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K-Pop Beyond the Charts: Shirosky Combines The New School With The Old With 'Empyrean' [VIDEO]

By Jeff Tobias | November 25, 2015 03:18 PM EST


K-Pop Beyond The Charts is a weekly review column highlighting Korea's modern day musical innovators who have yet to find mainstream success.

Hip-hop has had a long journey from an untested upstart genre to a staple of the musical zeitgeist.

On her latest single "Empyrean," self-described "jazz hip-hop producer" Shirosky draws from various points along that style's breathtaking movement from outlier to powerhouse.

Shirosky, also known as Ha Yan Yoon, has been releasing smooth yet eclectic electronic music for the past five years, working with a tight cadre of longtime collaborators, including MYK, Pe2ny and others.

"Empyrean" is part of her first full-length album, "La Lecture," released on Nov. 9.

While the production values of "Empyrean" offer sufficient gloss to establish it as a product of 2015, its roots go back over 15 years.

Shirosky's marriage of jazz and hip-hop influences is a throwback to the early '90s, when groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets were creating a logical and linear connection between the genres.

Indeed, when a faraway saxophone gently breezes through the choruses, "Empyrean" recalls the seminal 1991 jazz-rap classic "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)."

This is not a bad thing.

Additionally, it could be argued that "Empyrean" grabs its feel from the new jack swing genre, which loosened the rigidity that typically held sway over hip-hop drums.

On "Empyrean," guest vocalist MYK contributes an everyman-ish lyrical turn, sung rather than rapped. This too is a nod to rap's evolution. The Seoul-based, US-born musician, who also performs in a more rock-oriented project known as Saltnpaper, is clearly up on the newest developments in the musical idiom.

While many hip-hop heads of past decade have proclaimed that "rap's not pop," these days, artists and audiences alike aren't so stringent about their stylistic boundaries. That's where the modern edge of "Empyrean" becomes clear.

Lyrically speaking, MYK's introspective encouragement stands somewhere between the contemporary trend towards so-called "sad rap" (read: Drake) and the similarly unfortunately-named "backpacker" or "emo rap" phenomenon that blew up in the earlier part of the '00s. But Shirosky keeps the production light on its feet, as "Empyrean" bubbles with synths brushing up against warm electric pianos.

The marriage of synthetic elements and loops to live instrumentation is something that wasn't as common until the Roots and other hip-hop bands broke down those barriers over the past 10 years. Nowadays, it may be commonplace, but it still offers some sonic nostaligia, harkening back to an earlier era.

And so it's clear that while "Empyrean" stands on its own as a thoroughly modern composition, it also hints at a proud and extensive history. It's more than a piece of music; it's part of the great rap continuum.

Watch the music video for Shirosky's latest single "Empyrean" RIGHT HERE


Jeff Tobias is a composer, writer and musician currently living in Brooklyn, New York. As of late, he has been tinkering with his breakfast burrito recipe and working on his chess game. 

Tagged :  kpop, Shirosky, korean rapper, korean rap


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