Leessang, aka Gil and Gary, deserves huge credit as one of the artists who sparked the rise of hip hop in mainstream media in the early 2000’s. The hip hop duo really pushed the limits of the genre which was still new and unfamiliar in the public’s ears.

All of their albums can be fully appreciated, but if I had to pick a favourite, it’d have to be their 6th album. Released in 2009, [HEXAGONAL] is the album that truly embraces who the artists behind Leessang are, what Leessang is, and what their music is about. I also like to think of this album as a representation of the roots of contemporary Korean Hip Hop, and how it differs from the original genre which it appropriated.

Collaborating with top artists from respective genres, such as the hip hop legend Tiger JK, the 16-song collection combines the musical worlds of these artists with Leessang’s character. This crossover enlivens the emotions which are sprawled into words so honest that they ache.

헤어지지 못하는 여자, 떠나가지 못하는 남자 (feat. 정인)
The girl who can’t break-up, The boy who can’t leave (feat. Jung-In)

사랑은 한때 사랑은 이별과 한패
이별은 사랑을 데리고 가는데…

버리면 버려지는게 사랑이라면 얼마나 좋을까
원하면 얻어지는게 사랑이라면 얼마나 좋을까

How nice would it be if love was something you can just throw away
How nice would it be if love was something you can earn by simply wanting

Every single line of this song hurts.

This was the first song I heard of Leessang. And I find myself going back to it occasionally, for that nostalgia when I first fell in love with the duo and their music.

Carousel (feat. 이적 Lee Juck)

언제나 사랑에 갇히는 게 싫어
다치는 게 싫어 내 자유를 바치는 게 싫어
벗어나고 싶었지만 난 사랑에 갇혔다 망쳤다

I didn’t want to be trapped in love
I don’t want to get hurt, I don’t want to offer my freedom
I want to escape, but I’m trapped in love.

Raindrops falling – the storm brewing – then, a sigh. A mix of melancholic melody of an antique music box, and a troubled walk in the dark wilderness, and an entrance into a cult religious ceremony. As Lee Juck‘s voice echoes in cries, the harmonious choir in the background gives me chills.

This song plays with Lee Juck’s ballad-rock, blending in unfamiliar sounds, yet both the genre and his voice come together so seamlessly, creating a genre neither ballad, rock, or hip hop.

Journey (feat. Casker)

잠시만 안녕 강렬한 
태양과 바다를 따라 나는 간다 
행복이 파도처럼 내게 밀려 온다

A good-bye for now
I’m leaving towards the sun and the ocean
Happiness washes over me like waves

Leessang’s collab with the indie electronica lounge-pop duo Casker is the most experimental in the album. The heaviness of Gary’s rap and Gil’s husky voice are enlightened with the sweet melodic lines and downtempo beats, and Young Jin‘s soothing chorus.

Sharing memories and imagining an escape from the “차들의 경적소리 사람들 걱정의 소리 / sounds of honking cars and people’s worries”, the lyrics and the melody takes the listeners across the water, against the wind and splashing waves, on a journey somewhere unknown.

Run (feat. YB)

숨이 차올라도 한번쯤은 끝을 봐야지
아픈 상처 위엔 굳은살도 배겨 봐야지
언젠가는 모두 알게 되겠지 달려왔던 그 이유들

Though out of breath, you need to get to the end at least once
Though painfully scarred, you need to endure the calluses
Someday you’ll understand everything, the reason why you ran

The collaboration of genres takes away from the genre of hip hop itself, but Leessang stands out from other hip hop artists because of their experimentation and exploration of what the genre can be and how their distinctive character can create new harmonies. When YB‘s rock blends into hip hop, the song’s no longer either one, but becomes a new genre of its own. And if to exaggerate a bit, I’d say Leessang’s approach greatly influenced the Korean Hip Hop we know today.