Rather than saying that SM Entertainment is the only company with a basement holding talented people, it seems like all of the Big Three have their own dungeons. SME holds the obvious Jino and Zhang Li-yin, with Henry recently being allowed to venture a bit on his own. YG Entertainment has Gummy, who hasn’t released anything outside of OSTs in Korea since 2011, and only a mini-album in Japan a couple of months ago, and Se7en, whose last release before entering the military was easy listening for some, but disappointing for others. JYP Entertainment has Joo, who was last seen in musicals and with Leeteuk for “Ice Cream” in 2012, and had San E.
San E joined JYPE in 2010 with the primary goal of getting his name out there through JYPE’s influence. He was the label’s first solo hip-hop rapper among all the idols, so perhaps JYPE was uncertain as to how to work his image and angle. San E released a debut mini-album in 2010 and two singles in 2011, better known more recently for his antics with other JYPE artists and his stint as a Gurupop host alongside DMTN‘s Daniel. In May, the rapper and JYPE revealed that San E was leaving the company on good terms, the two deciding to cancel the contract that was soon going to end.
After revealing his parting from JYPE, San E released his self-written and composed track “Big Boy” featuring Bee of Rphabet. For those wondering where he’d end up, and to start anew, San E released “Rap Circus” on June 4th through Brand New Music‘s YouTube channel, revealing that he’s the newest addition to the hip-hop company. The instrumental for the song is originally from A$AP Rocky‘s “Goldie.” Brand New Music is also holding their third Brand New Day concert on the 21st of June with the tagline “San E, Welcome to Brand New!” San E, Verbal Jint, Swings, Phantom, and Troy are set to perform.
Warning: The following music video plays heavily on a circus theme, so those with a fear of clowns should probably stay away. Also, there is a repeated use of profanity. If that offends, it may be another reason to skip ahead or watch with caution.
The first thought that comes to mind is that this is a song and music video that simply could not have been done under JYPE. The idol company has that family-friendly image in order to properly appeal to the younger audience, so the 19+ rating wouldn’t really fly there. The second thought was that this is good, and San E should have left much earlier.
The video doesn’t go for any recognizable set, having a black backdrop for the majority of the song. Most of the interest is generated by San E’s many changes of face paint, from clown to other designs, mainly based around blue, red, black, and white. To complement face changes is really nice editing that also plays around with morphing San E’s face in time with the rapping or adding text and images where necessary. The changes in face paint seem to correspond to different parts of this “Rap Circus” such as rhymes, flow, lyrics, and concept, as shown by the face swaps in connection with the lyrics at 0:49. For some scenes, San E doppelgangers are present in the background, providing a creepy but entertaining addition to the scenes. The best part of the visuals is that San E is full of just so much energy, really bringing his raps to life with all his movements and inflections. He runs the show and keeps it interesting for the full 4:21.
Most important, however, are the lyrics. The entire song is a declaration that San E is back and ready to make the music he couldn’t make before. It’s part boast, part diss, and part story, all coming together in a wonderfully continuous flow. It’s not the first time San E has gone out on a limb about idols; his debut track, “Tasty San,” comes to mind. But here, he’s fairly blunt, calling out people being overrated, not being able to rap–with no names, of course–while extolling his own virtues, going as far as making the Mozart vs. Salieri comparison (It has often been portrayed that Salieri was envious of Mozart’s career and attempted to hinder him in every way possible. San E makes reference to this in the line, “I’ll be Mozart, you be my Salieri, for me done!”).
Most noticeable is probably the reference to his previous entertainment company; in response to the question, “Why hasn’t San E done this until now?” he says,
I’m ashamed, my own decision to join a zoo,
Feeding on the chickens that they threw.
Be tamed, so more people can watch the circus.
But one’s nature couldn’t be hidden, I’m a wild lion.
Bite, chew, taste, enjoy, and smell the blood, only then I can sleep well.
While it sounds like a diss towards idols, describing them as living in the “zoo” that he left, it speaks more to how much he didn’t fit into that type of lifestyle rather than being a pure insult to those that choose that way. The idols that choose to train in entertainment companies with the goal of debuting as an idol, they’re like lion cubs that train with a singular goal in mind because that what seems to work best. And they debut before they’re “wild,” so to speak. But San E’s already “wild.” The confinement of an agency like JYPE doesn’t fit him, and the best thing to do is just let him go.
Also noticeable are two references to G-Dragon. The first comes by grabbing a line from “Crayon:” “Heads and shoulder and knees and toes, swag (check) swag (check).” He then uses the same rhythm for his own lines: “Grab the microphone and here, rap (do it) rap (do it). The second reference is direct. “Verbal Jint, Supreme Team, GD, what have I done to be considered not as good as those rappers,” indicating a level of respect for the controversial Big Bang leader, if not for his actual raps, then for perceptions of him.
As the song is titled “Rap Circus,” the phrases used to transform rapping into a circus act with complexity are interestingly done. He references “rhyme juggling, flow jumping, and punchline tumbling,” broadly describing it all as a “risky tightrope act.” This circus idea is complemented by the already mentioned clown faces and the beginning that treats the entire rap like a circus: “Just come out and watch, call your friends in the neighborhood.” Other acts to the aid the idea of a dark circus are the magic tricks–the makeup changes, somehow reconnecting tiny pieces of paper into a whole–and the brief juggling with torches, and later, balls of some sort. To add to the darker spin, it looks like while under the clown facade, San E wields some type of weapon vaguely resembling a firearm. To help the song just a tad, it would have been nice to see more references to this “circus” or references better spread throughout the song. They come in clumps before the lyrics return to the witty lyrics that themselves are the culmination of the circus already spoken of.
Lastly, the hook of “Welcome motherfuckers, this is rap circus,” is very catchy. The pronunciation of “motherfuckers” is slightly off in order to rhyme a bit better with “circus.” By the end of the song, the “welcome” changes into “thank you,” still keeping in time with the same beat. It’s not the best chorus to be singing around at any given time, but it effectively stays in your head.
As a major comeback for San E, one of the big ideas to take away from this is the determination to properly do rap as San E the Big Boy. The timing of the song and just the energy coming out of this video show that it’s something that was probably waiting for when San E could move to a company that would let him have more freedom in his work. And luckily, the lyrics aren’t full of useless curse words; while boastful, they still demonstrate good wit and hold of the language in combination with excellent expression. It’s a great way to start off a fresh start at a new company.
Overall Score: 4.9/5
If you’re interested in getting the track, San E himself put up free download links on his Twitter.
— San E(@san_e) June 4, 2013
What do you think about San E’s move to Brand New Music and his newest track? More importantly, are you interested in hearing more? Leave a comment with your thoughts!