Top 100 (Korean) Songs of the Decade: #40~31

Previous Entry (#50~41):

40. Verbal Jint – Overclass
Album: Modern Rhymes EP
Release: 7-13-2001

The impact that Verbal Jint has had on the Korean hiphop scene cannot be overstated. This supremely talented lyricist burst out onto the underground in 2001 with Modern Rhymes EP at the ripe age of 21, and it was nothing short of revolutionary: the rhymework and flow that this total rookie brought to the table trumped anything else that had ever been attempted in the Korean language, and this technical brilliance also came with entertaining, conversational topics and unforced, natural structure. “Overclass” is a standout track from this standout album: I had a very difficult time choosing between this and lead title “사랑해 누나” (“I Love You Nuna”) to put on this list, as the two songs are similar in their sound as well as impact.

A very minimalist beat consisting mostly of keyboard and drum machine lay down the stage for VJ to drop his verses. (This arrangement is also seen in the aforementioned lead title.) The then-young rapper’s lyrics are confident and unflinching: his voice at this point is still a bit light and lacks the swagger that he’s developed for himself over the years, but he knows he’s got something special in his verses–and he’s not hiding it. Verbal Jint warns other rappers to move over for him, especially spewing some biting words to a few anonymous 90s rappers that kept the scene stagnant. He instructs his elder musicians to either get on the bandwagon of the new movement or be buried in history. He’s an experienced listener as well as MC, and genuinely concerns for the scene: his urges are meant to keep Korean hiphop vibrant and developing.

This may be similar to the standard self-assured fare we see all the time in hiphop, but VJ actually had substance behind his claims, which he deftly proves by expressing all of the above in astonishing, never-before-heard rhyme technique. The message is strong, but listeners are probably almost always distracted by the technical excellence here: for example, “Overclass” contains what used to be the longest uniform rhyme scheme in the Korean language in its second verse, at 19 syllables. (To clarify, this means that the entire 19-syllable phrase is followed by another, different 19-syllable phrase that rhymes exactly in every syllable.) While not as rhythmical or pronounced as later, more advanced rhymes like the ones written by Unbomber (who dethroned VJ from the longest-rhyme title) or Fana (who, in my opinion, is currently the best rhyme lyricist in Korea today), the very fact that this kind of rhyme was even conceived and written back in 2001 is telling of Jint’s genius.

There is no exaggeration when I say that Verbal Jint changed the very core of Korean hiphop with this album. Later work by both VJ himself and other rappers may sound better, flow better, and maybe even have better lyrics. But very few can claim having changed the way we think about rap in an entire language, and that’s exactly what Overclass did.

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