My favorite Korean hip-hop album from last year was KOKI7. That says something, considering some of the most incredible hip-hop came out of the country in 2018 (including both Yoon Mirae’s highly anticipated Gemini II and Drunken Tiger’s final album under the moniker, Rebirth of Tiger JK). I won’t deny it: JJANGYOU is my favorite male rapper from South Korea. I’ll scream from rooftops and sing it while I twirl with my arms outspread from the top of a flower-covered hill.
I first discovered JJANGYOU as part of duo ILLAP with DJ DOL. I have to be honest, when I heard their unofficial theme song, ILLAP, I wasn’t at all sure what I was getting myself into. The music video is… well it’s damn creepy, if I’m being perfectly honest. But then again, as a baby of the MTV generation, I’m a sucker for the weird and wonderful. Nestled in and oftentimes overpowering the ink-swamped warble of the beat, there came this voice. Equal parts Earl Sweatshirt and Flying Lotus alter ego Captain Murphy, JJANGYOU sort of slid in and out of the verses, an eel slinking and slippery between crevices. His voice, his delivery… everything sort of just sent a chill up and down my spine.
Outside of Tiger JK and Tasha, my knowledge of Korean hip-hop was limited when I first got into the genre. Imagine my surprise when I hear an artist like this. Someone who sort of rides underneath a beat, yet when he gets it in his mind to make a point, he does so with authority. As if to say, “I’m gonna punch you in the face. You just won’t know when it’s gonna happen.”
All this, of course, carried over with his latest endeavors. While ILLAP was more horror-core, psychedelia, his work with WAVISABIROOM hearkened back to the hip-hip that I grew up with: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Sol, etc. Along with producer J-flow and rapper/producer ARwwae, the trio created a few albums that further exposed the versatility in JJANGYOU’s abilities as a lryicist and MC.
Then… KOKI7. Even without reading anything about it, I could tell this album was JJANGYOU’s purging. It was his way of getting something out of his body, and saying it with his entire chest. It was his Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, if you will. A Kendrick-esque peeling back of all the pains and traumas he suffered from his childhood up to this very moment. It was both an attack on everything my comfort zone and a warm blanket on an icy spirit.
All of this does so much to define who JJANGYOU is. There’s just something about the way this man attacks music. His lyricism is quick, witty, oftentimes irreverent, but always powerful. JJANGYOU exudes an aura of, shall we say, relaxed chaos. He doesn’t seem to fight for any of that energy. It’s all inherent in him. Everything he does is fire. And I don’t mean it in the way most kids use it. I mean it quite literally. He sets each song ablaze with the fury of his delivery, the flame of his lyricism. There’s something of a phoenix in him. Instead of the tragic beauty of a bird rising from ashes, we have a battered and gorgeous beast clawing his way through the rubble of an explosion.
That’s what JJANGYOU is to me: a self-contained detonation.