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90. 성시경 (Sung Si-Kyung) – 처음처럼 (Like At First)
Album: 처음처럼 (Like at First)
Release: April 2001. Believe it or not, I was not able to find the actual release date of this album. If anyone else can, please let me know!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRZMLMMaA5w (This video is unembeddable, unfortunately.)
Sung Si-Kyung’s debut album is pretty much the only working cassette tape that still exists in my household right now. Remember what those were? Cassettes? But anyway, this soft-spoken ballad artist came onto the scene while still in college with this phenomenal album, and launched himself into stardom instantly with “Like At First”. Sung possesses an extremely tender voice, but true to his figure (6’3″ and 173, if you were wondering), he can put tons of breath behind it when needed as in this case. This expressive vocalist, when paired up with an expansive, soothing melody line and one of the most romantic set of lyrics in ballad history, can make things happen. Like a berth in this Top 100.
89. 이승철 (Lee Seung-Chul) – 인연 (Serendipity)
Album: 불새 OST (Bulsae Original Soundtrack)
Before some Korean-speaking portion among you people crucify me for translating the title wrong, I’m pretty sure that this is a better way to say it than “Destiny”. The fact of the matter is, that word is notorious for being nearly impossible to translate into other languages, and that’s the best that people can usually come up with. Now that that’s out of the way, “Serendipity” is the main love theme of popular 2004 TV show “Bulsae” (“Firebird”, which admittedly doesn’t sound as cool). The song accrued tremendous popularity as well, attributable to its star power as well as quality. Revered vocalist Lee Seung-Chul lends his usual extraordinary performance, where he seems to totally ignore the sheer highness of notes and melodies in a song, with such ease he sings. An attractive piano line and perfect pacing gives additional strength to the already powerful piece.
88. Epik High – Fan
Album: Remapping the Human Soul
If I were to write a countdown of the top albums of this decade as opposed to individual songs, you might see a quarter of the top twenty spots occupied by Epik High albums. This genius hip-hop trio consistently produces top-quality music with poignant and technically dazzling rapping, and innovates every time without losing touch with the mainstream. Remapping the Human Soul was one of their most ambitious projects ever, and “Fan” is a key piece in that ambition. The lyricists in Tablo and Mithra Jin delve uncomfortably deeply into the psyche of obsession, painting a vivid mental picture of a would-be lover driven mad. With increasing tempo and scale as the track progresses, it seems to literally fall apart as does the subject of its lyrics. Vulnerable and raw, Epik High’s portrayal of this particular human soul is chillingly real and is a haunting stop in the journey that the album as a whole takes down the depths of our mind.
87. 015B, performed by Verbal Jint – 그녀에게 전화오게 하는 방법 (How to Make Her Call)
Album: Lucky 7
015B is a producing band, and as such it relies on featuring artists to perform its creations. And what creations they are–015B’s music is without fail fresh and innovative. The lead title of their highly acclaimed seventh album (and one which I might write about in the near future) featured Verbal Jint, one of the best rappers in the country, and the song’s greatness was all but secured. “How to Make Her Call” has a unique element in the use of sped-up sampling. Playing a recording at faster speeds result in a higher pitched voice with that “chipmunk” sound (listen to Kanye West’s “Through the Wire” for an example), and 015B does this with R&B trio Solid’s 1997 hit “끝이 아니기를” (“Hope This Isn’t the End”). That’s the odd and just-barely-sounding-like-it’s-offbeat-but-it’s-not vocals you’re hearing in the chorus. The original is a beautiful song, and creates a great backdrop for Verbal Jint to set fire to his flow. The lyrics are refreshing in their spin on the traditional missing-you story, and VJ’s rapping is a treat to the ears with its conversational and brilliant construction.
86. Drunken Tiger – Monster
Album: Feel gHood Muzik – The 8th Wonder
One of the undisputable legends of Korean hip-hop returned in 2009 with a more-ambitious-than-ever eighth album. Feel gHood Muzik‘s lead title “Monster” came in two flavors: a Korean version and an “International version” featuring his own wife and acclaimed rapper T, Southeast Asia and U.S. based artists Roscoe Umali and Rakka, and an American hip-hop legend in–I’m not kidding–Rakim. Both versions are insane works, but I will be addressing the Korean one in this writeup. “Monster” opens with an intimidating orchestra intro and never lets up. True to the track’s namesake, the hook is brutal–Tiger JK’s guttural bellowing and shouting are incredibly powerful, and the brass orchestra produces one of the most confident, swagger-full beats in recent memory. JK fills the lines with his signature slurry yet clear flow (actually, on the International version he openly pays homage to Ol’ Dirty Bastard by mimicking his style), and it’s as clear as his flow that Drunken Tiger still reigns supreme.
85. 성시경 (Sung Si-Kyung) – 두사람 (Two People)
Album: 다시 꿈꾸고 싶다 (Want to Dream Again)
Aforementioned ballad artist Sung Si-Kyung gets not one, but two entries in this countdown. “Two People” is a never-promoted but still-highly-popularized ending track to Sung’s 2005 fourth album. The song employs minimalist composition, having its entire instrumentation handled by acoustic guitar and a string line. That leaves a bit of work for Sung’s voice to do, but this kind of atmosphere is where he shines the most: the softly enunciated, soothing vocals seem to effortlessly glide upon the strings, as Sung vows an enduring love under trial and hardship. It is the idealist’s heaven, which may be why “Two People” was the number-one requested song at weddings for over a year after the album’s release.
84. IU – 미아 (Lost Child)
Album: Initially released with EP Lost and Found; later as part of studio album Growing Up
Release: 9-23-2008, 4-23-2009
As of year-end 2010, IU is pretty much the most popular teen artist in the country. But when she debuted in 2008 with pop R&B number “Lost Child”, she went relatively unnoticed–I selected the song as my #2 selection for R&B Song of 2008, and the artist as my Female Artist of the Year 2009 back during the days when I blogged on MySpace, but it would be long years and months before she would truly be recognized and popularized for her talent. Which is why I am clearly the #1 IU fan rather than all the people who only started liking her after the second album, but I digress.
“Lost Child” is built upon an interesting soundscape–the beat is straight-up pop, with punchy drum machine and piano, but as the track advances into the first chorus and onwards, you start hearing electronica elements mixed in with a powerful string accompaniment. Near the end, even a lone electric guitar can be heard screaming its presence. There’s almost a little too much going on here, but in the end it’s balanced enough to not distract from the real showstopper here–the voice track. IU’s vocal performance is phenomenal, especially for an artist only fifteen years old at time of recording. The young voice effectively interprets the emotions that are thrust upon her by the lyrics, and digests all the technical intricacies of the composition. Even though the music that made IU famous was somewhat more “age-appropriate” and bubblegum pop-ish, I think it will be the sheer talent displayed through this and other early work that proves to be the enduring cause of her popularity.
83. sg워너비 (sg Wanna Be) – 죄와 벌 (Crime and Punishment)
Album: 살다가 (As You Live)
sg Wanna Be (stylized with no capitalization up front) is, arguably, the single most influential artists of the decade. The Simon & Garfunkel-inspired (hence the name) R&B trio led the era of total dominance of the medium-tempo genre over everything else for around two years starting in 2005. And they did it like no one else quite could. “Crime and Punishment”, one of the dual lead singles of sophomore album and greatest hit “살다가” (“As You Live”), employs an engaging but unobtrusive beat and a melody that’s just the right mix between moving and movin’, which is the whole point of medium-tempo. Of course, one listens to sg Wanna Be for the vocalists, and that holds true here. The song is almost a one-man-show by Kim Jin-Ho (who was nineteen at this time), his powerful tone and crazy melisma balancing the song almost on its own even before Chae Dong-Ha and Kim Yong-Jun chip in. It’s a terrific display of vocal prowess and mannerism, and this brand of medium-tempo remains unchallenged to this day.
82. Dynamic Duo, featuring 나얼 (NaUl) – Ring My Bell
Album: Taxi Driver
2004 was a big year for the hip-hop scene, if nothing else then for the mainstream debut of Dynamic Duo. These two prolific artists have since produced some of the best rap and hip-hop in the country (as well as a whole another duo of proteges, known as Supreme Team), and it all started with debut album Taxi Driver‘s lead single “Ring My Bell”. You’ll notice that the chorus is sampled from Anita Ward’s 1979 outing of the same name (heard recently in the film “Book of Eli”, as well), while the other chorus is sung by the deft voice of Brown Eyes member NaUl. Dynamic Duo’s fluid rapping is just on a different level, and the back-and-forth dynamic (pun not intended) between Choiza and Gaeko is as engaging as it is today. “Ring My Bell” manages to be an exciting piece simply by virtue of its performances, and that’s a testament to the duo’s lyrical and performing talent.
81. 김동률 (Kim Dong-Ryul) – 아이처럼 (Like a Child)
Although usually better known as a composer than a singer in his own right, Kim Dong-Ryul is also a talented vocalist. A lot of people first found this out through Kim’s 2008 surprise hit Monologue. The cozy feel of the pop-ballad album jibed with the day’s moods, and the great quality and range of the songs no doubt helped. “Like a Child” was the follow-up single to the excellent lead title “다시 시작해보자” (“Let’s Start Again”), but in some ways it was an even bigger hit than that. The comforting, ambient mood is perfectly maintained throughout; Kim’s deep yet tender baritone ignores the boundaries of range; the lyrics are sweet and dedicated. Kim has his special brand of ballads, and “Like a Child” was what years of experience with that brand led him to beget.
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