From declarative album titles like Epik High Is Here and We’ve Done Something Wonderful to the more conceptual Shoebox and [e], Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz of Epik High have always been intentional in a multifaceted way with their record titles.
The hip-hop trio’s latest project leans toward the latter for the group to deliver a new sound that speaks to a fresh mindset and return to their roots as musicians after releasing their debut album 20 years ago.
“We like strawberry representing the album because it’s sweet and fresh, which is what we wanted to do at the beginning of our 20th anniversary,” explains group leader Tablo. “We thought that people would expect some music that is reminiscing and weighed down by the years, and we wanted to go against that expectation and just create something that sounds like three guys that just decided to create a group together. But strawberries are interesting because they’re so fragile; you can smash them up with your thumb but, somehow, they’ll stain on your table perfectly fine. And it reminds me of blood when it’s squished. So, there’s a little bit of pain in that sweetness. I think that that’s what Epik High is.”
Despite opening and closing the new Strawberry EP with, as they describe, “Epik High-ish” lo-fi tracks, the EP boasts some of the group’s most mass-appealing tracks in years inside: the knocking, melancholy hip-hop cut “On My Way” with Chinese K-pop star Jackson Wang, the disco-tinged “Catch” is smoothed out by a perfect feature from Hwa Sa of girl group MAMAMOO, plus an explicit, relatable freestyle from Tablo examines the online and real-life chaos of 2023. While Epik High has toured their brand of Korean hip-hop tour across the globe and scored multiples across Billboard‘s World Albums and World Digital Songs chart, Strawberry is intentionally described as a “global album” by the band to share their current mindset.
“Technically speaking, all our albums have been global, but not by choice, right?” muses Tablo. “K-pop and Korean music became a global thing even though it wasn’t ever a global release. But as a result, the audience for our albums has grown wider. And here’s how I approach progressing as a musician: I don’t think of myself as leading the way and my audience has to follow where I go—I will make music in the way that I want—but I believe that as my audience grows geographically and I’m flying there to perform for them, I want them in the center of my mind and my heart when I’m creating music. Before, I would create the music and the music’s audience grew. Now, that audience is affecting the way I create music as well, like, they’re in my mind when I make music…I think more because of COVID; I think how the entire globe is sharing the same fears and inspirations and hopes and dreams. We were just made more aware of it and, as a result, I think with this album, it’s just a mindset thing—calling it a ‘global album’ because there’s no real difference to how we’re releasing it; we’re just saying that because we want to remind ourselves that we are now speaking to people all over the world and we want them to know that we care about them.”
Despite Epik High intending for last February’s release of Epik High Is Here to be their final album, the trio naturally found themselves creating music again after career highlights like returning for their second Coachella performance and surrounding themselves with other musicians.
“So we actually did decide internally that Epik High Is Here would sort of be the last album,” Tablo explains. “Epik High Is Here Part 2 ends with ‘Champagne,’ which is sort of going back to the very first song on our first album [‘Go’ on Map of the Human Soul]. It’s like the curtain call. We were like, ‘We’ve made so many albums and I don’t think there’s anything we can really say. So, let’s continue to be Epik High and perform, but I’m not sure if we should ever make an album again. It was like a collective decision. What happened was…damn it, Coachella kind of inspired us again. We were like, ‘Oh my God…’”
Tablo says California continued to inspire the band despite their professional promises: “We just assumed that maybe we’ll release one single in October 2023 when it actually becomes 20 years, but nothing else. And then we were in LA for some festival, we just had like a week in L.A. but only one show so we had all this time. Being who we are, we ended up with a lot of musicians just making music and ended up with a ton of songs. We were like, ‘What do we do with these songs? We promised each other that we wouldn’t release an album,’ and then Tukutz was like, ‘This isn’t actually an album if we’re releasing three to five songs. Technically, it’s just a project.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re right. We did say we will never release another studio-length album so we’re not breaking that promise…yet.’ And we justified it to ourselves, hence, this situation.”
Let Epik High break down their new album/project/situation Strawberry below, track by track:
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