Formed in Seoul during 2003, Epik High is one of the few groups on the Korean music circuit to have really pushed the cultural envelope with such audaciousness, transcending even the most challenging moments of Brown Eyed Girls. Comprised of Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, Epik High have taken their underground hip-hop sensibility and brought it to a wider global audience, while never compromising with each step up the ladder.
Led by Lee Seon-woong, the rapper more commonly known as Tablo was born on July 22nd, 1980 in the Indonesian city of Jakarta. He has been responsible for writing and producing the vast majority of the group’s work, pushing the boundaries of hip-hop into various styles of electronica over the past eleven years.
A graduate of Stanford, Tablo not only has a gift for vocals, but, can add synthesizer, piano, violin and clarinet to his resume, while also having acted in Fantastic Parasuicides, August Rush and High Kick.
He is now married to the actress Kang Hye-jung and the two had their first child in 2010.
Mithra Jin was born as Choi Jin on January 6th, 1983 and hails from Goheung. Starting out originally as an avid writer of poetry, he moved into hip-hop around 2001, debuting with K-Ryders, who would disband in 2002. Then, after a meeting with Tablo, the two formed Epik High and the rest is, as they say, history.
As the group’s chief lyricist, he has equally as prolific a creative output as Tablo and is also noted for his drumming. He served for two years in the military in 2010.
DJ Tukutz was born as Kim Jeong-sik in Seoul on November 19th, 1981 and is the group’s main producer. He started out as a DJ in 1995 after falling in love with the soundtrack of various illegal warehouse raves in Japan. Then after moving back to Korea in 2000, he began to further his abilities at Technics DJ School. It was during this stage when he met Tablo and the duo began to perform DJ sets live and on radio overseas in the United States. He was married to his long-time girlfriend in 2009 and after serving in the military, from 2009 to 2011, the two had their first son the following year.
In terms of their collective history, the trio initially found their feet on the Korean scene as members of the Movement Crew. Breaking off from the unit thereafter, they made their debut as Epik High with Map of the Human Soul in 2003, followed by High Society, which had its praise, albeit still on the peripheries of the national charts. This lack of commercial success, however, would play to their advantage as they made the decision, in 2005 to release Swan Songs, which they intended to be their final record.
Yet, by throwing every ounce of their energy into this album, blending jazz, hip-hop, electronica and a rockier sound, they soon garnered both critical and commercial success. The album swept up a great many awards and its single ‘Fly’ ended up on the FIFA 07 Soundtrack.
However, this new lease on life would not allow the trio to tame their ideals and instead, they came out with their most challenging record yet: Remapping the Human Soul. This rebirth took a darker tone and by confronting a number of controversial topics, faced governmental censorship. But, still their decision to challenge a great many taboos struck a note and the album became the third highest selling album of 2007.
This heralded their new ethos of ‘no genre, just music’, which saw an even greater amount of success with 2008’s Pieces Part One and their first mini album of the same year, Lovescream. The latter album saw them experiment furthermore, this time with animations in their imagery, gaining nods of approval from newer and increasingly unlikely circles. In turn, Lovescream’s lead single ‘One Minute One Second’ began to top various national charts and these earnings gave them a larger platform upon which to continue evolving as a group.
In 2009, Epik High became not so much a band, but a progressive collective now utilising their financial success to benefit the national music industry entirely. First came the special project ‘Map the Soul’, which took the form of a book album and saw the trio collaborate with Kero One, Beatbox DG and MYK. With the intentions of marketing this on a global scale, the effort paid off as they received the opportunity to tour both Japan and the major cities of the USA. Yet the year was hardly over, when they took their rich rewards and gave younger artists, such as Planet Shiver an chance to work on a remix version of the album, entitled Remixing the Human Soul.
Finally, in September, the group came out with their official sixth album (e), a sprawling 30-track double album that offered both an insight into the internal workings of the group, while also heaping harsh criticism on the present state of the national pop scene.
Only a month later, DJ Tukutz received a call-up to serve in the military (as if his year had not been hectic enough). The group however, chose to persevere as a collective and released Epilogue in 2010, which was comprised of various unreleased tracks written over the group’s lifespan. It earned them a number one in the US iTunes Hip-Hop charts and top three slots in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Mithra Jin was then enlisted himself in August of that year, which left Tablo with the chance to pursue his solo career.
The group’s hiatus concluded in 2012, when in October, they released 99, which included collaborations with 2NE1’s Park Bom, Lee Ha Yi and Dynamic Duo. They followed this up a year later to commemorate their 10th Anniversary, by putting out 420 that featured Double K, Yankie, Dok2, Sean2Slow, Dumbfoundead, TopBob, and MYK.
Now, in continuance with their annual October comeback, Epik High have returned to the stage once more to present us with Shoebox, their eight full length record, alongside their latest single Born Hater.
It has undoubtedly been a tumultuous ride to the top for this trio of unconventional and gutsy artists. Yet they seem as fresh and ambitious as ever, by showing that increased success need not mean that their original style and sound ought to be tone down. As angry and energetic as ever, they remain a group who want to give everything to their loyal fanbase.
It goes to show that early commercial failure is never a hindrance to creativity provided you remain true to your vision and Epik High is one damn fine case example in that argument.