He’s getting what he wants, maybe — Dynamic Duo just released their seventh and most successful album, Lucky Numbers, in July, and saw their single “Baaam” top the charts. Even more, Gaeko and Choiza did it all without sacrificing their blended hip hop sound, which combines breezy, west coast 1990s G-funk with the more glossy, soulful production of the 2000s. At a career high, the two are respected lyricists, pop heavyweights, international performers, and most noticeably, big drinkers.
Of course, many artists celebrate alcohol — hell, some of my favorite songs are about drinking and partying til’ you’re, well, really really drunk — but the way that Dynamic Duo chronicle their success by the kind of liquor streaming down the back of their throats is peculiar. Even more peculiar is just how afraid they are that their habits will put them on a long slide to ruin.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmAHmYgdopw]
At Seoulbeats, we’ve previously discussed Korea’s pervasive drinking culture, whether it be examining the serious formalities that come with it, or looking at dramas to demonstrate how drinking seeps into professional and personal life. The high pressure put on people to drink in social situations is one of the big reasons why Korea is one of the top countries in terms of alcohol consumption per capita, in league with a handful of European nations and easily beating out the rest of Asia. In the business world, after-work drinking is so commonplace that Samsung recently set limits for their employees’ alcohol consumption. While a drinking culture as ingrained as Korea’s won’t come to a halt because of it, it’s a slow turn towards moderation that all too often is lost when alcohol is involved.
Like many Koreans who have only recently come into wealth, Gaeko and Choiza have amassed plenty of won to spend on cheap soju and beer. But as celebrities, they’ve got the social capital to drink at their leisure, without worrying about the rules of Korean drinking culture. While alcohol is a fantastic social lubricant — especially in East Asian countries like Korea, where rigid workplace norms and social barriers can keep peers distant — in the clubs, bars and after parties that Dynamic Duo frequent, the two aren’t downing drinks to fit in. These are victory shots of soju, the spoils of their success.
You can practically hear the alcohol soaked into their beats. The album’s lackadaisical keyboards and shiny, sleek singing are the soundtrack for a day of drinking in L.A., and when the album gets to percolating, life becomes easier, especially with a bottle of Tanqueray and a tray of ice cubes. It’s the kind of music made for the beach and the front porch, or for the free time between your hip hop group’s next major concert and booked studio session. Hear Dynamic Duo’s stadium-sized unease in “Return Of The Kings” and you’ll understand why these guys want to let loose.
On the face of it, their habits are harmless, but as Lucky Numbers goes on, there’s a growing worry that the penthouse party life the two enjoy is also slowly becoming their vice. Part of it is in the sound itself; their odes to relaxation teeter towards to idleness, and even the alcohol-absent numbers like “Shoot — Goal In” and “Three Dope Boyz” have layers of buzzed-out, ear-ringing noise akin to a terrible hangover.
Their troubles are made explicit, too. Gaeko and Choiza’s flows are swift and braggadocio-full, but lack the kind of soft inflection and tactful timing that make confident rappers into wry ones. The translated lyrics reveal why, with endless talk of work, travel, and leisure turning their verses into stories of stress and relief through consumption. Even on “Baaam” you can see their short-sightedness come to the forefront, as they fawn over a girl they can’t win. “I’m not your fountain, so why do you only drink coffee or alcohol that I buy?” leads into “I’m taking you home after you got wasted” as if a bottle were the key to her heart.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dR5Vxk5gt0]
They try it again with better success on “Hot Wings,” their private island excursion with beautiful women and high-priced champagne. Then there’s the lonely moments described on “Life Is Good,” like Choiza’s dirty Seoul apartment where wake-up time is three in the afternoon, dishes are piled high in the sink, the bedroom is covered in clothes, and all that’s needed are “Winning 11 and a 7-Eleven.” Even on the jetsetting “Airplane Mode,” the boys are habitual Don Juans, slurring their speech and asking the flight attendants for “a glass of wine, so I can go to sleep.”
But it’s the two ending tracks that inch closest to darkness. Taken together, they shore up the Duo’s dread, becoming the K-pop cousins of “Swimming Pools (Drank),” the breakout single from California rap virtuoso Kendrick Lamar. Though they share none of Lamar’s Compton struggle and hard-won spirituality, Dynamic Duo’s stories are just as grounded in their own experience. “Tragedy Pt. 2” is a kind of premonition, where a music star’s strung-out club nights lead to him cheat on his wife, father a child, become blackmailed, and see his life “burnt black,” in that order.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTT9R1rbj8s]
Album closer “Shin Dong Yeop” is from the perspective of the duo’s forgotten friend whose daily drudgery and 9-to-bar time job have made him an alcoholic. While “Tragedy” projects the Duo’s celebrity fears, “Shin Dong Yeop” is a truly Korean story, where the malaise of middle management and an ambiguous work-life balance seem all too killer. For young Koreans looking to make friends and appease co-workers, these are the kinds of cautionary tales that make after-hours indulgence not so innocuous.
It’s this thin line between contentedness and excess – or like Choiza’s snowy beer, between overflowing and lacking – that leads Lucky Numbers to its uneasy conclusion. Never sure if they’re heading into further fortune or just binging on it, Gaeko and Choiza are doing what they can with both the bounties and trappings of their fame. When the beat bops and the beer bottles open up, they become one and the same. 4/5