Epik High has inspired entire generations of idols as one of the pioneers of Korean rap and hip-hop. This weekend, the trio consisting of Tablo, Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz brought their signature energy and powerful verses to Abu Dhabi’s Hyperound K-Fest for the first time. High Skoolers, as their fans are known, were treated to an unforgettable performance of their tracks “Fly”, “Burj Khalifa”, “Don’t Hate Me”, and “One”, as well as “Eternal Sunshine” during soundcheck.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Epik High’s discography is not only packed with hard-hitting beats and lyrics but also stellar names from the industry. Their latest single “Screen Time” featuring Hoshi of Seventeen adds to a growing list of remarkable collaborations, which includes Suga and RM of BTS, Hwasa, Jackson Wang, and more.
Ahead of their show in Abu Dhabi, Vogue Arabia sat down with the members of Epik High for a quick chat about their music.
What inspired your new single “Screen Time”?
[Tablo] A long time ago, somebody said to me that if you use your phone all day and your screen time—you know how you can check on your phone how many hours you use in one day? If it goes over like five hours, or goes over 10 hours, you are super lonely. That sounded so sad to me because when I checked my phone, it was 12 hours and I was like, oh no. But I think it makes sense if you have a heartbreaking moment or you break up with somebody that you love or you miss somebody, you try to do something so you don’t think about it. And that’s when people use their phones a lot, and all three of us use our phones a lot. So I thought making a sad song about that would be great.
How did the collaboration with Hoshi of Seventeen come about?
[Tablo] Hoshi, a long time ago on Going Seventeen, on Seventeen’s variety show, did this thing where they had to guess what the person right in front of them was saying. They had these earmuffs on, and he heard “apple mango” and it became “apple pie.” Then when it got to Hoshi, he was like “Epik-Epik-Epik High!” and that video went very viral. When we saw it, it was so funny. At the same time, somebody screaming our team’s name with so much joy made us feel super good. I started being very interested in who he was, and then I heard some of the songs that he did as covers. I love Seventeen’s music, I love BSS’ music, but he also has a side to his voice that he hasn’t really explored a lot. I thought that doing a song where we do something that he’s been doing with the covers would be cool, and we did it, and the fans love it, and that makes me happy.
The key to Epik High’s success…
[Tukutz] We fight, every day, that’s it.
How do you balance making music that has a social impact and is in line with the latest trends?
Our first album was called Map of the Human Soul. And just like the title says, we’ve always been more interested in what goes on inside people as opposed to what’s going on outside. I feel like that’s what we are good at—we write songs about what people may feel. It could be happiness, it could be sadness, it could be depression, but we felt like that is what we’re very good at seeing. I’m very good at catching when somebody is feeling lonely or feeling depressed, and we decided to use that skill to create music for people who need it. So I think, as long as we stick to what we’re good at, it doesn’t matter if times change, or trends change—people always need comfort.
As hip-hop icons yourself, who have been your inspirations?
[Tukutz] Wu-Tang Clan.
[Tablo] I liked a lot of genres. I liked a lot of rappers like Nas, but I also liked Nirvana. I also liked Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Hans Zimmer, and Miles Davis. But also we got influenced by movies a lot. We really like movies and that’s why our music—if you listen—it’s very cinematic, and our music videos tend to be like short films because we are still inspired by movies.
What’s next for Epik High?
[Tukutz] We have a huge show, in December.
[Tablo] Oh, yeah, we have a huge, 20th anniversary concert in Korea. Sold out! Three shows, stadium sold out. What else?
[Mithra Jin] Park Kyu Bong.
[Tablo] Yeah, we made something called Park Kyu Bong—Mithra designed it—and it’s Epik High’s first official light stick. It’s crazy, just flying off the shelves. We are just going to celebrate with our fans. Our fans went through a lot for the last 20 years, they were with us through ups and downs, so we want to give them a great time.