If you look beyond the glittering tendencies of K-pop in terms of music in South Korea, you can find many hidden (and sometimes underappreciated) genres woven neatly into the music scene as well. My personal favorites are Korean R&B and hip hop, and there is absolutely no question that those two genres are sadly, relatively unknown to many K-pop fans, especially international ones. Luckily for those fans who have yet to be introduced to the awesomeness of Korean hip hop, Verbal Jint, a talented rapper who has shaped the hip hop and rap scene of Korean music for the past decade, released his newest album, Ten Years of Misreading, this past week. The album is filled with wonderfully unique rap tracks featuring the vocals of well-known artists, such as Ivy and Sanchez, providing a delightful contrast between Verbal Jint’s rap verses and the melodies of the songs. Ten Years of Misreading is a masterfully crafted album, sure to please both old and new fans of Korean hip hop.
Kim Jin-tae (Verbal Jint) studied at Seoul National University, majoring in Economics, before making the transition to music. He made his debut in 2001 with Modern Rhymes, a youthful and energetic EP that hinted at Verbal Jint’s potential as a high-profile rapper. Back then, the standards for Korean raps were much different than they are now — Verbal Jint stated during an interview that many people were satisfied with “fast talking” as raps, but the advance of the Internet allowed new rappers to develop more complicated rhymes after hearing other styles of rapping. For a while, he did not release any new material until Favorite in 2007, and even after that, Verbal Jint preferred to keep a low profile. However, he quickly rose to prominence through collaborations with other vocalists and hip hop groups, such as Wheesung and Epik High. He released album after album, each one showing off his smoothness and versatility as a rapper. With Ten Years of Misreading, Verbal Jint continues to draw fans into the world of Korean hip hop, while still managing to retain the original essence of his music from being touched by mainstream trends.
Verbal Jint kicks off his album with “Misreading,” which is one of the best intros I’ve ever heard. It begins with an incongruous series of raps and sounds, but eventually flows into a smooth rap complemented by simple yet stunning instrumentals. The balance in “Misreading” hints at what is to come in the rest of the album — minimalism when it comes to vocals and other aspects of each song, which allows the raps to truly shine. I especially enjoyed the piano crescendo at the end of the song, which seemed to build intensity and momentum for the next track.
The second track, “Live Music,” is a relaxed, yet upbeat hip hop track that sounds like it could be bar music. Verbal Jint uses piano chords to provide a catchy beat and provide a flow to his rap, which made it easy to listen to. “Live Music” transitioned into “Perfect Day,” a more vocals-heavy track that features Ivy. “Perfect Day” is one of my favorite tracks from the album, because while it is a bright and cheerful song, the rap keeps it grounded and gives it a great rhythm that makes it a fun song to jam out to in the morning.
“Good Morning” is another song on Ten Years of Misreading that really stands out because of the awesome vocals. While Verbal Jint’s raps never disappoint, he knows that an album with nonstop raps can get repetitive and boring because they can all start sounding the same after a long time, so he balanced the rap-heavy songs with others that are lighter on the rap. The live performances of “Good Morning are awesome to watch, because you can see Verbal Jint take on the keyboard and rap at the same time, showing off his skills as a well-rounded musician.
In his next track, “Happy Birthday,” Verbal Jint brings back basic instrumentals paired with a smooth rap paced perfectly with As One‘s voice. With only piano, guitar, and drums, “Happy Birthday” has a very easygoing feel, even with the rap. One thing about Verbal Jint that continues to impress me is his ability to catch someone’s attention with a rap track that is not intense, just well-executed. The instrumental break in the song also adds a new element to Ten Years of Misreading, especially with the electric guitar riff, something you typically would not expect to be paired with a smooth rap with a jazzy style.
The album takes on a sexier feel in “Got to Be U,” a slower rap track that has a hint of R&B in it. A rap and the softer chorus gives “Got to Be U” a very different feel from the rest of the songs on the album, perfect for those who enjoy laidback R&B and rap together. Verbal Jint’s voice, which has a soulful feel, is actually a great fit for this type of song — I definitely pictured a dark and elegant bar with a jazz band when listening to this song.
My favorite track from Ten Years of Misreading has to be “You Deserve Better.” Everything about the song works — Verbal Jint’s raps sound effortlessly fluid and Sanchez’s vocals are relaxed. Yet something about the song just draws the audience in and makes it sound emotionally charged, allowing you to really feel what the song is trying to convey. This song really demonstrates how much Verbal Jint has grown in the past ten years — there are so many rappers out there who don’t actually put any emotion whatsoever into their raps, but Verbal Jint really has this amazing ability to make his audience really connect with his music.
Verbal Jint follows up “You Deserve Better” with “The Rainy Season,” a really interesting track on Ten Years of Misreading because of the calculated rapping style he uses. Most of the other raps on this album have a very rhythmic and polished feel to them, but Verbal Jint uses a much different style in “The Rainy Season,” enunciating all the syllables. I like his smoother raps better, but when an artist deviates from his normal style and executes it well, that’s always an impressive thing. In “She’s Gone,” Verbal Jint sings and raps about losing a girl. The song is a little more instrumentals-heavy than the rest of the album, but it has a fast pace. It doesn’t really stand out for me, as compared with tracks like “Perfect Day” and “You Deserve Better,” but I didn’t dislike it either.
Ten Years of Misreading closes with “Also Available in 2013” featuring Zion. The beat to this last song is very sexy and velvety, which goes together perfectly with the piano in the background. Zion’s voice is a little on the breathy side, which I typically don’t really like, but it works well with Verbal Jint’s raps in this case.
Overall, Ten Years of Misreading was a great album that showcased not only Verbal Jint’s talents as a rapper, but also a plethora of other musical qualities that he has. A good rap album is hard to find, because so while rappers are very passionate about what they do, it’s hard to channel that passion into great music. Verbal Jint not only managed to do that, but he showed that he could still maintain his identity as a rapper through this album without compromising to more mainstream hip hop. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will continue to shape the Korean hip hop scene for years to come.
(BrandNew Music, Korea Times)