Album Review: Epik High – sleepless in _____ (South Korea, 2019)

The legendary hip-hop trio, Epik High is back, presenting the world with their best album to date, sleepless in _____.

For those unfamiliar, Epik High started as an underground hip-hop crew and have remained one of the most influential and impactful alternative hip-hop acts in the South Korean music scene. The members Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz have spent countless sleepless nights creating many wonderful sounds and concepts over the past 16 years.

The Korean hip-hop veterans have won the bragging rights to multiple album of the year awards and gigs at various festivals around the world including Coachella.

sleepless in _____ is Epik High’s first release since We’ve Done Something Wonderful, released in 2017. Just look at the beautiful artwork!

sleepless in _____ is pure magic. And it seems like South Korea, scratch that, the world is in agreement. Dominating the national and international music scene over the last decade, Epik High is back with thought-provoking album that only seems to transcend their last.

Known for their extraordinary ability to capture the many facets of human emotions through their thematic and intricately layered poignant lyrics, Epik High is also celebrated for their distinctive styles of hip-hop. Each album is made up with a wonderful blend of music genres and inspiring collaborations, and sleepless in _____ is no exception.

Featuring an impressive list of collaborators including singer-songwriter SunWoo Jung-A, R&B artiste Crush, BTS’ Suga, hip-hop artiste Code Kunst and Malaysian soul-pop singer Yuna, each song delivers excellence with great finesse. Living up to its name, each track in sleepless in _____ explore various ideologies and personification of insomnia, heartbreak, depression and loneliness.

The highly anticipated album interestingly opens with “Sleepless,” a slow piano instrumental that is paired with inward-looking questions addressing the essence of the album in a ghastly robotic voice. The mechanical voice over is a wonderful touch in this digital age. Well, it’s only apt seeing how half of the world chooses to spend countless sleepless nights scrolling the hours away.

Highlighting the crux of the album and mapping out where the album is going, the seemingly simple questions such as “Do you have trouble sleeping?” or “Do you find that things you once enjoyed no longer interest you?” and “Are you lonely?,” introduced in “Sleepless” breaks down the fourth wall and extends discussions beyond the screen.

Seamlessly transitioning to “In Seoul”, as if the two separate tracks are one, “In Seoul” continues where “Sleepless” left off – just like the wordplay suggests. “In Seoul” reflects one’s journey to fulfil his dreams, narrates the vicious cycle of life, inequality and struggles that ensue, and criticises the gradual societal collapse in all its complexity. Living up to their reputation, Epik High speaks truths only a few are brave enough to through its lyrical metaphors.

Building on the memories of the past, “In Seoul” is openly nostalgic with old school hip-hop beats and hard-hitting raps. The track also features SunWoo Jung-A’s beautifully soothing vocal that hits the right spots.

sleepless in _____ continues its pace with “Lovedrunk”. “Lovedrunk” narrates the agony of insomnia and heartbreak, and finding comfort in alcohol. Threading on melancholy and despair the lyrics read, “Feels like I’ll get erased while trying to erase you. The moon is cold and my drinks tastes especially sweet today. I should’t do this but I’m trying to erase you like an idiot.”

Featuring sophisticated, soft beats and Crush’s refined harmonisation to the Tablo’s and Mithra’s raging verses, the track was composed by Tablo and DJ Tukutz, penned by Tablo and Mithra Jin, and arranged by Tukutz and PHILTRE.

In a contrast to the melancholic vibe in “Eternal Sunshine” flaunts brighter beats and more uplifting instrumentals with the addictive touches of funky guitar and record-scratching. Despite its cheerful disposition and positive title, “Eternal Sunshine,” is about living with the stress and pressure of trying to succeed, and the anxiety that comes with it.

All is not lost, though. We love the rays of hope and moments of positivity amidst Tablo’s compelling raps. Layered with groovy beats is a comforting “Same here” after intense questioning. At the end of the track, “Eternal Sunshine” wishes anyone who is dealing with the mentioned emotions, an eternal sunshine, too.

We have to admit that the track is brilliant. It directs listeners into a calm and relaxed state of mind only to force them to think about their own perspective on the topic. It is not only a realistic depiction of depression and anxiety disorder, as many often marginalise their mental health by hiding under a cheerful exterior, but it also paints the picture of how the other half of the world spends their sleepless nights – overthinking. The perfect blend of hip-hop and jazzy vibes is professionally crafted by BTS’ Suga and El Capitxn.

Half of the world spends countless sleepless nights scrolling the hours away.

sleepless in _____ then journeys into Tablo’s introspective mind palace with “No Different”. “No Different” is a heart-wrenching R&B ballad featuring prominent Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna, and Tablo’s long-time collaborator Code Kunst. The track blends the eclectic rapper’s deep voice with layers of Yuna’s powerfully smooth vocals to presents the different side of the story of a collapsing relationship. We must warn you though, the lingering after-taste is hard to get by. We have this on repeat for days now. Listen at your own risk.

“Rain Again Tomorrow” returns to the upbeat mood with glossy and quicker percussion and modern hip-hop beats, conveying the struggles of tomorrow and the restless chase of success. Displaying excellent finesse is the transition to “Lullaby for a Cat”, a slow ending to an introspective and sleep deprived album. We love how “Rain Again Tomorrow” slows down its last few notes and extends it o the the first half of “Lullaby for a Cat” – creating a subtle and seamless track change.

“Lullaby for a Cat” is a mainly instrumental song with Tablo’s muffled vocals. It has been orchestrated perfectly to create a flawless curtain-closer that impeccably tie the album together. With short verses that contemplates about the perpetual cycle of loneliness, and a stellar combination of the string and piano, “Lullaby for a Cat” loops the album back to its beginning, “Sleepless” and “In Seoul”.

Over all, sleepless in _____ is a thought-provoking album, showcasing the group’s transcending depth. The album stays true to Epik High’s signature style of eclectic hip-hop and intricate lyrical content. Through its thematic essence of sleeplessness and melancholy, the album fearlessly highlights the vulnerability of insomnia, anxiety, depression, loneliness and heartbreak. Each song shines in its own way, and conveys an interconnected storyline. It’s hard to choose a favourite!

Don’t forget to watch “Lovedrunk” music video and read our review here.

Review Score: 9.5 out of 10

sleepless in _____ is now available on YouTube, Melon, Spotify and Apple Music.