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Drunken Tiger is a rap duo, DJ Shine and Tiger JK, I think from L.A., where they record—but they rap mostly in Korean and the album’s out on a Korean label. People in the U.S. can order The Great Rebirth on the Web at www.turborecords.com, though I got it from a Korean store in Aurora, Colorado, so if I can get it out there you can get it in New York City. An interview with them on the Web seems to indicate that English not Korean might be their first language, though I’m not certain how to interpret the interview since it was first translated from English to Korean and then from Korean back into English (I’m serious; this seems to be what happened) with who-knows-what changes along the way—this is the sort of thing that Mark Twain would do, except he’s dead and anyway doesn’t know Korean so he’d do it in French, and he didn’t do this one; it was someone else. But from the interview I gather or guess that when Drunken Tiger began rapping in Korean they chose the words first and then tried to figure out how to pronounce them. (“The hardest part was to be able to find the words to flow that are Korean. Since we’re not both fluently enough to speak Korean, and can’t enunciate correctly.”) Which reminds me of Selena, though she’s dead too and also doesn’t sing Korean.
Anyway, Drunken Tiger’s hip-hop is the real deal, “real” not necessarily meaning “better” but meaning “sounds like real American hip-hop.” Wu-Tang Clan is an obvious influence, with a couple of tracks that use a RZA-style simple eerie piano figure, wide reverberating bass, easy flow. I taped “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” for a friend and put a Drunken Tiger equivalent called “The Movement” alongside it, and the Drunken Tiger track held its own. Probably more than the particular style, though, Drunken Tiger gets from Wu-Tang a general sense both that less-is-more and that more-is-more too—which is in fact the general hip-hop aesthetic, which is that you can use any damn sound you want. So they build one track around Mexican resort-city spy music, another around blues-metal guitar, and so forth.
What should make them matter most, though, and not just to their own ethnic group, is their use of exquisitely beautiful Korean pop music—or maybe I should say their exquisitely beautiful use of Korean pop music, since I get the sense that some of the pop melodies might be sickly sweet in their original versions but that the rapping and devil-may-care carousing that overlays the pop on this album mitigates the sweetness so that what you hear is gorgeous. (I’m not at all sure what I mean, actually. In my notes I have the sentence, “Such words—though not to be used as weapons— ought to be spelled correctly.” I have no idea what I was referring to.) Interspersed are “skits,” which on this LP are a series of phone calls, a man talking to a woman about I-don’t-know-what since it’s in Korean, except that the man gets progressively drunker with each call, and his speech gets interrupted by burps and farts, until the final call, in which his end of the conversation is almost entirely burps and farts. (Such burps—though not to be used as weapons—ought to be spelled correctly. An international conference to fix their spelling is planned.)
There’s a martial arts flick called Legend of the Drunken Tiger about a master who gets better as he gets drunker (which is not the strategy by which this review is being composed, though you might think otherwise).
Anyway, if you’re a five-year-old Anglo girl and you’re down in the rec room putting on a show for your mom and her friends, and the show consists of dancing and lip-synching, how do you lip-synch to Korean when you don’t know Korean? Easy. You just move your lips to the sounds. (Problem solved.) But if you don’t know what the words mean, how can you act them out—you know, like when dancing to Britney’s “Lucky,” you know to cry and pout when Lucky is sad and to pat your cheeks when Lucky puts on her makeup? Well, for these Korean words you can guess what they might mean, and when one of your mom’s weird friends says that a song has “big Wu-Tang beachball beats,” whatever those are, you can decide that the music sounds the way that the Powerpuff Girls look. So you’re round and you can zap people. You know how to do that; you’ve practiced in front of the TV. And when the words break into English and you still don’t know what they mean since they are “glock” and stuff . . . what’s glock? A chocolate bar? Could be. (Make like you’re stuffing food in your mouth.) “Packin’ more heat than the sun”? Grab the sun, pull the suitcase lid up with one hand, push the sun into it with the other, close the lid, blow on your hands afterward. And remember those skits where the guy talks on the phone and burps and farts a lot? Well, you’ve already taught yourself to burp on command, so you don’t even have to wait for those parts, you can do them early. OK, what about the song with that insanely pretty melody that repeats and repeats? It’s like the song that Jigglypuff sings and makes everyone fall asleep. But how do you dance when you’re supposed to look asleep? I don’t know. (Pause.) Sleep dancing! Which is when you make your arms and legs go all rubbery.