Review

Album Review: Drunken Tiger – Drunken Tiger X: Rebirth Of Tiger JK

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Release: November 14, 2018
Label: Feel gHood Music
Distributor: Genie Music, Stone Music Entertainment
Genre: Hip-hop, boom bap
Score:

I don’t put a whole lot of weight on the statement that Rebirth of Tiger JK is Drunken Tiger’s final album. Tiger JK couched it by saying that future work will be billed under his name only, but it’s been 14 years since DT switched to a one man show anyway. But I believe it does mean something for the album’s contents. This is the stuff that JK wanted to make sure made it in; the music and stories fit to send off the Drunken Tiger name, and the twenty-year history that comes with it, for good.

And so this tenth studio album has a dual focus: celebrating the past, highlighting the future. This is Drunken Tiger’s second straight 2-CD album after 2009’s Feel gHood Muzik (not counting the MFBTY album), with one disc ostensibly dedicated to each of those goals. For disc 1 that means we turn the clock back and go actively retro, with longtime collaborator Loptimist producing almost the entire disc and bringing with him a bundle of furious old-school East Coast beats.

At some points, it feels like Year of the Tiger or The Legend Of… with a new sheen and new stories. “Mantra” (music video) seems to intentionally copy the kit of those early beats, with blasting bass and exploding drums that are textured exactly like 1998 and even bringing back those vaguely melancholy guitar plucks for effect. It’s maybe a little busier overall than beats from that era, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear this or similarly styled “Gozip 2” as a follow-up single to “Good Life” in 2001. The track also features washed-out strings and boastful brass highlights, two more era staples that show up again and again in “A Tiger Named JK”, “Relay Slay”, “44” and elsewhere.

The disc is awash in this kind of nostalgic familiarity, which is deeply satisfying at times but also acts as a limitation: despite the top-notch polish and a few palate-cleansing tracks (e.g. “Let Me Ride”, “Gunznroses”), this is ultimately the same stuff we could have been hearing ten years ago. DT’s slurry, meandering delivery – the Ol’ Dirty Bastard classic – and his technical style have also stayed basically the same for 20 years and don’t change here. There’s value in this witness to history, to be sure. You just have to know that that’s what you’re getting from this disc.

But I’d be remiss to not mention the April lead single “Yet”, which does shake things up and in my mind is one of 2018’s best hip-hop songs. Loptimist outdid himself with a magnificent beat that reaches all the way into DT’s Wu-Tang roots for inspiration and brings it into modernity with a pinch of Korean traditional. Though the soundset is still old-school boom-bap, the drama in the composition (the layered build-up, an explosive final hook) borrows from more recent trends. The wailing taepyungso is an unexpected but picture-perfect fit in this powerful, defiant anthem.

It’s also a track that narratively places this disc in 2018. Tiger JK faces off against regret and injustice, against recent personal tragedies like the death of his father and the loss of his Jungle label to fraudsters. While recognizing the passage of time, he affirms a desire against wilting away and proves it with some of his most poetic lines (“The light chases darkness but only shines on that flashy mimicry there”) as well as some fantastic punchlines (“If they say I’m old, I’m old // and if they say I’m over, I’m a period // …the exclamation point that pushes down on one”).

Even outside of this track, I generally appreciated JK’s lyrics throughout Rebirth of Tiger JK. His style might be the same, and there are countless emcees now who are more technically skilled, but the man’s storytelling chops and philosophical bent (like his “Gozip 2” stanza that abstractly wraps up the stories told by the featured rappers) make for an engaging experience.

That side of Tiger JK gets more time to shine in the second disc, in which the boom-bap focus is relaxed and the beats (still heavily Loptimist, but more varied) venture into all sorts of areas and even outside of hip-hop altogether. “Sex, Love, Poetry” is a culmination of the jazz-hop that we’ve glimpsed in the last few DT albums, completed by Zoey Cho’s improv piano and L.A.-based Myka 9’s spoken-word-like freestyle. “Party in the Bu” brings the Feel gHood crew to a chilled trap beat and Junoflo steals the show. “Fireball” is a sheer speed competition. There are vocal-heavy jams that range from big-bucks lush (“Beautiful”) to Soundcloud (“Do I Lust for You”), as well as a kitsch dance track (“Clap”) featuring old friends who have since become some of Korea’s top multi-entertainers.

It’s not very cohesive, but the sheer variety on display is a joy. It also allows Tiger JK to play more of a laid-back role, often setting the stage for younger artists to shine and telling stories that are close to everyday life. (This part is reminiscent of Yoon Mi-rae’s comeback album earlier this year; he showed up often as the doting husband there, and Yoon is the grounding presence in this album’s slower tracks.) On love, marriage, family, friends: the stories are maybe smaller in scope than the charged shells of disc 1, but they’re no less real.

Perhaps that’s the future for Tiger JK, and why he’s retiring the Drunken Tiger name. There’s a palpable sense of freedom in disc 2 even beyond the most playful tracks in DT’s discography. And when I look at the album’s huge cast of personnel and how they fit in, it’s hard to argue against this album-as-community model that he’s wrought.

The whole Feel gHood family perform and write many times each, accompanied by Movement folks and other old friends in Korea and abroad. That includes people who are no longer even in hip-hop (in the case of Micki Eyes, no longer in music at all). Promising underground emcees and sharp idol rappers share time. And at the center of this bustling party: just the man Tiger JK, no longer the lone Drunken Tiger but instead one of many like him.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

CD1

  1. Intro
    Written, composed, and arranged by Lumpens
  2. 끄덕이는 노래 (Mantra)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  3. 이름만대면 (A Tiger Named JK) (Feat. MC Meta, Dok2)
    Written by Tiger JK, MC Meta, Dok2; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  4. Yet
    Written by Tiger JK; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  5. Let Me Ride (Feat. Yoon Mi-rae)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  6. 시발점 (Genesis) (Feat. Bizzy, Junoflo)
    Written by Tiger JK, Bizzy, Junoflo; composed and arranged by Dino-J
  7. 고집쟁이 2 (Gozip 2) (Feat. Bizzy, QM, TakeOne)
    Written by Tiger JK, Bizzy, QM, TakeOne; composed and arranged by Konquest
  8. Skit 01 (0661 다빈치 코드 Da Vinci Code)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  9. 감 Cypher (Relay Slay) (Feat. Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy, Junoflo, Styliztik Jones)
    Written by Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy, Junoflo, Styliztik Jones; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  10. 내 인생의 반 (Where Do I Go)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  11. 떡 Life (44) (Feat. Bizzy)
    Written by Tiger JK and Bizzy; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  12. 화원 (Gunznroses) (Feat. Superbee, myunDo)
    Written by Tiger JK, Superbee, myunDo; composed and arranged by DJ Newos
  13. 맨발 (Van Gogh)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  14. Skit 02 (Father Says)
  15. Timeless (Feat. RM of BTS)
    Written by Tiger JK and RM; composed and arranged by Loptimist

CD2

  1. Sex, Love, Poetry (Feat. Myka 9)
    Written by Tiger JK and Myka 9; composed and arranged by Jason Park and Zoey Cho
  2. I’m Not Regular (Feat. MRSHLL)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  3. 손뼉 (Clap) (Feat. Kim Jong-kook, G1, Defconn, Haha)
    Written by Tiger JK, Defconn, Haha, M. TySON, Loptimist; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  4. Skit 03 (Love Is)
  5. I Love You Too (Feat. Yoon Mi-rae)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed by Zoey Cho and Tiger JK; arranged by Zoey Cho
  6. Party in the Bu (Feat. Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy, Junoflo, Styliztik Jones)
    Written by Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy, Junoflo, Styliztik Jones; composed and arranged by DJ Newos
  7. Skit 04 (요즘에는) (Nowadays)
  8. 기지개 (Fireball) (Feat. Junoflo, Micki Eyes)
    Written by Tiger JK, Junoflo, Micki Eyes; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  9. 어색해지지 말자 (Do I Lust For You) (Feat. Bibi)
    Written by Tiger JK and Bibi; composed by Scary’P and Bibi; arranged by Scary’P, Absoud, Oz
  10. 뽕짝2야기 (Nicotine Blues) (Feat. Ann One, Carmine Ioanna)
    Written by Tiger JK and Park Young-woong; composed by Loptimist and Ann One; arranged by Loptimist
  11. 거들먹 (Double Up) (Feat. Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy, Junoflo)
    Written by Tiger JK, Yoon Mi-rae, Bizzy, Junoflo; composed and arranged by Dino-J
  12. 범바예 (Bumaye) Remix (Feat. Bizzy, Vernon of Seventeen)
    Written by Tiger JK, Bizzy, Vernon; composed and arranged by Loptimist
  13. Skit 05 (Mother Says)
  14. Beautiful (Feat. Who$)
    Written by Tiger JK, Who$; composed by Konquest, Who$; arranged by Konquest
  15. 짧은 시 (Short Poem) (Outro)
    Written by Tiger JK; composed by DJ Newos and Tiger JK; arranged by DJ Newos

Album cover images from Bugs Music. Lyric translations by author.