K-HIPHOP / K-POP / REVIEWS

[Review] [Mini-Album] G-Dragon – “One of a Kind”

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!

==

Scorecard

One of a Kind
1.0
That XX
.5
Crayon
.5
Without You
.75
 Points scale
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
Missing You
1.0
Today
1.0
Light It Up
1.0
Total Points
5.75

Points to stars conversion: [(5.75/7) x 5] + 0.25*

4.4/5

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*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.

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7 thoughts on “[Review] [Mini-Album] G-Dragon – “One of a Kind”

  1. Thanks for the review~ I absolutely love this mini and every song is on constant repeat. However, some of them had to grow on me like crayon and one of a kind. Maybe it’s because I just don’t like really loud or chaotic music which crayon was. But seeing him perform it live and watching the mv I can see why it’s his title track even though it’s his weakest in my opinion. It’s just so fun and exciting to watch and the song is sooo addicting. My favorites are light it up and missing u. These two songs are perfect. That xx was another favorite with without u both being emotional and pretty. That YG girl sounds really good, and I’m really excited for the girl group now. Today has such a catchy chorus, and I agree with u on it being a feel good track. Over all I’m very happy with this mini and I think I like it more than heartbreaker though I’d perfer not to compare bc in the end both are really good for different reasons.

  2. Good review. I agree about “Without You” being a surprising strong ballad. “Crayon” is annoying, but I think it was designed for fans chanting along in concert more than for the disco dance floor.

    And thanks for the advice in Zico. I’ll try him out. Korean hiphop used to be the freshest part of the pop scene, but I have not heard much innovative come out of K-hiphop in quite a while.

    • Would recommend quite a few tracks off zico’s mixtape; he’s pretty darn talented for his age. And yes, I agree that block b’s ‘LOL’ pretty much sets the benchmark for a good rap track in the korean idol scene, maybe even for mainstream kpop. Solid production, lyrics and execution. As for GD’s album I’ve been able to enjoy ‘without you’ and ‘light it up’. The rest are pretty mediocre as far as the composition of the tracks are concerned

  3. As much as I love Big Bang as a whole, I do agree with this statement: Unlike his baseline rap style on Big Bang material, he’s rapping fast and melodically in others…

    I think idoldom (or is it groupdom?) has been holding GD back (well, you can say everyone’s being held back when you consider the fact that all of them have done well as soloists and seem more in their elements) from his full potential and the longer he works within YG and is confined to YG’s stable, the more it shows. I think this mini, Heartbreaker, and GD&TOP is more than enough proof that when he’s allowed free reign and doesn’t have to consider 3 or more other voices, he can be more flexible. It’s obvious he excels in duets/rap collaborations and I hope he gets to do that more often, working with people outside YG (hell, he was supposed to do that with Youngbae before YG brought the others in to form Big Bang).

    As for the mini itself: I can honestly say that I enjoy everything, but that I like Crayon the least. If it wasn’t included, I wouldn’t have been disappointed. I wish it was the reverse that instead of excluding Light It Up from the I-tunes version, they excluded Crayon. The video is obnoxious and seizure inducing and it’s like a Teddy produced 2ne1 electro-pop dance song where the music itself is only good (or at least tolerable) when you add the pure insanity of the visuals (mv or stage).

  4. Great review! Very accurate too. The standout tracks for me were One Of A Kind, Missing You and Today. The album really could have done without Crayon and I thought it was a poor choice for title track. Still, overall I really did enjoy the album.

    Also, I totally agree with you about Zico, he’s incredibly talented for his age.

  5. Pingback: Top Korean Songs of 2012 « McRoth's Residence

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