — purview. But it alienates those whose inner lives resemble something wholly different, and the “you’re part of the problem” point sounds like it’s flirting with intolerance, masked safely as tolerance. It sounds like he’s talking to a small subset and applying it to everyone with a broad brush — and worse, seems vaguely condescending of those who fall outside of those lines.

But what do I know, I’m no revolutionary; I’m just one person who’s “thinking for myself.” On the whole I think the goal and driving force behind Epik High’s newest venture are something to keep an eye on. And root for. And buy. (Once more: mapthesoul.com.)

Via Chosun.com

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59 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. travp16

    Overall Epik high is amazing and I am proud of how they have gained and kept fans over the years,

     (0)


  2. Gracegracegrace

    I really love Map the Soul, both the Korean and Worldwide version
    Epik high is the bessst =]

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  3. Sere

    I don’t know why, but whenever I see Tablo I feel sad.

    I’m glad they solved their problems with the site and the server.

     (0)


  4. asdfkjalfd

    Sorry to say Map the Soul is such a disappointment to me. Maybe it’s just my inner hatred towards rap, but again, I thought Epik High made rap music a whole lot better before. I don’t know, I feel like it’s a boring album.

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  5. ella

    Interesting commentary. But I know what you’re saying; he seems condescending and privileged. I think that’s how people in Korea see Tablo too, as an educated bilingual rapper.

    And the twenty-something generation he said? I could relate to it, if my eighteen-year-old, twenty-year-old self is talking. I’m 23 now, and I think it’s not realistic to constantly dream and travel and all that. It’s just like what you said, it’s a great philosophy, but for most people who do not have the same priorities, it just won’t work. I mean, at some point in your life you have to stop “living at the airport” and figure out what you want to do. But yesss, I love Tablo <3

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  6. cosmopolite

    Interesting take you have. I honestly never thought of it like that…….kinda puts a new twist on things.

    Anyhow, thanks for the write-up.

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  7. fizzle

    Haha, I’m glad you wrote what you did at the end there, but at the same time I love Epik High so much I hoped I was the only one who felt that they were kinda pushing it with the whole “we make our own music and write deep lyrics therefore we are better than you” deal.

    I think people will be impressed that they are becoming more actual hip-hop and moving away from hip-pop with their new album. As for me, I’m a little dejected because I liked their hip-pop better. I admire what they’ve done becoming independent and everything, but I miss their old style. I’m sorry to say that Map the Soul does nothing for me.

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  8. Icanhaz

    I don’t find Tablo’s comments to be condescending, hubristic, or self aggrandizing at all. I also don’t think he is privileged–it sounds like he made a path for himself. Privileged would be if he were riding this on a rich daddy’s coattails and connections.

    He also seems, unlike many other Korean artists trying to go global, to have a very good understanding of how corporate media structures (with a handful of people owning most of the industry) allow a very tiny coterie of voices to filter through. I like how thoughtful he is and I appreciate anyone who reminds people to once in a while to think for themselves–especially in a world of media overload, and an increasingly centralized media.

    I found his comments to be insightful and very aware of the actual world we live in. Tablo isn’t sitting around and dreaming–he is doing things.

    @ella, his point about airports is more metaphorical than literal. In no other time in history have people been able to travel with such ease–through the internet or physically. I think he is talking more about the global nature of this generation–and the fact that we are becoming more and more transnational rather than provincial.

    Anyway, I thought his replies were wonderful.

    If the central argument for them being hubristic is his commentary on how and why they are choosing to market their work, then I guess U2 is hubristic too in the same way. And I rather have more U2s around the world, getting in our faces, than the BET and MTV generation of thoughtless fluff.

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  9. belleza

    This business model inherently makes a lot of sense for Epik High, since domestic K-pop album sales are already depressed from rampant downloading. People aren’t buying CDs. so why NOT profit from anyway? Remember how Tablo felt when the last Epik High album leaked out before the release date.

    From what Radiohead has spoken about In Rainbow sales, for the most part, most people ended up paying near CD prices for the album. (I went out and bought the silly thing on CD. I can still hear differences between a 320kbps and a real CD, and I’d rather buy something with “all” the music in there.)

    In regards to Tablo’s view, it’s inherently tricky because Epik High, more than other hip hop/pop group, has promoted the group through the idol industry. Some would say it’s extremely hypocritical, and I’m sure that always made Epik High self-conscious toward asserting their cred. Tablo loves EPMD; EPMD’s most famous ditty was “Crossover”, which was about not selling out their music . . .

    In regards to his what some people may be perceive as pedantic idealism, well dude Tablo DID go to STANFURD. (uhh) And as we Cal grads know, Stanfurd students are nothing if not proud of themselves and their offerings to the world. Just saying ;)

    I kinda view Epik High’s choice as more akin to what Trent Reznor and Prince are doing. It gives them control and a mainline between them and their audience. And above all, I think that’s what Tablo wants. Control and connection.

    Tablo’s great. And a Leo. It is what it is. :D

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  10. 10 javabeans

    icanhaz, no, their marketing strategy isn’t my central argument for feeling this way. In fact, I’ve been feeling a little… what’s the word, condescended to?, talked down to?, for a while now but have tried to convince myself it was just me feeling it (as fizzle said above) because I am a fan. Tablo’s well-meaning and all, but even in his on-camera interviews there’s a similar “i’m above it all” vibe that rubs me the wrong way.

    I think he’s got a point, for sure, but perchance he’d do well not to alienate his base and not bite the hand that feeds them (or used to). I mean, he’s got tons of mainstream fans but it seems they’ve started to turn their back on a subset of those who made them who they are today (in terms of profile and success).

    Just sayin’.

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  11. 11 ndegeocello

    THANK YOU for saying it! Tablo is condescending and he isn’t the genius everyone is making him out to be.

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  12. 12 ella

    @ Icanhaz – Yep, I know what he meant by the airport thing, that it’s a metaphor. That’s why I put it in quotes, “living at the airport.” And yes, I agree with you, with the transnational thing. But I’m commenting on what he said about the generation being “prepared to live somewhere.”

    I’m twenty-something, and I admire him for his insight. I also shared the same ideals, when I was a Creative Writing major in college (LOL writing majors tend to be idealistic). But being in the real world and working made me rethink of these ideals and made me realize not everyone can live at the airport and live that way.

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  13. 13 belleza

    But, honestly, many artists go through it. And if I were trying to do it through the K-pop machinery, I would go crazy. In fact, I wouldn’t even try.

    “But being in the real world and working made me rethink of these ideals and made me realize not everyone can live at the airport and live that way.”

    Also, Tablo doing stuff like Nonstop5 (and promoting the “sexless Azn Nerd” image, though he does it REAL well) inherently compromises the metre of the message.

    Having said that, if you’ve been in the backpacker side of hip-hop, it’s part of the “us vs. them” mentality.

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  14. 14 marbleloaf

    i actually appreciate this post. I recognize that hip hop has components of confidence and a tinge of hubris (check out kanye) but sometimes epik high takes it a bit too far. dont get me wrong, i like their music but if I remember correctly they threatened to disband because they were becoming “too mainstream.” give me a break…i respect the end product of their efforts and want very much to like them as people…but they lack humility and that’s a bit of a turnoff.

    but again, i do like their music…and i always find it hard to separate music from the singers. case in point, i like kanye’s music but think he’s an a** as a person. this was totally not meant to offend anyone so apologies in advance!

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  15. 15 belleza

    “I recognize that hip hop has components of confidence and a tinge of hubris (check out kanye) but sometimes epik high takes it a bit too far. dont get me wrong,”

    Kanye thinks he’s Black Beethoven. I love it. :D

    “i like their music but if I remember correctly they threatened to disband because they were becoming “too mainstream.”

    Oh that’s a legitimate gripe. If you got one dude who’s going on TV all the time and hobnobbing with the Britney Spears and P Diddy’s of your industry (not that there’s anything wrong with that ;) ), whereas all the other dudes stay “hood”, well of course there will be tension. There’s always been tension in U2 when Bono does his personal ambassador thing (which, you know, actually means something) while the other bandmates watch their band by association get eviscerated in the press.

    But that’s Epik High. They ARE mainstream. They DO hobnob with the K-pops. Their adventures in musicland goes further and further away from the hustle+flow of backpacker hop (if they were EVER that.) And Tablo has always been emo. They’re the gateway group that gets you into serious hip-hop, that gives you the dance ditties that has a little more substance than the peers, that makes you feel like K-pop can be popular and substantial. Of course, they’ll have to deal with the innate friction with their place. It is part of the fun!

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  16. 16 emma

    What a truly awesome discussion. Thanks Javabeans for the spark!

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  17. 17 elmo

    interesting
    i’ve actually never heard their music before but i think i’ll try some
    what i thought from the interview was exactly what you said; i think his business model is interesting but whilst being intimidating
    i do think that his education and poor background made him a little bit too proud of himself.
    i dont know, just what i think

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  18. 18 sylvia

    lately, he sounds a bit more ‘holier than thou’ than usual
    its kinda ticking me off

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  19. 19 Missemergency

    As a girl who enjoys both Rick Astley, Epik High, and The Clash all in the same day, I have experienced music snobbery (myself included)I. Epik High is certainly not as “underground” as they think they are and I think that it is a part of their human flaws and hubris. The higher you climb, the more there is at stake. However, in a different thread, what Epik High has done for their fans is actually pretty awesome. I speak and read absolutely no Korean. This makes getting my hands on the k-pop I love a big issue. The fact that mapthesoul.com is (almost) entirely bilingual is great. It makes me feel like less of a loser trying to navigate through a language, and for the most part, culture that I don’t really understand.

    Call it being idealistic or a music snob, but I certainly appreciate what Epik High has done with their website. As a side note, this is a really awesome discussion that javabeans has started, so thanks for stimulating my mind during spring break!

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  20. 20 Beng

    I’m glad Tablo and KHJ are together. Like Tablo said, they fit together. I think both has baby face with old soul =).

    Yes, Tablo has a bit of air. But that’s can be expected coz in some years back i come across with a study that short (in height) intelligent people tends to be airy. There way of making themselves feel tall or something =).

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  21. 21 belleza

    “As a girl who enjoys both Rick Astley, Epik High, and The Clash all in the same day,”

    Got rickrolled while searching for the “Rock the Casbah vs Fly” mashup? Me too!! :D

    It’s all good. Lil Wayne can feel Nas’s “hip hop is dead” message, and yet Weezy sits on the biggest ringtone empire in all of teenage wasteland. Knowing that, I’d gladly accept Tablo and his emo/backpacker/dorko messages.

    ANYhoo. Check out InntimateSound’s mashup of Map The Soul’s “Scenario” with Tupac’s “Letter To My Unborn.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ee35-b7iBs&fmt=18

    Wessssayid!!! V|/

    Oh and check this out too. Tablo teaches English!! Ahhh, boy can be so love! :D

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Po5Fa1xHeg4

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  22. 22 thedarkknight

    Great article! Your insights was a joy to read. I’ve been waiting for you guys to write something about Epik High’s new venture! Thank you! Finally!! =) Map the soul!

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  23. 23 elmo

    okay i just finished listening to the whole album
    it’s not that innovative in terms of beats and rhymes
    and i really enjoy rap music sooo it’s not the genre…
    the only hiphop / rap artists that really i felt, released incredible works is lupe fiasco and m-flo of japan.
    and the customer service skit is kind of offensive to chinese people; what’s up with that chinese accent guy speaking english and epik high “answering” and not understanding what he said..
    the MAN WANTS HIS TSHIRT GIVE IT TO HIM!!!
    lol

    i think im gonna put some big bang on repeat now..

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  24. 24 Jane

    god, you’re so right! thanks for sharing. i completely love epik high but that interview really rubbed me the wrong way. and i hate feeling this because i love their music but i’m glad i’m not alone. :]

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  25. 25 bbm

    thank you for the interesting discussion we got here, javabeans
    i haven’t listen to any of epik high’s new album since i’ve been busy checking out my other fandom this week, so i can’t say a word about it, but i always love their music before, the ‘mainstream’ ones or the ‘non-mainstream/serious’ ones. their music seems refreshing to me…
    well from the things they used to do to promote their music, epik high is a MAINSTREAM band, but maybe with this new album, they’re planning to get back to what their ideals used to be, and best of luck to them if they succeed…
    well i don’t want to comment about Tablo’s snobbery air, coz i have many friends who has that kind of air and i kinda able to tolarate that, and as long as tablo didn’t turn out like kanye level (who i think is a great artist but his behaviour kinda turn me off), i will support epik high all the way…
    btw, tablo and KHJ is such a cute couple, in an awkward kind of way :P
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

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  26. 26 Ada

    First of all props to javabeans for ALWAYS having great posts that ignite awesome discussions ! Now here’s my point of view :
    I’ve been a fan for a long time and EH is among the few artists I have ever supported by actually buying their CDs, but the fact of the matter is [ like most of you who commented before me ] they really have to work on their presentation and people skills. At times, it does make me, the fan, feel underrated, although they always are playful on TV and put much effort into servicing the international fans as well .
    The thing that most irked me about Tablo is that he’s always kind of separate from the rest of the group, like he unconsciously wants more attention. Although he criticizes idol groups and the way the Kpop industry presents itself as shallow, him and his group are always seen being very friendly to groups like SNSD or Suju and whatnot . Now I understand that he can’t actually act out what he says …. but then why say it in the first place ? And so proudly …
    EH to me is a paradox: they want to be popular and loved, but at the same time they want to still be consider outsiders, different and on another level .It’s such blatant dishonesty that it immediately puts me off when I think about it .This has always prevented me from completely loving them, especially Tablo who, because of this, comes off as condescending .
    That’s it I’m done for know.:P
    I seriously hope my argument makes sense in getting my point across , cause I’m in a hurry and have to get to school.
    Thank you again for the amazing article !

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  27. 27 vrosemarie

    I like it better when they collaborate with female singers or male non-hiphop singers….. It softens the rap part for me…. Truthfully, some of Epik High’s appeal is from Tab’s education, I won’t lie, but since I can’t understand Korean yet still love their music, they must be doing something right. I’m not sure about them being condescending and all but it’s been going on for a while now and maybe people are just tired of hearing the same stuff. Epik High fan forever!

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  28. 28 belleza

    “The thing that most irked me about Tablo is that he’s always kind of separate from the rest of the group, like he unconsciously wants more attention.”

    And I think that’s the thing. There’s Tablo’s activities. Then there’s the activities of “the other guys.” When I listen to Epik High as an act, to me Tablo is only one part (and for me, actually not that big of a part, since I mostly listen to Epik High for the production) of the whole. But, as the face of the group, well Tablo is the guy who put them out there for the kids. He’s the one most vocal about the act being taken seriously, because in a way he’s the reason why the group may not. He kinda has to, especially if he wants to mantain his MC cred. And it sounds like he’s tired of it.

    Anyhoo . . . listening to Map the Soul, this is pretty dang close to their first 2 records. For people who there before Fly and all that, this must be a return to the real for them.

    As for the “Customer Service” cut, Tablo’s Cantonglish is SPOT ON. Reppin Hongcouvah yo LOL!!

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  29. 29 yvree

    amazing tablo…

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  30. 30 twreckx

    An honest bravo to Epik for striking out on their own.
    That last caveat emptor in your write up is interesting; I have felt that Us VS Them sentiment has bled into their sound and is quite pervasive (don’t speak/understand Korean) in the music production itself, not the lyrical content. It may be just me but it feels that the music is 90′s music with a noughties twist, and you are a “them” if you don’t ‘get it’. Poet rappers and all that. I get it, and I thought they had taken it to the next level with Remapping the Human Soul. It has been disappointment ever since. It is not that I don’t like the albums; I do. I just don’t looooove Pieces, Lovescrea, and currently Map the Soul.
    Like it, not lovin it.
    *Goes back to listening to Fan*

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  31. 31 hmmmm

    Interesting posts and comments from everyone…but seems like everyone’s being so judgemental on how condescending and hubristic he is while at the same time how awesome his music, lyrics and thoughts are about changing the world and having a dream. Let’s remember that he’s human, not perfect okay?
    Seems like he’s worked really hard to get where he’s at right now and i think he deserves to be a bit arrogant, who is to say he shouldn’t be? When you pour yourself into something you’re so passionate about and you’re actually good at it, well hey it’s natural to feel good about yourself and have pride in what you do. And you really can’t go without pride or confidence because they’re part of the fuel. Yeah maybe too much of it is a turn off but i don’t think he’s at that level of cockiness. Not that i’m his fan, but i do appreciate what he’s trying to do and i give him credit for trying to be different cuz that means more effort and harsh scrutnity from people.

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  32. 32 haahyu

    Well tbh, i think most of you commenters are just trying to cause some drama between the EH guys for fun maybe, i dunno. In countless interviews i’ve seen Tablo mention how meeting Mithra and DJ T were the best thing in his life, and how when they first met they spent hours just talking to each other. The guys have a great bond with each other, if not they would be here today with their 6th album. It takes great friendship to last this long.

    What i like most about Tablo is that he truly cares for his fans first. Both International and Korea. On Map the soul, he is always updating his blog or replying to comments (both English and Korean). All the English translations done on the site were done by him. I don’t find Tablo condescending or big headed at all. I feel sorry for him because he is best known for being a Standford graduate, which could make people feel like he’s “showing off” about the fact. Also their are some people who act like Tablo is a god, the best thing in the music industry which could get annoying to hear.

    I personally loved mts album, it was a perfect balance of hip hop beat, good lyrics with also a hint of mainstream in it (nothing wrong with that). Better than their past stuff like “one” or “umbrella” which was honestly starting to sound the same. I think right now their sound is pretty unique compared to everything else which is out in Korea, and it is this which makes them stand out to me. Plus their dedication to be different and to change for the best. I wish them all the best in the future.

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  33. 33 belleza

    @twreckx,

    I really dug Pieces, loved the whole rewiring of late 90s K-pop Eurocheese into MC bully pulpit music, future hop for the masses. But I also agree it was too “pop” for old school Epik High fans. To a degree, same was true with Remapping the Soul.

    Lovescream was interesting, though, because it really signaled that Epik High wanted to move away from the standard promo cycle pertaining to album releases. It was an EP, a snapshot of an ongoing creative process, and for the most part “Mapping the Soul” plays like that too. It doesn’t feel like a complete work; but it definitely feels like redirection to a new mission statement. It’s their “Still Epik High” album.

    @haahyu,

    “I feel sorry for him because he is best known for being a Standford graduate, which could make people feel like he’s “showing off” about the fact.”

    Being a Stanfurd grad ain’t nothing to brag about . . .but then, I’m a Cal grad, so mebbe I’m a little biased. ;)

    (though when he does go into the whole emotional turmoil thing in regards to his undergrad/graduate years, understand that Stanford bends over backwards many, many times over to cater to the ambitions of their student. They instill this sense of pride or sense of entitlement in their students, and they truly believe they can do anything.)

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  34. 34 lollipop

    @haahyu, I’m not sure I understand your complaint about stirring up drama? Nobody’s saying that the Epik guys aren’t friends. As far as I can tell, most of the comments are talking about Tablo and EH’s philosphies and attitudes, not their personal relationships. I agree though that there are a lot of fans who think Epik High is untouchable and that valid criticism is like sacrilege. If you can’t take criticism, you’re not an open minded artist and you’ll never grow.

    I don’t like the argument that people who don’t love Map the Soul must be “old school” fans who want the EH back from albums 1 or 2. I’ve been a fan of all their albums but I don’t care if this album is like their earlier sound, I just care if it’s good. In my book, MTS is a disappointment. I didn’t think Lovescream was very interesting, nor Pieces either. I don’t have serious knowledge into the music genres like whether it’s pop or underground hip-hop or rap or mainstream hip-pop or whatever. I only want it to be interesting and fresh to my ears. Great job to the EH guys for going independent and I’ll support them all the way for that, but the music this time feels rehashed.

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  35. 35 belleza

    “but seems like everyone’s being so judgemental on how condescending and hubristic he is while at the same time how awesome his music, lyrics and thoughts are about changing the world and having a dream.”

    Nah, I felt this way about Tablo pretty much since the beginning (even if people didn’t pay attention, he’s always expressed these views.) And the truth is, I admire him for that. Hell, I love his anger. Half of the rock bands I love do the same thing. You need that self-belief and often that “us vs. them” mentality in order to stay edgy while you’re sucking on the fat of the land.

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  36. 36 Ada

    @ lolipop … my thoughts exactly ! :
    “don’t like the argument that people who don’t love Map the Soul must be “old school” fans who want the EH back from albums 1 or 2. I’ve been a fan of all their albums but I don’t care if this album is like their earlier sound, I just care if it’s good. In my book, MTS is a disappointment. I didn’t think Lovescream was very interesting, nor Pieces either. I don’t have serious knowledge into the music genres like whether it’s pop or underground hip-hop or rap or mainstream hip-pop or whatever. I only want it to be interesting and fresh to my ears. Great job to the EH guys for going independent and I’ll support them all the way for that, but the music this time feels rehashed.”
    There’s a LOT to admire in the fact that they’ve gone independent and maybe it’s a sign that they’re finally going to take the chance and really break through from the idol dominated kpop world .
    On another note … I have yet to listen to the whole album , map the soul, as I really want to wait for my copy first, but I did listen to map the soul the korean and eng version, the skit ans scenario . It is different from most of what’s popular now in Korea in terms of music , but, like pieces or lovescream, it doesn’t seem to carry a socially relevant message. Then again I have to listen to the whole album to be sure ,
    Nonetheless, I’m contempt and grateful for the work they put in everyday for the fans, esp the international ones , considering they’re the only ones in kpop that showed concern for that .

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  37. 37 jippo

    Tablo can be preachy. But honestly, I like this pro-active approach a lot better than his statements that revolved around “I don’t want to be a Korean entertainer,” which did seem a bit close to despair. The thing is, non-Koreans who can see the major flaws in the Korean music industry do sometimes get preachy as well. It’s not something that develops from comparing it to another, the American industry, per se, although some issues do get highlighted from that approach. For the longest time, I thought it was purely the marketing aspect that was the problem, but spending time there made me see things in a broader light.

    I gave a presentation on unsigned bands in the States in one of the classes I was attending, and it seemed to go over everyone’s head. There just wasn’t enough out-of-the-box (in this case, the K-music industry formula) thinking going on in order for some people to grasp how it was that people persisted in making music without being signed with a label. They didn’t understand the extensive networks of supporters and promoters that are somewhat organic in their development… and the ignorance! I shouldn’t use that word, but my goodness! At least they seemed to care once exposed–I burned more CDs during my stay than ever before.

    I was idealistic too. I interned with a record label during my second stay, thinking an indie label would work differently… Let’s just say that I agree with Tablo, in taking things one step at a time.

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  38. 38 Andrea

    It was really interesting to read this article and all the comments, thanks… I had never thought about Epik High in this way, nor seen Tablo as condescending. I don’t know… I don’t take what he says offensively. This is a first time I’ve seen such a direct “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem” comment from him though. I always sort of just rolled my eyes and moved on when he spouted about following your dreams (because, honestly, I don’t have some huge dream hanging over my head that I’ve turned my back on because it would be too hard to achieve.) I think a lot of what came out on this release and these interviews is reactionary–this stuff has been building up for a while and they’re just now getting it out of their systems. I enjoyed the album a lot, even though it was far too short with only just a handful of full/new songs, and hope their next release will improve ^^ I like to hear their music and what they have to say, even if I don’t personally agree with it ….I guess I take what I want from the music and move on with my life lol.

    One comment: “if I remember correctly they threatened to disband because they were becoming “too mainstream.””
    ^ I saw that as well but I think that was sort of taken out of context and twisted around. I always saw their outcries as dissatisfaction with how things were done rather than “well we’re just not going to do this anymore if things don’t go our way”. I think that dissatisfaction is what drove them to start Map the Soul in the first place. A lot of the things Tablo has said have been twisted around like that. I’ve seen translations of his words in context then translations of the articles and the reporter seemed to be grasping for an interesting story to publish.

    And in regards to him being friendly with suju and snsd, etc. I’ve always seen his criticisms of the kpop music industry as broad problems, not issues with any of the groups personally. They are just individuals, so why wouldn’t he be friendly and personable with them, especially when they’re guests on his radio show? XD; The man is a huge fan of BoA–he admitted that himself–so he’s obviously not opposed to the pop music genre, but with the way the industry works. (I don’t blame him, the music industry sucks, in every country, it seems. I’m glad Epik High went independent and wish them the best of luck.)

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  39. 39 belleza

    “I’ve always seen his criticisms of the kpop music industry as broad problems, not issues with any of the groups personally”

    And that’s the thing. If I said “oh, I hate boy bands”, and then I list that I love N’Sync and Backstreet Boys . . . uhhhh say wa? :D Not just Epik High though, MANY artists do that in order to assert themselves when they become very popular. I don’t have a problem with it, and I can emphasize with the need to do it.

    “They didn’t understand the extensive networks of supporters and promoters that are somewhat organic in their development… and the ignorance!”

    Yeah, when Tablo said he thought networking doesn’t help, I was really surprised that. I would assume he didn’t meant establishing yourself in a scene or trying to get your demos passed around.

    “think a lot of what came out on this release and these interviews is reactionary–this stuff has been building up for a while and they’re just now getting it out of their systems.”

    Agreed. This whole thing seems like a carthasis for the band. Even if they eventually resign with a label, at least they tried the independent route. I think most of this has to do with control. They want to be properly represent themselve without the filter or manipulation of a label, they want to make Epik High product exactly as they want, and they want to entirely profit from their music.

    And worth mentioning . . .EPIK HIGH will be touring worldwide (INCLUDING THE STATES.) They’re really, really, really good live.

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  40. 40 Andrea

    “And that’s the thing. If I said “oh, I hate boy bands”, and then I list that I love N’Sync and Backstreet Boys . . . uhhhh say wa?”
    ^ He can like the people without agreeing with what they’re doing. If you want to do something you love in the music business you sort of have to play in to that (Epik High did it to get the following they have now) I don’t see why he’d hold it against the members of the groups themselves, especially when having a good relationship with them (and their hugely powerful record label) would probably benefit him. (That might be the networking he was talking about later on that he didn’t want. What he’s doing now with their independent label and reaching out to the fans might seem like something different to him?) I can see his hypocrisy but he seems to be putting his money where his mouth is and doing something about it now that they’re done with their contract with Woollim, so I can respect that. “Revolution begins with one step” or so says mapthesoul.com :) I don’t think I had a specific point responding to you, I just sorta rambled incoherently, sorry XD;

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  41. 41 cranky

    love Epik High but ditto to your comments.
    I think he sometimes try too hard to push his idealogy which might be why he speaks the way he does.
    I, for one, try to ignore the publicity and just go directly to the music.

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  42. 42 belleza

    “If you want to do something you love in the music business you sort of have to play in to that (Epik High did it to get the following they have now)”

    That’s understood. But, then, why bite the hand that fed you then? Why go on about fighting the system and so on, when you used that system to get where you are today? Majority of Korean’s finest in the hip hop community did not do what Epik High (or rather, Tablo) do. It was a choice they made. I’m not criticizing that choice; I think it’s helped put Epik High in a unique position, just like Nell is in a unique position for carefully crossing over. But it puts you in a sticky situation if you start kvetching about plastic/look-alike groups or singers who vy image over substance, what-not. You could have been Fugazi, but you chose to be Rage Against the Machine.

    Tablo is asked about who represents 20-somethings and he says “well, why not Big Bang?” and I’m wondering whether he means it as a glib provocation, a bit of sarcasm (i.e. like a Thom Yorke saying “We love George Bush. He’s good for our music.”), or a sincere answer.

    Now, having said all that, I love this kind of contradiction. I love that Tablo can go on Nonstop 5, Love Letter, or Ya Shim Man . . . and then he can spit venom in his records or on his radio show. Embracing contradiction or apparent hypocrisy is part of what makes a pop culture figure relevant.

    And in anycase, he’s great with fans and he’s gone out of his way to share his world with us. When he can give a shoutout to the kids and tell ‘em “forget all that other sxxx!!!”, I love it.

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  43. 43 Andrea

    “Why go on about fighting the system and so on, when you used that system to get where you are today?”
    ^ It’s sort of the catch-22 situation, when you’re an underground artist you have a message you want people to hear but if you don’t go that avenue and get famous nobody will ever hear it. The music industry uses and spits back out singers all the time, why not use it just the same to your own advantage? Groups like Epik High can do that sort of thing because they’re actually talented and when they have enough fans that they don’t have to pander to the masses to make their living anymore, they can go and do their own thing and be appreciated by a strong, loyal fanbase. It may not earn Epik High “street cred” or whatever, but it’s smart.

    “And in anycase, he’s great with fans and he’s gone out of his way to share his world with us. When he can give a shoutout to the kids and tell ‘em “forget all that other sxxx!!!”, I love it.”
    ^ Agreed 100%

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  44. 44 dragonjade

    I agree with javabean’s post and many other people’s posts also.

    I also appreciate Tablo’s idealism and it’s great to see someone with so much passion in what they do and believe in. I hope they have much success with this album and future works…

    I think the reason why he sounds so haughty…as someone else said before me, is because he puts much confidence behind his beliefs and idealogy. However, Tablo needs to settle down for a bit and mull over his ideas for a while…because the world is changing quite quickly…and although he said that one “must make change”….one must also ADAPT. I know it’s bit weird to involve biology references, but the reason why some species have survived for so long is becaus they adapted to their ever-changing environment…granted some of them died in the process…

    Tablo needs to broaden his view and look behind the rainbow colored fields of music and success. I think he should read some of the comments on this site…plenty of wonderful insight goin’ on here. ;D

    But…I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make change. Change is great. Look at Obama. =D

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  45. 45 belleza

    “But…I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make change. Change is great. Look at Obama. ”

    Obama: Yes we can!
    Tablo: Forget that other sxxx!!!

    Great minds think alike. :D

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  46. 46 ying

    Sometimes I wonder whether it’s such a bad thing being ‘mainstream’ or being with a ‘big label’. I don’t know much about the industry, but while it may be true that some bands/people don’t write their own songs, I think it uh… they don’t love music less?? XDD afterall music-lovers/the sort don’t always have talent or interest in composing, but rather in performing, arranging etc….

    I think he has the right of being condescending if he wants to, going to Stanford and all, and since to Koreans and many other Asians an education, better still if it’s elite, means all the different in the world, though he risks alienating his fans. Afterall as a performer he has to face the audience, and while some people enjoy the more personal contact, the things Tablo says – like someone up there said about his comment about Big Bang – make (me) wonder what he wants exactly.

    and elmo, I agree. One thing, if the caller’s supposed to be Cantonese, judging from the ‘wai’ and the swear word XD, then the accent is all wrong, it sounds more like a mix of various Asian people speaking. Plus a lot of us can speak proper English, too :(((((((

    But back on track – I salute them for the album they’ve put out. No small feat there :PP And I love the website and the idea of having a separate board for English-speaking peeps. I like the idea of the book, I hope I’ll have enough money to buy it…

    Ps Javabeans – sorry I seem to have taken out my negative feelings out here and ignored the positive part. Thanks for the article :DD Cheers ^^b

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  47. 47 Jen

    Anything about Epik High usually catches my attention because I’m a big fan of their music. However, as you mentioned, I’ve also felt as though they’ve been increasingly condescending.

    Love Tablo, but dare i say that he sometimes has quite an ego. I understand he’s intelligent, but he occasionally puts on airs that can really put me off. At times, what he says is almost like a challenge. Are you smart enough to understand Epik High’s message? Apparently, if you can’t think for yourself, there’s a chance that Epik High’s music won’t appeal to you. Ha. Is that reverse psychology?

    Great music. Okay message. And, I realized why Tablo was a loner for so long.

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  48. 48 belleza

    “Sometimes I wonder whether it’s such a bad thing being ‘mainstream’ or being with a ‘big label’.”

    To be fair, I think there’s a lot of practical music business issues that make it frustrating for artists, such as Epik High. Domestic K-pop sales have depressed due to downloading. As a result, minus all the royalties, Epik High can’t make a lot of money off music sales under the previous business model. Moreover, if they want to do something like this book, it may be difficult for their label to support them. Since Epik High already is popular (and presumably Tablo will retain his show and other engagements), why not take full artistic control as well as earn an 100% cut off your own music?

    Having said that, I wonder how this will affect Epik High’s appearance on music shows, as well as occasional interview/variety shows. Maybe they don’t want to do that anymore?

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  49. 49 PhuongThanh

    Epik High´s awesome, unique and avatngard. Simply, one of the best (music) artists ever.

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  50. 50 woozysoozy

    i think everyone here raised some pretty good points!

    I’m totally on that “thought tablo was arrogant but loved him anyway so tried to ignore it” train. i think he has faults but it sort of makes him more… real? unlike a lot of other kpop entertainers who have this bright, happy image they have to maintain and you can never be sure what they’re REALLY like.

    he’s obviously part of the intellectual elite and i think that makes it really hard to balance being commercially successful and true to oneself… because his true self does not equate to mass appeal (which is totally okay in real life)

    anyway, even though i have qualms with his views and sometimes his lyrics (because they represent those views), i am still 100% an epik high fan~ they’re the only korean music act i’ve actually bought cds from.

    p.s. thanks for the great post!!! your blog is awesome. :)
    and i’m glad to see a lot of the readers have such insightful comments! seriously, sometimes the comments are the reason to read this blog alone~

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