Midtown Manhattan was lit up more than usual as veteran hip-hop trio Epik High took to the Hammerstein Ballroom stage on March 16 for their All Time High North American Tour. Members Tablo, Mithra Jin, and DJ Tukutz, delivered a lively show comprising both new releases and classic bangers. Complete with an energetic, engaged audience that ranged in age from college-aged zoomers to middle-aged Gen Xers, Epik High’s intergenerational impact was clear as day on stage.
Attendees were primed for the show with a special episode of The Tablo Podcast that played on the stage’s LCD screen, in which Tablo discussed some past memories of New York City. The screen and the venue’s lights then faded to black, but just as the audience began cheering in anticipation for the concert to start, they were hit with a display message that said, “THE SHOW WILL START SOON” with a backing laugh track. Drawing chuckles from the crowd, it was the perfect intro for the tone of the show.
Finally the stage was bathed in a beautiful glow of pink flood lights and sound-synced LED motion lights as “Strawberry,” the intro track of Epik High’s latest album of the same name, began to play. It was an apt visual representation of the chill, steady beats of the song. As the overture closed out, the trio walked onstage and kicked off the night with “On My Way,” their collaboration with Jackson Wang.
The performance initially seemed seamless to everyone in attendance, but Tablo had other thoughts. “New York City – I can feel this is gonna be the most special show on the tour. We’ve never, ever had a hiccup but right now, we can’t hear the music at all,” Tablo said, referring to technical issues with their in-ears. “Mithra and I have been rapping to whatever sound you might be able to hear but we can’t hear a thing.”
The audience let out impressed cheers and whoops at the revelation – one attendee noted to a friend that they wouldn’t have noticed if Tablo didn’t point it out. “To make this show even more special, we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna do this thing properly. With sound,” Tablo announced once their audio was fixed, a testament to Epik High’s professionalism and commitment to delivering a great concert experience. With his signature dry humor, he continued, “Since this is New York and you’re all born stars, I will ask that you pretend you didn’t see us.”
Tablo, Mithra Jin, and Tukutz exited the stage, and the audience was treated to a reprise of the “Strawberry” introduction before the trio returned for an even cleaner performance of “On My Way.” With the concert officially underway, Tablo called for the audience to jump as Tukutz transitioned into the group’s upbeat 2005 hit, “Fly.”
Taking a breath after the repeated intro stage, Tablo joked that the moment felt like déjà vu. Epik High then formally introduced each other in a hilariously unserious manner, with DJ Tukutz going first. Each introduction was accompanied by the member’s name appearing in giant, animated, cinematic letters accompanied by a dramatic score as they strutted across the stage like it was a runway. Tablo dramatically presented Tukutz’s and Mithra Jin’s real names, stage aliases, and their joke nicknames (Tukutz was “The Father of K-Pop” while Mithra Jin was “The Maknae of K-Pop.” Tukutz introduced Tablo similarly, but in Korean.
Once introductions were completed, Tablo announced they were going to take the audience back in time, which then progressed into “Map the Soul (feat. MYK).” The venue echoed with the voices of fans loudly singing the lyrics, “L.O.V.E. you / I was made to be with you,” as they waved their hands to the beat.
Following the song, Tablo took a moment to talk about Mithra Jin and how he doesn’t always express his inner emotions.
“People ask, ‘Who is Mithra?’ They ask, ‘Where is Mithra?’ But nobody asks, ‘How is Mithra?’” he said to laughs from the audience. “New York City, will you let Mithra let his true feelings out for the first time? Will you still accept him as he is?” Once the audience screamed out, “Yes!” Mithra Jin went right into his explosive first verse on “Acceptance Speech (feat. B.I.).”
Up next on the setlist was “Rosario,” Epik High’s soulful collaboration with CL and Zico. Tablo set the stage for the track with an anecdote about his personal connection to New York City.
“It’s a strange feeling whenever we return to New York. Every moment in our career, we somehow ended up here, even during very difficult times when I went through some personal struggles in Korea and was pretty much banished from the industry for a few years. New York City was one of the places I actually came to; people don’t know that I came out here and stayed with a friend for about twenty days. My wife was like, ‘I want you to go to wherever you feel like you can revive your heart,’ and I chose to come to New York. Being here for those days listening to music and trying to be normal kind of affected how I returned to music. So it’s a very special place for us.”– TABLO
Though he didn’t refer to it by name, those familiar with Epik High could guess it was about the Stanford University controversy that affected Tablo starting in 2010, and which he also references on “Rosario.” Tablo continued, “Some of you leave comments on my Instagram or on our Twitter, or our socials, you write stuff like, ‘You’re a legend!’ I just want you to know, you are the legends.” The crowd went wild with their support, cheering at Tablo’s comeback since then and shouting the song’s chorus once Epik High dove into the empowering anthem. The trio then rode the wave of the badass, hyped-up energy of the song by launching into “Burj Khalifa (feat. Gaeko & Yankie),” immediately afterward to deafening screams.
Next was “No Thanxxx (feat. MINO, Simon Dominic & The Quiett)” in line with the confident and fun atmosphere of the set. Tukutz came down from the DJ booth to join Mithra Jin and Tablo at the front of the stage and rap The Quiett’s verses. Attendees cheered when Tukutz and Tablo did a cute hip-bump dance move and flawlessly shouted along with Tablo’s iconic line: “Cuz I am Groot, mothafuckaaa!”
During a water break, Tablo asked the audience how they enjoyed the album Strawberry and the collaborations with Hwasa and Jackson Wang. He explained how location and time differences sometimes make working with them and other legendary artists difficult. “But sometimes, a miracle happens,” Tablo said.
Though not explicitly mentioned by Tablo at first, fans knew that he was alluding to “All Day,” from RM’s debut album Indigo, to which Tablo contributed a verse. Videos from prior shows on the tour of Tablo recounting different versions of how the collaboration happened have gone viral on TikTok. For New York’s show, Tablo explained that the collaboration came about after being woken up from a dream where he experienced an earthquake. The earthquake ended up being a phone call from RM telling him to check his email. He then jumped right into the upbeat song, rapping his verse along with the audience.
Keeping with the theme of performing iconic collaborations, Tablo then transitioned into “Eyes Nose Lips,” his emotional breakup song with Taeyang. Tablo then called on the crowd to “light up New York City” by turning on their phone flashlights, With Hammerstein Ballroom significantly brighter, Mithra Jin kicked off “Rain Song,” Epik High’s single with Colde. In a lighthearted departure from the somber lyrics, Tukutz lip-synced to Younha’s guest vocals on the song’s bridge.
Following “Rain Song” was “Umbrella,” the group’s 2008 hit song featuring Younha. Tablo noted that they’ve never performed the song on previous tours in the United States despite its popularity. (Though Epik High performed the song on their North American tour in New York in 2015).
“When we perform it in Korea, literally we don’t have to even pick up the mic. As soon as it starts, everyone starts singing. People who aren’t even our fans are fans of this song,” he said. “The problem is the Korean in the song is pretty difficult, so we always imagined that it would be difficult for our U.S. audiences to sing along. If I underestimated you, I’m really sorry.”
Tablo then gave a mini Korean lesson, teaching the audience how to sing Younha’s part: “어느새 빗물이 내 발목에 고이고 / 참았던 눈물이 내 눈가에 고이고.” He sang the first line as an example, but was surprised when the crowd loudly continued onto the next without his help. Deeming the audience ready, Epik High jumped right in, accompanied by the reverberating sound of the crowd singing along.
The groovy, uptempo pop track “One (feat. Jisun)” was next, which brought party energy to the show with bright lights after the previous slow jams. The audience jumped and sang along with the members, and Tukutz even showed off his dance moves not just once, but twice – the second being a mini cover of NewJeans’ viral hit, “OMG” choreography, to fans’ delight.
“It would be great if we could just stay here all night making jokes, having the time of our lives with you, but unfortunately it’s time for Epik High to sing ‘the last’ song of the night,” Tablo said, emphasizing “the last” with air quotes. The crowd responded with sardonic “aww’s,” matching Tablo’s energy. “Someone Like You” by Adele then began to play as Tablo continued.
“After tonight we’ll be moving on to other cities and meeting new people, seeing new faces, hearing new voices. But we will never, ever meet another audience like you. Thank you so much for everything tonight; you were seriously amazing. New York as a city had one of the toughest last few years. I know it very well, I know every single one of you went through maybe a little too much or are still going through a lot,” said Tablo in his closing ment. “The world is getting a little more difficult, a bit more cold and it’s hard but hopefully tonight, being together like this, you get a little more strength to really get out there. You can face your struggles with a little more strength and a little more hope. And if anybody fucks with you, you can say, ‘fuck you’ to all those born haters!”
“If anybody fucks with you, you can say, ‘fuck you’ to all those born haters!”– TABLO
Epik High dove right into “Born Hater,” the 90s hip-hop-inspired ensemble song originally featuring Beenzino, Verbal Jint, MINO, BOBBY, and B.I. The trio took a quick break after the first part of the song to take a group photo with the audience. Once the photo session was complete, Tablo jumped into the crowd to spray water on attendees as the song picked back up. They kept the lively energy up by following with the pop-punk-inspired, guitar-heavy song, “Don’t Hate Me.” The audience was even treated to more B-boy dance moves courtesy of Tukutz, adding to the fun vibe of the performance.
After a brief intermission, Epik High returned to the stage for the encore with “Catch (feat. Hwasa).” The vibe of the performance was more chill, but that changed quickly when the group moved into the high-energy “Kill This Love,” a techno, synth-backed track that was complemented by heavy, multi-colored strobe lights that would have been at home at a rave. The EDM party mood continued with “New Beautiful,” and the floor shook as everyone jumped to the beat. Surrounded by the swirling pink and purple stage lights, Tablo ended the show by shouting out, “You! Are! Beautiful!”
It was a bright finale to an, ahem, epic night. It was a perfect showcase of Epik High’s artistic accomplishments and ongoing musical legacy. Although they might be at an All Time High, it was clear that the best is yet to come.