An evening with Epik High at the Roxy

Tablo is a lyricist, rapper and composer for Epik High. He produces for other artists outside of Epik High as well. His Atlanta performance was full of charisma and audience interaction. // Photo by Anjali Patel Student Publications

On March 11, Epik High returned to Atlanta after their visit around the same time last year when they performed at The Tabernacle, but this time they were welcomed with a bigger venue at the Coca-Cola Roxy. Composed of three members, Tablo, Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz, the trio made a comeback with a new EP and tour titled “An Evening With Epik High,” and it truly was a unique, intimate and explosive night. 

Epik High’s members are veterans of the South Korean music industry, often regarded as the “fathers of K-pop” due to their groundbreaking style and their influence on countless K-pop artists like BTS and SEVENTEEN. 

The hip-hop trio Epik High debuted in 2001, a time when hip-hop was not widely known or accepted in South Korea. They released their first studio album “Map of the Human Soul” in 2003, followed by “High Society” the following year to minor success. The trio are known for their complex (and often bilingual lyrics) and sample-heavy production, but they did not receive recognition and were even censored in the earlier days of their careers. 

The group started to receive more mainstream attention in 2005 with their third album “Swan Songs” which was intended to be their last. It featured the hit single “Fly,” a song about feeling drained from the pressures of life and choosing to follow one’s dreams. 

After this success, in 2007, Epik High released one of their most experimental albums, “Remapping the Human Soul.” It was a genre-less project that focused on the music but was allegedly censored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism due to the themes of crime, societal ills, religion and education. 

While the album was not well received by officials, it gained commercial success and established Epik High as one of the top hip-hop groups in South Korea. Since then, the group has helped to introduce different sounds into mainstream K-pop and K-hip-hop, most notably genre-blending with rock and classical music. They are also often credited with influencing the incorporation of rap verses within K-pop songs, as nowadays both boy and girl groups often have a designated rapper. 

​​The moment the lights went down at the Atlanta show, the only thing that was audible was the screams of excitement — before the launch into an episode of The Tablo Podcast that projected across the stage. The podcast is hosted by Tablo from the group and is filled with stories, life lessons and deep conversations with special guests. 

The episode was set up in a classic style with Tablo and his guest, this time being his label’s CEO and friend Eddie Nam, sitting on a couch and chatting. Their topic of conversation was about Atlanta, their thoughts on the city and expectations for the show. With snippets of famous vines and hilarious editing during the segment, the audience learned that Tablo loves Atlanta, its take on Korean barbeque and the people who can switch from kind to wild in a matter of seconds. 

The crowd roared at the mention of the nature of Atlanta, proving just how much energy and love the city had for the trio. The venue was packed with fans of all ages and demographics, showcasing the reach that the group’s lyrics and sound have. 

“You know there are times where I usually didn’t give it my all, but tonight, I’m gonna give my 5,000%,”  Tablo said to Nam. 

With that, the venue lit up again, and fans had a brief chance to regroup and fill with excitement, knowing that the show was getting closer to starting. After a short while, the lights dimmed again, and an announcer-like voice told the crowd to get ready for a night filled with a plethora of emotions and energy and prepare for an evening with Epik High.

Right off the bat, the trio brought the energy they promised, starting the set with “Strawberry” from their latest EP. In classic Epik High fashion, the trio was high-spirited, funny and great with the crowd. They introduced themselves with a dramatic backtrack as one of the members made exaggerated titles like “professional producer” and “best shuffle dancer.”

They continued the concert by bringing back some of their well-loved older songs like “Fly” and “Map the Soul.” The crowd loved it, loudly singing along and raising their hands up and down to the beat. It was then that the trio got a taste of some Atlanta traditions with K-pop shows, which include the city’s iconic barking. Rather than just scream from excitement, Atlanta K-pop concertgoers often go “woo woo woo” to cheer for artists. 

It is not completely known where the origin of this tradition came from but it is extremely common, but it can catch artists off guard and this was especially the case for Tablo. 

“Did you guys plan this like in a group chat before the show?,” he asked the crowd. The audience laughed and screamed “no” to which Tablo said that Atlanta was “different” and that if any other city tried to copy the tradition, he would end the concert altogether. 

The crowd kept up that energy, even after the sadder songs, to which Tablo jokingly scolded for barking after and said to only bark after hype songs, or he’d laugh and lose focus. 

The pace and transition between songs was interesting, as the members would speak to the audience during breaks but would always end with something that referenced the next song. This was an artistic choice that kept the audience on their toes and made the show feel like a poetic experience. For example, Tablo mentioned rain and the lights dimmed, rain sounds echoed through the venue and the projector showed a rainy cityscape as the music for the song “Umbrella” began. 

The comedic and artistic timing was also perfectly balanced as during one speaking break in the middle of a song, Tablo joked that Mithra Jin had something important to say that he needed to get off his chest, and just as he raised the microphone to his lips, the music immediately started again with Mithra Jin rapping the next verse. 

Despite all the jokes and hype, the concert also had some wholesome moments; when they performed  “Rain Song,” the projector showed the romanized lyrics so audience members could sing along. This particular song is very popular in South Korea with everyone knowing the words and the trio said they were not sure what to expect if they performed it in the U.S. Luckily, the audience was full of people who spoke Korean and others who tried their best for the artists, which visibly touched the trio as they looked on fondly. 

The night ended with some of their very energetic crowd pleasers like “BORN HATER” and “One” with everyone jumping along with the artists and screaming the lyrics. It is amazing to think how Epik High have had around 20 years in the industry and still have love for what they do. It was impossible not to feel their energy and how it bounced off the crowd. The last official song of the night was “Don’t Hate Me,” a genre-bending piece that combines hip-hop and punk rock. It was a fitting end to the night as it reestablished the group’s uniqueness and resilience as they take on a new chapter with more music in the works.