written by: drowningn00b
Before anything, I just have to say that YG Entertainment’s idol work has been a poor excuse for “hip-hop”. With heavy emphasis on electro-pop for SE7EN, 2NE1 and Big Bang, I realized I needed to look elsewhere. Since the GD&TOP EP two years ago, Tablo’s ‘Fever’s End‘ was the one legit hip-hop release under the label since ever (Psy’s ‘6th Round, Part 1‘ to a lesser extent).
Since ‘Vol 1′, Block B has taken the hip-hop idol crown in my opinion, with B.A.P the forever-angry-bulldog trying their hand on the rookie side of things. This turn of events is ironic because of anyone in the genre, Big Bang is living the lifestyle! From G-Dragon‘s dabbling with marijuana, to Seungri allegedly choking a Japanese groupie in bed; not even the dudes of 1llionaire, Hi-Lite or Grand Line get caught in this stereotypical hip-hop behavior (emphasis on get caught). I have to believe YG knows what has been happening. The hip-hop landscape has moved on, leaving its host of idols behind, especially now with the hip-hop themed competition show, “Show Me The Money” in full broadcast. So G-Dragon’s latest mini, ‘One of A Kind‘, could not have come at a better time to reassert YG’s original stance as the bad boy alternative to SM and JYP.
YG has strongly favored two styles of singles as of late: the reflective, love-sick dance-ballad hybrids (“I Love You”, “Somebody Else”, “Tomorrow” and “Monster”), and the party-ready electro-pop track (“Fantastic Baby”, “I Am the Best” and “Gangnam Style”). “One of A Kind” is not immune to this. On the one path, the personally-inspired, but musically uninspiring, “That XX” keeps the Big Bang leader singing, something he’s been doing steadily over the years. But while it’s a more general song lyrically, “Without You” (featuring a mystery singer) trumps “That XX” in the ballad department. Not to say the ballad single is bad, but the instrumentation and vocal delivery aren’t dynamic enough to deliver the lines /“they say love is blind. Oh baby, you’re so blind,”/ with any sort of truth. On the other hand, “Without You” brings out the best in GD’s voice. It’s clear how much he’s practiced because he nails the song, even wailing high notes without strain against the loud rock elements near the end. And the inclusion of said mystery singer, one of YG’s newest trainee and a member of their upcoming girl group, was a good choice. I dare anyone to listen to this track and not remember that other new girl on the block. For someone so young, this singer’s full and husky voice contrasts nicely to GD’s high and light singing voice.
That said, on the production side, both “That XX” and “Without You” are nothing new, just rehashes of basic R&B templates YG is famous for recycling.
The other path is the pop-side of YG, specifically G-Dragon, with “Crayon” leading the pack. Terrible word play aside, “Crayon” is an awkward dance party song. For much of the song, you will not be dancing (trust me, I’ve tried), but merely rap-syncing along with him and two stepping. It’s a disjointed thing for a single to have slow moments next to hyperactive loud bits. Thankfully, G-Dragon’s pop side gets a boost of life from the k-rock/k-indie side of things with “Missing You”. Here, Kim Youna from Jaurim was ideal. Both GD and Youna have quirky sides to them, and both bring those sides on the whimsical pop track. The whistling and high note accents brighten up this mini-album, making this collaboration feel like a Jaurim featuring G-Dragon, rather than the other way around.
For her part, Youna’s playful voice is the focus here, and it sounds good. Whenever it does appear, I cringe because there are too many examples where Youna can grate on my nerves, but she’s calm and playful on “Missing You”. For his part, Nell’s Jong Hwan brings his band’s trademark style to the album closer, “Today”, produced by Choi Pil Kang. Jong Hwan’s falsetto on the bare rim shots and keyboard verses work well with G-Dragon’s rock heavy, “we don’t give a fuck” bridge and chorus segments. And before I get branded a hypocrite, here’s why “Today” works and “Crayon” doesn’t: the latter is supposed to be the track for the clubs, while the former is for the bar sing-along or the karaoke booth. “Today” is the feel good track of the EP, and with Jong Hwan on it, the song answers the call with aplomb.
And a return to form, the last path for “One of A Kind” is the reason I’m writing this review in the first place: hip-hop. Since ‘GD&TOP, Vol. 1‘, Block B’s Zico has been the idol rapper to watch, and I forgot how good GD was until the release of the lead single, “One of A Kind”. G-Dragon follows in Block B’s tracks, releasing the “I’m the shit, hear me on the mic”, bass heavy rap track first on the EP. Producer Choice37 throws all kinds of effects into it, from auto-tuning, chopping up the vocal, and artificially extending notes, but G-Dragon shines still. Unlike his baseline rap style on Big Bang material, he’s rapping fast and melodically in others. It’s almost alien to hear him do this because it’s been so long (“Knockout” in 2010). And it continues on the bonus track, “Light It Up”. A spiritual successor to his 2009’s “The Leaders”, Teddy and CL are replaced by label-mate Tablo and 1llionaire’s Dok2. Tablo is exceptional here, sounding like a boss after the somber “Fever’s End”. Not to be left behind, Dok2 starts out clunky, not getting his delivery right at first, but throwing it down on the last half of his set. Teddy’s production is good, but not perfect (Block B’s “LOL” is the gold standard), but G-Dragon’s duo rap tracks are great, and further establish what he was signed to YG to do: deliver good rap.
“One of A Kind” reinforces two different paths: the label and G-Dragon are committed to hip-hop and R&B. the title track and GD’s rap talent make that clear. However, as standing apart from SM and JYP, YG will always be a pop-centered business. “Crayon” cements that and reinforces GD’s history as a party boy with quirky one-liners, and, though personal, “That XX” continues the trend of hip-hop artists singing on R&B backdrops.
That said, the Big Bang leader has evolved musically since his debut LP. His loony pop side got an indie injection with the help of Jaurim and Nell. Rap-wise, G-Dragon benefitted from his collaboration with Tablo and “rapstar” Dok2. Those different paths make G-Dragon a rarity in YG Entertainment, and “One of A Kind” begs not to throw in the towel for this pretty boy and his mammoth label in the hip-hop ring.
Listen to the album below + purchase ‘One of a Kind’ on YesAsia!
|One of a Kind||
| Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
|Light It Up||
Points to stars conversion: [(5.75/7) x 5] + 0.25*
*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.