“I chew pain like gum”
“Growing closer as a hole forms on an old sock”
“Lingering and dancing to the sad music.
A carousel smiles in a vacant circus lot.
So too do I smile like the dead
Believing you will come back.”
“During Mom’s pregnancy, she slept sitting down.
Because I kicked.
From my mother’s womb, I was a troublemaker”
“Because I love you
I turned off the TV.
Closed the curtains.
Your red lips.”
“In pursuit of happiness, I flew for a long time
So all the shrunken things can smile”
Leessang ranks near the top of my favorite artists list simply because they are one of the few artists whose music I have liked consistently. I tend to like individual songs as opposed to artists, but I’ve come to depend on Leessang to unfailingly release great music. Initially, I didn’t care for their music because I thought their songs sounded too old school, too 90s hip hop. My ears were also unaccustomed to the different genres their music incorporated like funk and R&B, as well as Jung In’s characteristic voice. Her vibrations, inflections, and pronunciation just seemed like vocal overkill. What I was used to was the generic, yet clean and polished synthesized sounds of K-pop and American pop music. I remember being puzzled and distracted by the crackling static in some of Leessang’s older songs. Was it intentional? Or was this a bad mp3 rip? But why would anyone intentionally add static to his music? Should I waste ten minutes of my life searching for a better copy? Now, after several years of solely listening to manufactured K-pop, it’s a welcome relief to listen to Leessang’s analog, acoustic sounds.
Leessang’s songs generally follow the same formula, narratives delivered by Gary’s modulated, impactful flow interlaced with Gil’s scratchy, soulful refrains. Due to duo’s flair for words, their lyrics are a cut above most hip hop songs’. Their lyrics often display interesting syntax, diction, rhythm, rhyme, consonance and imagery. Take for example the simple lyric, “나란 놈은 답은 너다.” Translation: “for a guy like me, the answer is you.” Romanization: “na-ran nom-eun dab-eun neo-da.” Simple, yet due to alliteration and chiasmus (inverted parallelism), the phrase rolls off your tongue, and lingers in your memory. Also, in this song the music pauses to match the verbal pauses, so Leessang gets bonus points for musical cohesion.
Aside from Leessang’s stylistic adeptness, they also incorporate original imagery into their lyrics. Their lyrics sketch relatable scenes from their rebellious youth or relationship highs and lows, digressing into reflective soliloquies about success and greed, ideals and passions, character flaws and weaknesses, all interwoven with analogies, allusions, and references to folklore. Admittedly, their lyrics are not superlatively sophisticated, nor is the content of their songs profoundly deep. Their music is simple, and their words are simple, but they speak simple truths that resonate.
Representative Song: My Laughter Isn’t Laughter
Chart Topping Songs from Respective Albums
Vol. 1 – Leessang of Honey Family (2002): Rush LISTEN
Vol. 2 – Re:Development [재, 계발] (2003): Leessang Blues (리쌍부르쓰) LISTEN, Life is Beautiful (인생은 아름다워) LISTEN
Vol. 3 – Library of Soul (2005): My Laughter Isn’t Laughter (내가 웃는게 아니야) LISTEN, Clown (광대) LISTEN, Painter (화가)* LISTEN
Bloody Tie OST [死生決斷 (사생결단)] (2006): Who Are We Living For (누구를 위한 삶인가) LISTEN
Vol. 4 – Black Sun (2007): Ballerino (발레리노) LISTEN
Vol. 5 – Baek-Ah Cuts the Strings [伯牙絶絃(백아절현)] (2009): Champion (챔피언) LISTEN
Vol. 6 – Hexagonal (2009): The Girl Who Can’t Break Up, The Boy Who Can’t Leave (헤어지지 못하는 여자, 떠나가지 못하는 남자) LISTEN, Run* LISTEN, 변해가네*
Vol. 7 – Unplugged (2012):The Answer for a Guy Like Me is You (나란 놈은 답은 너다) LISTEN, Turned Off the TV (TV를껐네) LISTEN, Reminiscence (회상)* LISTEN
Vol. 8 – Unplugged (2012): Humility is Hard (겸손은 힘들어) LISTEN, 너에게 배운다 (My Love) LISTEN, Someday LISTEN
*The titles in purple are additional recommendations.
Ask A Korean: 50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 43. Leessang
A brief introduction to the hip hop duo’s history and influence on Korean pop music.