Coinciding with his 20th anniversary as Drunken Tiger, Tiger JK dropped Rebirth of Tiger JK, a thirty-track album spread across two CDs. With a goal to present his life-story, Tiger JK brought forward a solid album with thirty hard-hitting tracks, varying across a number of genres and each with their own message.
I’m not being biased when I say that there isn’t a single track that won’t impress you; he’s been working on this album for one and half years. Not only does Tiger JK establish his artistry in each and every track but the personal touches from his life that he added throughout are what help this album hit the ball out of the park that is K-Hip Hop.
Though his intro and skits are just a few seconds, he was sure to personalise these as well. In fact, the album is introduced with Lumpens’ son asking, “Uncle Tiger! Could you rap for me?” which not only is very cute but also brings forth the importance the people around him hold when he features them.
When Tiger JK released his pre-release track, “Yet”, in April earlier this year, he set high expectations for what was about to come. With raw lyrics about his family and his haters, his reggae-like rapping skills, and an experimental take on the Hip Hop beat, the track was true to Tiger JK’s musical creativity.
Enemies repaid their favours with a stab in the back.
With nowhere to go, my family, my son’s crying steps drove me mad.
[…]Right then, with the heartless heavens, my father fell to cancer.
Given 6 months to live, so exact,
while the scum that receives lives well.
In “Yet”, he also cleverly used the visuals of punctuation to claim that his time in the industry would not be over until he claimed to be done himself:
If you say I’ve aged, I’ve aged.
If I’m done, above a period I’ll draw a line, make it an exclamation point.
This sentiment of an everlasting Tiger JK is explicitly repeated in “Timeless”, featuring BTS’s RM and DJ Zo. This track, which boasts an old-school East Coast Hip Hop beat, has Tiger JK rapping about Benjamin Button: “The birth of the play button, Benjamin Button. […] My soul’s like a burning phoenix”. With the metaphor of both Benjamin Button, a man who ages backward and a phoenix, which is the symbol of life and immortality, Tiger JK reminds his listeners that he is here to stay. Although the era of Drunken Tiger may be over, Tiger JK isn’t. His music hereafter this album is simply a way for him to reestablish himself as an artist.
RM’s verse pays homage to Tiger JK’s career so far, while establishing Tiger JK as an icon for anyone in the Hip-hop industry:
Press Benjamin’s button with DT‘s thumb.
[…]Like it or not, your life’s on display.
[…]Your whole life was a damn concert.
Whether you like it or not, you raised another monster.
This album will be the last but it will forever last.
Things gon’ be past but fest post to be fast.
Hope it’s for the best but see you already blessed.
All you spit was blast so don’t you worry dad,
You ain’t dead.
The highlight of this song is DJ Zo’s scratching skills, which help emphasise the phrase “it’s timeless” that’s repeated throughout the chorus. Along with that, Loptimist’s traditional arrangement and composition of the song make the track one of the best off Rebirth of Tiger JK. There’s just something about uncomplicated, classic old-school Hip Hop tracks that make them memorable. Perhaps it’s the easy-to-listen quality, or the fact that listeners automatically tune in more to a rapper’s flow and lyrics when the beat takes the backseat in a song.
Like the aforementioned tracks, the songs on the first disc steer towards traditional Hip Hop and have a more concentrated sound. “Relay Slay”, a cypher featuring the other members of MFBTY (Yoon Mi-rae and Bizzy), Junoflo and Styliztik Jones, is one example. “44”, “Mantra” and “Gozip2” are a few others.
As opposed to the tunes on the first disc, the songs on the second disc have more influences from other genres, including jazz, pop, and R&B.
The most diverse would be “Beautiful”, which features Who$. The song opens with a strong, balladic verse from Who$. Dedicating this song to his father, Tiger JK brings attention to how he misses his father through the smallest things: his “fragrant shawl”, his “old voice”, and his “tired eyes”. Who$’s singing, along with a slow instrumental dominated by snares and strings, brings out a rich, haunting quality to the song. It’s made even more engaging when contrasted with Tiger JK’s fast-paced rapping.
“I Love You Too” is another song with a slow tempo, and this one stands out because it’s a duet between Tiger JK and Yoon Mi-rae (who are married). Slightly R&B-influenced, the couple cleverly chose a genre through which their affection for each other would be undoubtedly obvious, but would also pair with their rapping. Another song that gets the attention of listeners is “Clap”. With veterans like Kim Jong-kook, Defconn, HaHa and G1, Tiger JK does a throwback to the K-music industry many years back. On the other hand, “Sex, Love, Poetry” gives off a strong jazz vibe, due to the trumpets in the instrumental, accompanied with some light piano notes.
The most unique track, in my opinion, would be “Skit 04 (Nowadays)”. Tiger JK and Loptimist came together to create a beat entirely out of laughter and a few percussions, and the song truly is a testament to their musical potential and proficiency.
Rebirth of Tiger JK may not be a linear or chronological retelling of Tiger JK’s journey as Drunken Tiger so far, but it does tell it in snippets. Through Rebirth of Tiger JK, Tiger JK may have not brought his listeners through an explicit story-telling adventure, but he expresses his feelings and thoughts about whatever he has been through and the people he has come to appreciate around him — which is a type of story in itself. Rather than looking at his world with a negative perspective, the songs show Tiger JK’s renewed and increasingly positive appreciation of his surroundings. Dedicating songs to his family members, his friends, himself, and even his haters (he raps, “Thank you, lil’ haters” in “Relay Slay”), Drunken Tiger has wrapped up this chapter of his musical career.
Other than the story it tells, Rebirth of Tiger JK boasts musically bold and powerful tracks, as well as a long list of collaborations with artists of all kinds. It’s impossible for me to review all 30 tracks, but I would be confident in saying in that it’s rare for you to want to skip a track on your first few listens. There is something captivating within each track, and even though it will take you some time to get through the album, it is definitely it. Seeing that Tiger JK has spent 18 months on his final album as Drunken Tiger — choosing 30 tracks out of an approximate 60 — it shows the amount of effort he has put into this product of his musical ambition. I can’t wait to see what he puts forward in the future, be it as Tiger JK, MFBTY, or as any other musical act.