Who do you think is the first Korean Artist to enter the Billboard chart? Most people would say it’s 원더걸스 (Wondergirls) with their song ‘Nobody’ in 2009. However, that’s not true, it’s actually ‘Hello Goodbye Hello’ by 김범수 (Bum Soo Kim) in 2001. So who is the second Korean artist to enter the Billboard chart? It is Korean reggae musician 스컬 (SKULL) with his English solo version of 스토니스컹크 (Stony Skunk)’s song Boomdi Boomdi, which reached number 3 in the R&B/Hip Hop chart in 2007.
I first found out about Skull when I was watching 무한도전 (Infinite Challenge) where he was performing with 하하 (HaHa). When I first saw him he shocked me twice as 1. I have never seen a Korean with such thick dreadlocks before 2. His extremely unique voice. After that episode of Infinite Challenge, Skull released an album with HaHa with their not so successful yet well known song 부산바캉스 (Busan Vacance). It is a reggae dance song with…not so much reggae and the lyrics feature of a lot of places in Busan so I assume that either Busan paid them money or they wanted to be representative celebrities of Busan. So you might ask at this point, Justin why the hell did you decide to write about Skull if you are just going to diss his song? Well firstly, despite the lyrics, Busan Vacation is an extremely catchy song, I’m currently humming the chorus whilst writing this article. Secondly, I wanted to enable readers (yes, you people) to acknowledge how limited the Korean music industry is. Skull, the second Korean to enter the Billboard had to perform on Infinite Challenge and make a record with HaHa to spread his name to the majority of Koreans who didn’t know about his existence before (like me…guilty as charged).
Skull first debuted as Stony Skunk, consisting of him and S-Kush, in 2003 as a reggae duo. In their first album their genre appears much closer to hip hop but from their second album, after they joined YG Underground, they produced several great Korean Reggae songs. Their song titled Boomdi Boomdi in their second album has an excellent sound with very enlightening and summery vibe. The song consists of very groovy basslines that repeats throughout the song with upbeat Caribbean sounding percussion mixed up with female backing vocals entering the song time to time which creates this atmosphere that almost makes me think that I am currently in a beach party like the one in the music video. Also every word they sing (and rap) sticks straight into your ear every time like Pina Colada on a beach side. Another song in the same album, Ragga Muffin, starts with a guitar playing a Spanish style sound whilst a great mixture of percussion such as conga and electronic drum produces another amazing summery sound that reminds you of the hot summer sun. Another great song that I want to mention is No Woman No Cry in their third album. It is a remake version of the famous song by Bob Marley and they have done a great job of converting the legendary song with more modern taste by adding instruments such as a DJ machine.
However, like a lot of the greatest groups, after their 4th album in 2010 the group announced their official break up. After the break up in 2011, Skull released his first solo EP album 한국레게 (Korean Reggae). The most noticeable thing about this album is the fact that the title song Don’t Walk Away features Jamaican Artist Spragga Benz. It might not sound like a big deal to most people in the US or UK but for Korean artists to release a song that features a foreign artist, especially as a title song and especially by a Jamaican artist is extremely rare. The song itself is very well written, especially the smooth mixture of Skull’s Korean singing/rapping and Spragga Benz’s english rapping surprised me in great sense. It’s as if two nations’ reggae styles had sex and gave birth to one great Komaican Reggae (Korean + Jamaican for anyone who didn’t get it). Another noticeable song in the album was We Need Your Love as he has done great job of combining ballad and reggae by adding quiet piano chords and very emotional lyrics like “태어난대도 몇 번이고 다시 태어난대도 난 항상 그래 내 뺨을 어루만지던 따스한 손을 난 잊지 못할텐데” (No matter how many times I am born again, I will never forget your warm hand touching my face). Also, he has created this old fashioned sound that you would hear from Bob Marley’s songs by having a lot of backing vocals to sing the chorus which actually sounds very good.
His two other singles after his first EP (3 songs in total) contain much less reggae sound. In his song 나 이러고 살아 (I Live Like This) and 쓰레기 (Trash) I could definitely hear that he has been trying to approach the public with a much more easily listenable sound by minimising reggae’s maniac sound. Neither of those songs are bad but it is sad that he had to try to sound much more like chart music to appeal to the Korean public. I Live Like This is a pretty straightforward ballad song with a little bit of reggae sound in (instrument-wise anyway), it features Hyo Shin Park and his distinctive soft voice and the combination of Skull’s rough voice made a surprisingly great mix. Trash has much more of the reggae sound than I Live Like This but it is still a straightforward pop love song with a little bit of reggae sound to it. However, the song’s chorus melody is very addictive and unlike a lot of Skull’s songs (and unlike the song’s title ‘Trash’) this song has a very light sound into it, so it is pretty obvious that Skull has tried and succeeded to produce much more easily listenable music. Another song from his single is Buffalo 2012 which is follow up song of Stony Skunk’s song Buffalo 2006. It is well known diss song aimed at the Korean rapper 타블로 (Tablo) and because of that everytime the name Skull comes up on the net there is always an argument between Tablo’s fan and Skull’s fan. Anyway, the song does not have any sound of reggae in it but is an obvious hiphop song. The song starts with a bell ringing as if a fight in a ring has just started and rapper 스윙스 (Swings) starts rapping with extreme lyrics, “니 척추를 학종이처럼 쉽게 접어 살점을 구워서 먹여” (I fold your spine like origami and I roast your meat and eat it). Then Skull starts his rap in the second verse with an angry and emotional tone and that’s what makes me like this song even more, the fact that he is more emotional in this song makes the lyrics sound much more real. It allows me to understand the message Skull is saying (which basically is ‘Tablo, you suck’) much more easily. Also, the chorus, which is basically Skull shouting “나는 아직도 버팔로” (I am still the Buffalo) is weirdly very addictive and easily sticks in your head.
Skull is undoubtedly a very talented artist from listening to his music and seeing what he has achieved in the past, including the fact that his manager is Mariah Carey’s brother. However, as I already mentioned it is pretty sad that the majority of Koreans are showing the cold shoulder to Skull’s music just because his musical genre is much less known. But, from what I can see, Skull seems to be getting ready to put his name on the Billboard chart again one day and aiming at the US music market rather than Korean seeing that he recently released an english song Cry Die in 2012. I hope that one day the Korean music market will accept more variety in terms of music genres so those great artists like Skull don’t remain as highly underrated as they are now.
- Ya Man! (emsrg.wordpress.com)
- Skull & HaHa Fanmeet: A wild and crazy Singapore vacation (dinoseoul.com)
- [Review] [Single] Skull and Haha – “Reggaerilla” (mcrothsresidence.com)