Imagine G-Dragon, Earl Sweatshirt, Captain Murphy, and Nujabes got together one day and decided to make the perfect hip-hop group. They all took bits of their DNA, dumped them into a cauldron, and added a bit of Chemical X Powerpuff Girl style. After the smoke cleared from the tie-dye explosion, you’d be left with the deranged and fearless duo of rapper Jjang-you and DJ DOL, also known as Illap.
Not much is known about these youngsters from Busan (Jjang-you being 22, and DOL being 21). The hip-hop duo formed about two years ago, though the details on their meeting are fuzzy, even to the pair of hip-hop renegades. In their first-ever US interview, DOL can only offer, “The way I remember it, we met in the street at dawn.” In early February the group became Dynasty Muzik‘s—a record company founded in the United States in 2004 and now located in South Korea—latest family members. Since then, they’ve released their debut album, four music videos, and have created quite a stir in the Korean hip-hop scene. They’ve become something of an oddity in South Korea’s underground. Says Jjang-you, “Sometimes I feel like some K-rap players don’t want to accept us into the club.” Perhaps it’s his very stylized flow, lilting and swaying like a genius drunkard spouting heretical philosophies. Or maybe it’s DOL’s space-age production, the music being very reminiscent of the type of beat-heavy productions from US’s most popular rap stars, yet cerebral, with warped backtracking indicative of the likes of Odd Future.
Their influences range in style and influence. Jjang-you claims to like most rappers, being a fan of L’il Wayne and Kanye West, then dipping back into the 90s with legends Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. “At this very moment, King Krule, Kid Cudi and Tyler, The Creator are my favorite.” It’s no surprise, then, that his style can’t be pinned down. It’s neither here nor there, not one style or another. It’s strictly a product of his love of the genre, something that sort of defines the group as a whole. Jjang-you and DOL offer an organic style of hip-hop, something that sounds like they literally picked up from the earth and ingested it raw. There’s no pretense here, none of the bravado you’d expect from underground rap artists—crotch-grabbing, flinging the middle finger at every possible juncture to prove their testicular fortitude. For instance, while their Western peers would express mostly contempt for pop music in their respective countries, the men of Illap have nothing but praise for the expansion of K-pop worldwide, insisting that it can only mean amazing things for the future of indie artists in South Korea.
That lack of a sense of entitlement and self-importance seeps into their music videos as well. The auditory shock to the system is nothing compared to the visual representation of their music—giving a new meaning to the popular K-pop term “visual shock.” For example, their debut MV for song “Naeryeo Nwa” (literally, “Put it Down”, but titled “Calm” on their official YouTube page) is as soft and mesmerizing as the song itself, being at once incredibly simple and emotionally complex. They introduce themselves to viewers as a group devoid of the polish of some of their predecessors but with just as much heart and enthusiasm for lyricism and storytelling.
But Illap is also a group unafraid to perhaps frighten or even repulse potential fans. The music video for their self-titled song is not exactly something you’d show your friends to get them invested in a new hip-hop group from South Korea. It’s dark, almost malicious. It definitely had a few commentators on Dynasty Muzik’s YouTube page scratching their heads, exclaiming, “What the hell did I just watch?” It’s also probably why for the first day of its release it was set to private. There’s nothing pretty about the video, absolutely nothing subtle. But it’s all a part of what makes Illap such an anomaly musically and visually.
Perhaps it’s their rawer and less inhibited approach to creating music that may alienate them from certain facets of the Korean hip-hop world. They certainly don’t pull any punches on their self-titled debut album, going full-force from the first note. But in the end they just want a chance to get their music heard through any avenues they can, even with DOL’s impending military duties looming in the near future: “Military service is compulsory in Korea. So, I have to stop all profitable activity for two years, starting in September. But I won’t stop releasing free tracks, unofficial tracks, I mean.”
Whatever their future, however many albums they eventually release, the fact remains Illap is a breath of… well, maybe not “fresh” air. Semi-cosmic, lysergic acid flavored air, perhaps. They’ve got a very distinct sound, an unforgettable style, and so much potential and spunk one would think they’d created their own version of the cosmos. Borrowing the Buddhist phrase for the first year of monkhood, Illap strives to explore how far they can push their music. “We chose [the name Illap] because we want to keep giving listeners fresh and original music. It’s like saying ‘stay forever young.’” One thing’s for sure, Illap have an incredible future ahead of them, something that will no doubt turn a few heads as Korean music continues to spread throughout the world.