After making a name for himself in the American battle rap scene, releasing a handful of mixtapes and albums, and dabbling in Korean guest features, Dumbfoundead made his official Korean market debut this month with the 'Foreigner' mini album.
Lead off by the bombastic "Hyung" single with accompaniment by Korean rap veterans, 'Foreigner' makes a statement and acts as a link between international music communities. DFD comes off a little bit angry, asserting himself with the same kind of vigor he showcased on his "It G Ma" remix guest verse. He continues to show dexterity with his lyrics, at one point rhyming "you're forever 21, never be a hyung" in a casual but effective way. The guest features elevate the song, with Dok2, Simon D and Tiger JK all taking turns behind the mic to boast and show their skills. In the song, Dumbfoundead tackles the respect thing in Korea about how younger males have to call older males hyung. He basically says that it doesn't matter if you're older, you only deserve the hyung title by earning respect.
The music video for "Hyung" is hilarious, featuring an array of photoshopped Dumbfoundead faces over old timey photos. The rappers all take turns as giants dominating a city, asserting themselves as Hyungs who earned respect and impact the direction of Korean hip-hop. Though the special effects have a B-movie quality, it's probably deliberate and gives the MV a nice quality that stops it from being self-serious.
The EP moves on with "History of Violence," which opens with a thought-provoking quote sample. The talented Chancellor lends his top vocals to the track. The beat of this song immediately stands out as something current and has a dark excitement that recalls Kendrick Lamar at his best. Dead spits "I ain't ever raise my hand to a woman or in class, but obey no man," showing that he knows what it means to face adversity through his life. He follows up, "I don't play that gook or the chink shit," and takes a rare moment to address racial discrimination in the context of a Korean rap release. As the song furthers, he declares "my culture don't believe in shrinks," as either a sign of emotional resilience or a cry for help. It's possible that with this song, Dumbfoundead was taking bold steps to challenge both himself and fellow Korean rappers to rap about topics beyond the superficial more often.
"Upgrade 2.0" is a well produced, rather sexy Wong Kar Wai-referencing track. Its witty lyrics remind fans that Dumbfoundead can succeed in a less serious mood. Staccato synth hits on the chorus help the song reach its peak and give it a psychedelic quality. Between the dial-up noise, sampling his mom, and delivering worthwhile lyrics, Dumbfoundead made a song that was less of a place to brag and more of a grown man anthem.
The track "Water" featuring G-Soul is, by all reasonable standards, a certified banger. A sampled mouth popping noise makes the production count, and it's cool to hear DFD playing with the Korean language more. Even though content wise this is kind of familiar and boast heavy, DFD delivers boasts with a convincing sincerity that makes them more enjoyable than many of his peers'. He raps, "she want a wedding dress, but I ain't Taeyang," showing an awareness of the industry he's appealing to even at the risk of being a bit corny. The track recalls Pharrell-era clipse in a great way, and the short sung section towards the end brought it together (though it would have been nice to hear from a traditional vocalist).
The album's dramatic closer "Send me to war" immediately shines because guest hook singer Jessi sounds experienced, wise, and even a little exhausted. The song goes almost a minute and a half without bars, and lacks the sense of humor that makes Dumbfoundead such a hit - it lacks subtlety, and takes broad artistic strokes in expressing emotions. That said, addressing police violence on a Korean-American collaboration track is an amazing political move on DFD's part. Whether the onus of the choice is on Jessi or DFD, calling a song "Send Me To War" in South Korea (a country with mandatory military service) as someone who couldn't serve in the army during a time where war is a real threat is bold. It's the kind of artistic statement we're not getting from the mainstream. With this in mind, one can draw the conclusion that there might have even been significance to having Jessi sing the hook instead of a male.
This mini album succeeds because it captures all of the best that Dumbfoundead has to offer without going on too long. It's refined: no song feels like it doesn't belong, no flow feels half-baked or phoned in. The guest features all accomplish something, which is getting increasingly rare on hip-hop albums with stacked lineups. While the album has been touted as "for the Korean industry," that wasn't enough to magically make the American-raised DFD fluent, so it's worth noting that most of the album is still in English. Language aside, what makes this work count is who it's reaching & how it's reaching them. 'Foreigner' is bigger than Dumbfoundead; according to his vision, it's about the Korean rap scene spreading its wings.
MV relevance: 10
MV production: 7
MV concept: 8
MV score: 8.3
Album production: 9
Album concept: 9
Album Score: 9