K-Pop Beyond The Charts is a weekly review column highlighting Korea's modern day musical innovators who have yet to find mainstream success.
The drum loops on the 13-minute EP "Halftime Mixtape," released Friday by South Korean MC Freelow, have a stiff, almost awkward quality in places.
But on "To Hayden," the fifth of the album's six cuts, the squarely quantized rhythm track creates the perfect sense of detachment and helps build up the tension built up by synth chord voicings as chill as the first chill of winter. It also is the springboard for Freelow's best performance on the album overall.
Though his singsong delivery in places makes it clear he is a student of the biggest personalities in hip-hop history, from Tupac to Kanye, on "To Hayden" Freelow slips into a hypnotic zone more akin to Pete Rock's rapping or that of Ishmael "Butterfly" Butler or Craig "Doodlebug" Irving of Digable Planets.
While there is no denying Freelow has the skills necessary to make his voice heard in the crowded arena of Korean underground hip-hop, he has a tendency to crank the energy up to 11 on every minute of every song, leaving little room for the dynamics or controlled energy release at the heart of so many classic rap songs.
It is when he takes on the more personal subject matter of "To Hayden" that Freelow seems to relax and take control. With the sounds of what is presumably his own child at the end of the song, the Korean MC clearly is dispensing with the typical bravado in favor of something a bit deeper.
It is in this context that Freelow is at his best. Not just because the cool detached quality of the song feels so right with the more mournful short winter days we are experiencing right now, but because on "To Hayden" the sentiment, though delivered in a more understated fashion, feels more authentic and personal.
That does, after all, seem to be where the most creative work comes from anyway, right?
Listen to the new single "To Hayden" from South Korean hip-hop artist Freelow's newest release the "Halftime Mixtape" RIGHT HERE