With a run time of a little over 12 minutes, it’s natural for one to question just how much an artist can share about what they’ve been through. With the release of their newest EP Strawberry, Korean hip-hop icons Epik High answer that question; and the answer is a lot.
The album’s interesting title seems to be somewhat self-explanatory by the production of the tracks; easy and laidback lo-fi hip hop which the group has made part of their signature sound over their 20-plus year-long career. The lyrics, however, explode with more in-your-face energy, full of the group’s usual swagger. Lyrically, the album centers on raising a middle finger to the haters, and to the people who have tried to stop Epik High from succeeding throughout the years. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Epik High frontman Tablo got personal and talked about how this EP was a moment for him to fully let his feelings be heard after being the victim of a massive online trolling campaign aimed at destroying his life over a decade ago, which was recently documented in the podcast Authentic: The Story of Tablo.
The lyrics are where Strawberry plays its strongest cards, and while the group, particularly Tablo is known for his clever wordplay, this time around, things are more straightforward. “I hate the way that you talk / I hate the way that you are,” collaborator Jackson Wang sings in the chorus of “On My Way” as a mimic of what sounds like the typical comments any artist or public figure is bound to find on their social media. Where songs like this one and “Catch” featuring Hwasa acknowledge these low moments, they are immediately followed by words of triumph and reminders to loved ones that they’re still there and will survive the mistreatment.
The album does take a notable sonic and lyrical departure with the track “Down Bad Freestyle,” a classic hip-hop track with Tablo directly calling out cancel culture and the toxicity of social media. While the track does feel out of place within the EP, it feels like a cathartic and honest portrayal of how I’m sure many people feel about the current state of the online world. Sometimes flowery language and metaphors aren’t needed to make a message stick. The track that truly stands out in this release is the powerful closing track “God’s Latte.” Telling of a conversation between our narrator and God, the question is asked “What kind of people end up in hell?” and God has no answer. It’s a cathartic reflection that has us realizing that we all as humans are constantly trying to raise ourselves above others, sometimes no matter what it takes. But at what cost?
When asked why the group decided on the name Strawberry for the album, Tablo stated that “When we thought of something fresh, strawberry was the first thing that popped into our heads,” but then followed that up saying “At the same time, when you smash a strawberry, it looks like blood. The strawberry literally has nothing to protect it.” The meaning of the album title fits aech song off the album perfectly; a sweet track, with heartfelt and vulnerable lyricism. This album is Epik High’s way of telling listeners that we’re all like strawberries; both something capable of being sweet, while also being capable of something much more bitter.