From Jinusean to 2NE1, G-Dragon breaks down his favorite tracks from past and present YG Entertainment labelmates.
Of the three companies that dominate Korean pop—SM, JYP, and YG—it is the music of YG Entertainment that is most likely to sound familiar to American ears. Founded in 1996 by Yang Hyun-suk, former member of seminal pop group Seo Taiji and Boys, YG has always emphasized hip-hop and R&B as its musical foundation. From the start, the company enlisted Korean-American musicians, like early hitmaker Perry, to produce tracks that were in line with stateside trends, thus staying ahead of the curve in the domestic market.
It was the flashy music videos and aggressive rap singles of the late ’90s and early aughts by YG artists like Jinusean and 1TYM that initially attracted a young G-Dragon to the label. In 2006, YG further evolved as a K-pop powerhouse when GD debuted as the leader of influential boy band Big Bang, followed three years later by girl group 2NE1. And, of course, longtime YG artist PSY brought his label international recognition last summer with the explosion of “Gangnam Style.”
All of these international hits are no accident—YG is known for granting more freedom to its artists than rival K-pop powerhouses, creating space for a unique talent like GD to grow. So, to get a window into G-Dragon’s musical upbringing and the history of his label, here are G-Dragon’s Favorite Songs from YG Entertainment.
Jinusean “Gasoline” (1997)
Producer: Yang Hyun-suk [CEO of YG Entertainment] Album: Jinusean
G-Dragon: “[Sings the melody.] I really like this record. The music video, I watch it now and it’s still great visually. There’s an old vibe to it that I like a lot. Now, everything’s too HD. Everything’s so clean and crisp. Also, when you watch videos that are shot overseas like this one, I’m sure the sunlight is different so the colors stand out. Overall, I really think ‘Gasoline’ is an amazing record. I love the album as well.”
YG Family “Famillienium (We Are YG Family)” (1999)
G-Dragon: “I first found out about the song because of the music video. It’s one of those videos that just made me say, ‘How can they make this in Korea?’ When I saw it, I told myself, ‘Okay, I have to go to YG.’ I would go to the karaoke rooms and sing that song so many times. I would point at the security camera to imitate scenes out of the video. That video’s pretty insane. It’s quite awesome, actually.
“I never asked my boss [YG Entertainment CEO Yang Hyun-suk] why he’s sitting in a room alone when a helicopter’s spraying the office with bullets in the video. [Laughs.] But one thing I always do to make fun of him is when he says the line, [imitates Yang Hyun-suk’s voice in Korean] ‘What time is it?’
“In the lyrics, they just bash on society, and they even talk about white powder. I remember thinking to myself, ‘This place is thugged out.’ As a young kid, I was pretty mesmerized.”
1TYM “One Love” (2000)
Producer: Teddy Park & Kim Jong-seo
Album: 2nd Round
G-Dragon: “I like most 1TYM [four-member hip-hop group formerly under YG Entertainment] records. But ‘One Love’ is a classic to me. I really like the rap on that record. It’s almost like a course you need to take when you join our company. It’s a song almost all trainees have to sing. They all sing ‘One Love’ at one point or another. [Fellow Big Bang members] Taeyang did it, T.O.P. did it, and I did it, too. I think the trainees now do it as well.
“The group’s not together anymore, but they’re actively pursuing their own careers. Baekyung is in the food business. Danny’s doing a show [on Mnet America] in L.A. called Danny from L.A. I see Teddy everyday in the studio.”
Jinusean “A-Yo” (2001)
Producer: Teddy Park
Album: The Reign
G-Dragon: “Along with ‘Famillienium,’ both the record and video for ‘A-Yo’ were really influential to me. The song pretty much caught two birds with one stone. It’s very hip-hop, but also very accessible for the masses to sing along to. And at the time, I didn’t even know what ‘A-Yo’ meant. It was just something that was easy to sing along to. And in the music video, you see lowriders, sneakers, and cars; it was really fresh for me at the time. Like, ‘Wow, this kind of music and video can actually be made in Korea.’
“I remember going to the record shop, and writing down my name to purchase [The Reign] album, because the pre-order was all sold out. So I went a few days prior to the actual release and wrote down my name and phone number. I had to wait several weeks before I finally got my copy of the album. Even back then, the music market in Korea was pretty healthy. And CDs were actually pushing units. Now, you can’t find a single CD store anywhere in Seoul [Laughs.]—unless you head to COEX [a trendy mall located in the Gangnam district of Seoul].”
Perry f/ G-Dragon, Sean & Masta Wu “Storm” (2001)
Album: Perry by Storm
G-Dragon: “I really liked Perry’s album, too. Personally, I think his case is a bit unfortunate. He didn’t come out at the right time. I think he’s a real genius. He had an incredible talent for creating melody lines, he also made amazing beats, and he used to be a b-boy so he was great at dancing. His raps were pretty much the best, too. He would murder everybody on the track. He knew how to do pretty much everything.
“Maybe he was a little too ahead of his time. I mean, after a certain point, it felt like he was a bit frustrated. When I was young, I just thought he was very striking. [Perry by Storm] had a lot of gems. In addition to ‘Storm,’ there were many great records on there.
“Perry’s not too good speaking Korean, and I thought that was a setback for him, but his songs were overall great.
“‘Storm’ was the first song I did as a member of YG. The record gave me a lot of pressure. I didn’t think I was prepared at the time. And I had to be on TV shows to promote the record with Masta Wu, who was very scary. [Laughs.] Just imagine, I was really young, and these guys were all at least 10 years older than me. I was just so nervous, and no matter what, I couldn’t mess up. But of course, when we first performed on television I tripped on stage. It was really nerve-wracking. And whenever I screwed up, Masta Wu would scold me.
“The other hyungs [older-brother figures] really didn’t say much, because I was so young, and they just thought of me as a cute little brother. But Masta Wu at the time was around my current age, or even younger. He’s already kind of a scary dude. Now imagine him in his young and wild days. If I were wearing a hat, he’d smack the brim. And I would just stay silent and think, ‘Oh, man. I’m fucked.’ [Laughs.] It was really scary, man. Getting onstage every day to promote that record was very stressful.”
Swi.T f/ Jinu “Everybody Get Down (Part 2)” (2002)
Producer: Song Baek-kyoung
Album: 97-YG-02 (Why Be Normal?)
G-Dragon: “I like ‘Everybody Get Down’ with Jinu on it. There isn’t much mention of whether or not Jinusean’s a good rap duo. But I think Jinu’s a great rapper, I like his style. When I listen to it, it reminds of L.A. He has this vibe that’s reminiscent of Snoop. It’s very easygoing—he has a slur, but it sounds very good.”
G-Dragon & Taekwon, “Jeo Nopeungose Pyeolcheo” (2002)
Album: 97-YG-02 (Why Be Normal?)
G-Dragon: “Not a lot of people know the song ‘Jeo Nopeungose Pyeolcheo’ [‘On a Higher Plane’], track nine on the second YG Family album. It’s the first song Taeyang [then known as ‘Taekwon’] and I did together. You can hear him rapping. When I listen to it now it’s so unbearably corny. But there’s this weird sense of griminess. I was so bad at rapping then, but it kind of brings back memories from that era, so I go back to listen to it a lot. I also like the lead single from this album, ‘Hip-Hop Gentlemen,’ because I did it. But it’s not a record I go back to now. Even the music video, when I watch it, it’s a little cringe-inducing. [Laughs.] “
Stony Skunk, “Red Light District” (2007)
Producer: Stony Skunk
Album: More Fyah
G-Dragon: “Stony Skunk, when they were with our company, had a song which I personally like called ‘Red Light District.’ It’s [producer] Kush’s solo record. As you may have guessed, it’s about the red light district. I don’t know why, but I just find that record to be very entertaining. [Laughs.] It’s not really a reggae-style record. But if you listen to the lyrics, you can tell like, ‘Wow, this is the real deal. This is from the perspective of someone who knows the deal.’ [Laughs.] Like he has a line that says, ‘Instead of your number, I want to know your name.’ I remember thinking, ‘Man, he really went in on this record.’ You know? He’s pointing out the fact that people in that industry all use fake names.”
Big Bang “Fool” (2007)
Producer: Brave Brothers
Album: Hot Issue EP
G-Dragon: “I haven’t mentioned a Big Bang record, I know. You know what it is? It’s because I make most of the Big Bang records. [Laughs.] And since they’re my records, I think they’re all great. [Laughs.] But there’s one record I really like. Since I made them, I see a lot of flaws as time passes. Despite all that, this record called ‘Fool’ is a song I like a lot. If you listen to it, there are a lot of flaws I could’ve fixed. The rap is whatever, and the song’s overall flavor is very bland. It’s a song I did with the Brave Brothers. And although it’s not a perfect record, I kept telling myself, ‘I hope this record does well.’ I feel very attached to that song.”
2NE1 “Fire” (2009)
Producer: Teddy Park
Album: 2NE1 EP
G-Dragon: “When [2NE1] were complete newcomers, I was trying to help them out. Whenever I listen to ‘Fire’ and ‘I’m the Best,’ I think of them during those times. They were really giving everything they had to make things work. Everything. There weren’t that many hip-hop-driven, Korean club records at the time—at least records that made people want to dance. I wasn’t really hitting the clubs during that period, but I think that record has all the right components to be a club banger. Because once the bridge with the ‘eh, eh, eh’ comes on, everyone can imitate the move.”
Taeyang “I Need a Girl” (2010)
Producer: Jeon Goon
G-Dragon: “I think Taeyang developed this image as a dancing singer, mostly because of records like ‘Only Look At Me,’ and ‘Where U At.’ To me, personally, I think Taeyang tried to make a change on ‘I Need a Girl.’ It gets a little mellower. In Korea, a lot of people compared him to Omarion, and even called him ‘Dong-marion’ [a play on Taeyang’s real name, Dong Young-bae]. [Laughs.]
“He was always going for that style and one day he kind of took off that image and started dancing more smoothly, and sang in a softer tone. I think him working with [choreographer] Shaun Evaristo really had a positive effect on him. I realized how it could work really well even when you soften up your style. So that song ‘I Need a Girl’ really stands out to me. Because I liked it so much, I told Taeyang I wanted to be on it as a guest.”
CL “The Baddest Female” (2013)
Producer: Teddy Park
Album: “The Baddest Female” single
G-Dragon:“I personally loved the record. I just don’t understand why it didn’t have the reaction we expected from the Korean audience. Just within the company, the response it received from the public wasn’t as huge as we anticipated or wanted. Personally though, I thought the record was really good. I think as a female idol, to carry this identity as a hip-hop artist is something that’s still not fully accepted in Korea. But for me it was a really hot track. I even thought about making a male version. I was going to call it, ‘I’m a Bad Muhseuhmae.’” [Ed. note—”Muhseuhmae” is slang for “boy” in the regional dialect used in the Chungcheong province of Korea.]