Our obsession with Epik High means that if something’s Korean and it’s hip-hop, we’ll give it a listen. (Though we’ll never replace you, Tablo!) So it was nice to hear about One Way, a breaking hip-hop, R&B trio out of Seoul that just dropped a three-track album in Korea this week.
Overall, there’s less rapping and more rap-as-filler between groovy choruses, or, worse yet, rap obscured by auto-tune. And originality? That was thrown out the window. What we have here instead is a group that’s ambitiously trying to cover all the ground of rap, R&B, and hip-hop’s main sounds in a three-song disc. What they end up doing is going in three startling different directions with three songs that feel so different from each other and yet not at all fresh.
Plus, we wish these lyrics were in Korean, instead of English. (Don’t Americans already have enough English-speaking hip-hop groups?) Still, it’s a new sound in the flurry of K-Pop news that comes out of Korea. Here’s what we thought of the three-track album, track by track.
1. The first track, “U Drag” is a heart-felt R&B number that looks back to a simpler day (read: the 1990s) when musicians wore Kangol caps and sang confident, poppy love songs.
2. Track two, “One Way,” couldn’t be more different: It’s an auto-tuned R&B anthem that starts out sounding like the new Chris Brown single and then gets a bit faster. But whatever is legitimate about hip-hop has here been excised. In the video, wearing big, dopey colorful hoodies of marketable “street culture,” the rappers hang all over a well-lit, colorfully spraypainted “street” set looking as “hardcore” as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air in his vacuum-sealed California home.
3. Stuffed with samples, “Casino” has bigger ambition than the other tracks on this release. The song opens with the film audio of a casino winner and keeps us in the club with the audio of a blackjack game unfolding on a texture of clicking chips. Honky, cliche trumpet flares and piano splashes recall the worst of Vegas lounges. Over it all, the boys quickly rhyme in classic rap style (finally) about… you guessed it… the spoils of wealth. Lines like “No pain , no profit / Get your fame on” aren’t exactly original, but get points for being catchy and enthused with a less serious edge than in the other tracks here. But the bad news is when the chorus comes in: “‘Cause we’re living in this fine materialistic woooooorld” the group sings, joined by Korean singer Maria Kim. “My best friends are diamonds / And they just last forever, baby….Welcome to my Casino, baby.” This is not good. As in, not interesting or creative or fun or pretty or… Just bleugh. Mediocre. As in a real Casino, what started out as enticing now has me screaming to get out.
Epik High, it looks like we can never replace you.
Hear it all yourself.
1. Here’s “U Drag,” a heart-felt R&B number that the rookie band ends with the line, “We’re just getting started here…”
2. Here’s their auto-tuned, effects-heavy “One Way”:
3. The ambitious mess of “Casino”: