The original bad boys of K-pop, DJ DOC is as recognized for their trouble-making reputation as they are for their music; and their music has produced some of the most recognized and iconic songs in K-pop. Their distinct music style has spanned two decades and through their music, they have tackled serious issues, caused some waves, but above all else, entertained their fans and had fun along the way.
Hey Mr. DJ Pump It Up
DJ DOC (Dream of Children) was one of the early pioneers that introduced hip hop music to the Korean music audience after their debut. Originally consisting of members Lee Haneul, Kim Chang Ryul, and Park Jung Hwan, the trio released their first album 'Superman's Woe' in November of 1994; the early years of K-pop. The song featured sampling from some well-known American classics like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," but it is the distinctive rapping of Lee Haneul and Kim Chang Ryul's singing voice that is immediately recognizable to fans of the group. The album was not a huge commercial success, but it did introduce the K-pop world to a new and unique sound.
Before the release of DJ DOC's second album, member Park Jung Hwan left the group for personal reasons and Jung Jae Young came in to replace him. This combination would be the one that would last and dominate the charts in the coming years. Released in 1995, their second album 'Murphy's Law' was the catalyst that launched their careers and took them to the next level of fame. The title single from the album became a hit, as it overtook the #1 spot for three straight weeks, beating out some of the biggest names in the Korean music industry at the time. The song was an instant classic and it encapsulated DJ DOC's fun attitude and their trademark sound.
1996 could be considered a banner year for DJ DOC as they released two albums which produced hit songs that dominated the music charts that year. From their third album was "Winter Story," "The Story of My Success," and "Beauty and the Beast," while a separate album released in July of 1996 produced "Summer Story." Both "Winter Story" and "Summer Story" held the top spot on the music charts for three weeks and "Beauty and the Beast" was number 1 for two straight weeks. These three songs are not only some of DJ DOC's best works but are unquestioned classics in the canon of K-pop history. They can still be heard blasting at a pool or the ski slopes even today and sound as refreshing and fun as they were sixteen years ago.
DJ DOC's 4th album, perhaps the greatest album in K-Pop History
DJ DOC's fourth album released in 1997 started to see the group move into a more serious subject matter while still keeping true to their easy going attitudes. "Dance with DOC" was an extension of that easy going attitude as the song became another in a long line of hits also making it to the top of the music charts. Its signature dance is the stuff of legends and also evangelized the message of everyone taking a break from life and to dance.
But songs like "Bbi Guk Bbi Guk" took a more serious tone and made a statement as the group began to question authority and address societal issues. DJ DOC argued that those in power spent more time bickering with each other when their job was to be protecting and helping those in need. DJ DOC was never strangers to making bold and sometimes controversial statements and this time was no different. However, they paid the price as they were banned from performing certain songs and DJ DOC never made apologies for their beliefs and managed to remain as popular as ever.
This album might just be my favorite in K-pop history and many people feel the same way as it contains so many awesome tracks. It's been nearly 20 years since the release of the album but many of the tracks still sound fresh today. Check out some of my favorite tracks from the legendary 4th album:
Taking a break and their return
After the controversy from the 4th album and a three-year break, DJ DOC returned to the studios to release their fifth album 'The Life… DOC Blues 5%' in 2000. Many of the songs from the album were written and composed by the members with Lee Haneul taking a lead role creating their music. The general tone of their sound continued down the trend of heavier themed music and touched on some of the issues they had in the past regarding their reputation in music industry. The album also featured one of the group's biggest hits "Run to You", a pure hip hop dance song and another number 1 song from the group. Although "Run to You" was a commercial success, songs like "L.I.E" and "Pojori" showed that the group hadn't lost their edge as the strongly worded lyrics took aim at reporters who they felt had written articles about them that were defaming. The album was harsh enough that it drew a sales ban to minors. Other memorable songs from the album included "Rain" and "I Still Love You" which are both much more mellow songs and show a different side of the members.
In 2004, the tenth anniversary of the group, DJ DOC released their sixth studio album 'Love & Sex & Happiness.' The album comprised an eclectic array of music from the very popular and club-ready "I Wanna (Drop it Like it's Hot)" to the funk-laden "Street Life" which borrowed the chorus and melody from Randy Crawford's 1979 song of the same name. "As I Look Back at Youth" was a retrospective look at the past ten years of the group's career highlighting both the highs and lows; acknowledging their hits but also the controversies surrounding the group. Overall, the reception to the sixth album was not on par with some of their past albums and so the group took another break to focus on other activities. Although DJ DOC as a group was still together and made appearances, each member took some time to focus on individual activities and also enter the world of the variety shows. Lee Haneul became a member of the popular MBC show 'Come To Play' and 'Bright Hero'. Kim Chang Ryul kept himself busy by DJing radio shows and co-hosting the cable show 'Taxi' and both became founding members of the show 'Invincible Baseball Team' which aired during their hiatus.
Six Year Break and Return
Finally, after a six-year break, the group made their return to the music industry in 2010. Lee Haneul has said in interviews that when making the album, there was some conflict as to which direction the music should take. Do they stay true to the "DJ DOC" sound or do they move with the times and introduce more modern sounds into their project? What came out was their seventh album, 'Elegance.' The title track "I'm A Guy Like This" (composed by Psy) was a hybrid of the two styles that combined the original DOC sound while distinctly mirroring the music that was out. Even after the long break, they were up for a little fun by parodying popular groups in their music video, such as After School, CNBLUE, and the queen herself, Lee Hyori. Like their previous works, the album was a varied mix of different styles of music but all held together by the unmistakable voices of the three leading men. As a sign of respect, some of the biggest names in music like Tiger JK, Lee Seung Hwan, Kim Jang Hoon ,Yang Dong Gun, and Ivy helped the trio round out the album by featuring on a number of tracks. The album was a triumphant return to the stage and they were also awarded multiple awards that year, while also being named Grand Prize finalists for the Golden Disk Awards and Melon Music Awards.
Lawsuit with original member
On a November 2011 episode of the KBS variety show 'Happy Together 3', guests Lee Haneul and Kim Chang Ryul made a comment which amounted to an insult of their former member Park Jung Hwan, accusing him of being rhythmically challenged and always being a step behind. Hurt and embarrassed by the joke, Park filed suit against Lee Haneul and Kim Chang Ryul. As a result of the feud, Lee Haneul, in a show of apparent sorrow and taking a page from the Kang Ho Dong playbook, decided to withdraw from the entertainment industry and therefore, so did DJ DOC. In February of 2012, DJ DOC was cleared of the defamation charges in the lawsuit due to lack of evidence.
Passionate, emotional, irreverent, and talented. Those words best describe the trio of DJ DOC. Their passion and emotion had landed them in hot water from arrests as a result of fights to bans on their music as a result of what was deemed to be inappropriate subject matter. But their irreverent and talented side created some of the best K-pop in history and their music still stands the test of time while never compromising who they were. DJ DOC never received the accolades that some of their fellow artists received but many of those who did win awards didn't last as long as these guys did. Their longevity and the fact they were able to remain relevant and popular, ought to be more important than any award. The original bad boys of K-pop; DJ DOC entertained multiple generations of fans in their own way and here's hoping that one day soon, they'll be up to their antics again.