Album Review: MC Mong Miss Me or Diss Me

Following a nearly five-year hiatus, MC Mong made his return November 3 with his full-length album Miss Me or Diss Me. Since its release, the title song earned wins on Music Core and Inkigayo, the latter win causing a weird silence to befall the hosts and fans. Even though time passed, his scandal is still a sore spot for many in Korea, and his reemergence isn’t necessarily viewed as a good thing despite how well “Miss Me or Diss Me” is doing or how good the album actually is.

The Scandal

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In Korea, men are required to fulfill two years mandatory military service since the country is still technically at war with North Korea. The Ministry of Defense has strict omissions that citizens need to meet in order to avoid service, but even then, some choose to still serve in some capacity like in the case of rapper Swings who has battled depression but will begin serving November 25, 2014.

Military service is a source of pride in Korea, so to not serve or to dodge service brings shame, especially if that person is a celebrity.

MC Mong announced as the winner on November 16’s edition of Inkigayo./SBS
Rewind to 2010. MC Mong has two teeth extracted instead of having them repaired, leading to an investigation.  The media has claims from a dentist that he received money from Mong to extract the teeth; Mong denied these claims.

The Seoul Central District Court filed charges against Mong on October 10, 2010 stating he was in violation of Korea’s military service laws, leading to four trials.

During the second trial in November 2010, his dentists provided evidence that his teeth were damaged and needed to be removed. The dentist who made the claims against Mong retracted his original statement and said the teeth were damaged due to poor care. This dentist also stated he did not receive money from Mong and the removal was not an evasion tactic.

Mong received a suspended six-month jail term, a year’s probation, and 120 hours of community service but was cleared of intentionally removing teeth on April 11, 2011. Courts found he deliberately delayed enlistment on false terms, though.

Because he was viewed as an evader, KBS and MBC banned him. In addition, military laws became stricter in a move known as the “MC Mong Effect.” Mong disappeared from the public eye for years before reappearing with Miss Me or Diss Me.

Miss Me or Diss Me Album

Despite KNet protests, MC Mong’s album is performing well on domestic charts. While the success may be angering for many, the album is a win with the controversies aside. What helps the album are the featuring artists including Jinsil (Mad Soul Child), Hyorin (Sistar), Ailee, Minah (Girl’s Day), Lyn, Bumkey, and Gary among others. The 13-track album is an emotional rollercoaster that provides a journey through happiness, anger, regret, and even ballsy-shamelessness to provide a song for any mood.

The opening song “The Happiest Time of My Life” enlists the help of Huh Gak. The song has a 1990s throwback feel and a layer of bright sweetness that only Huh Gak can provide. “The Happiest Time” has a certain charm to it. The piano has a wistful feel since it is slower than the rest of the song’s beat.

The one qualm I have with “The Happiest Time” is the similar chords to “I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy/P. Diddy’s 1997-hit “I’ll Be Missing You.” This is present in the first verse before shifting, but it is noticeable.

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“Miss Me or Diss Me” gets help from Mad Soul Child’s Jinsil. The song is gutsy and potentially angering since it does directly reference his time away (the MV does moreso in an abstract way). The beat suggests the song is a dance track, but the lyrics turn it into something heavier and provides one of K-Pop’s better, most meaningful songs of 2014.

Jinsil from Mad Soul Child./KBeat.net

Adding Jinsil to the chorus was genius, plain and simple. Her voice is one of the most unique in the industry which helps the song become a memorable hit. Her haunting melodies layer well the track and Mong’s emotional rap. If not for the controversies, this song had potential for heavy airplay. It’s a shame a great song will become lost because of the court of public opinion.

The third track, “Be Strong,” has Ailee providing her powerhouse vocals. Ailee’s power softens here to aid in the song’s mellow sound. The lyrics are, by far, some of the best on the album as they describe being strong in the face of adversity. The lyrics read more like an inspirational greeting card with lines like “The hidden sunlight will shine on you again.” Mong’s rap and Ailee’s vocals complement each other well to strengthen the hopeful message. While listening, I was reminded of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” because the instrumentals for both assist in the aspiring message.

“New York” feels like it should be included on a drama OST. Baek Ji Young’s vocals feel very OST-ish. The 1970s US-TV-inspired instrumentals paint images of cheesy graphics, cool police cars, and the cast of Miami Vice coming forth for some action. Okay, that’s going a bit far, but that’s the image that comes to mind. Baek Ji-Young’s vocals add a sweet and savory sensation despite the song’s cheese-factor.

“Runaway” features Lyn, and like Jinsil, her voice provides a haunting quality. The song is one of many on the album that has a double meaning: It could reference running away from personal struggles or running away with a lover. Either way, the song can touch a listener’s heart.

The instrumentals stand out the most due to Lyn’s vocals. The subtle violins provide emotion and beauty. When combined, Mong seems to disappear because the rest of the song’s composition can carry a listener away.

Hyorin and LeesSang’s Gary help in “Faulty Fan.” The song is another inspiration-laced number of which Hyorin’s voice is well-suited. Gary’s rap carries the song well also. He has the right amount of magic to make the song stand out, and Hyorin’s high notes give “Faulty Fan” extra oomph. Mong is relegated to background, so he’s useless in his own song. If the song was just a Gary-Hyorin collaboration, it has hit-potential and is a perfect addition the K-Pop’s winter season.

“What Could I Do’s” R&B vibe is smooth and rich thanks to Bumkey. It has a smoky club-feel to it that adds some chill to the chorus and catchy beat. While Bumkey is a plus, “What Can I Do” is almost too simplistic. The song is nice to listen to, but it’s far from memorable.

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Featuring The Channels, “Scandal” continues the smooth, retro theme introduced in “What Can I Do” and “New York.” The 1970s are alive and well as Mong covers his lack of privacy. The disco-esque sound provides some fun, but The Channels (who I am convinced should collaborate with Phantom due to similar vocals) shines bright. The Channels makes Mong fade into the background. Given how people feel about him, this might not be a bad thing.

The doll girl from Sound Horizon’s “?????”: What I think the “0904” girls sounds like./YouTube
“0904” is just a weird inclusion. The song features a child singer which makes the song unnerving. The strange chatter, music box instrumentals, and soft percussion just add to the creepy factor. I was reminded of when Aramary was still with Sound Horizon and the song “?????” which features a creepy child doll. Some find children adorable, and this little girl might be a darling soul, but with the instrumentals, the song felt more suited for a horror film OST.

In any case, “0904” serves as a transition in “Sick to Death Pt. 2” featuring Sweden Laundry. Sweden Laundry’s vocals continue the chilly feel from “0904” since it’s clear she is supposed to be the adult version of the child. Mong’s presence returns; his rap sounds great with the track. The upbeat instrumentals help carry the song also, and it’s hard not to move the music.

Girl’s Day’s Minah lends her voice to the upbeat love song “Whatever.” Minah’s bright, bubbly personality sparkles as she and Mong shrug off haters. The song also has a summery vibe, so it’s perfect for being on the beach. It’s just a cute and enjoyable tune.

The joy shifts to a darker tone with “My Love.” An ode to an ex-lover, Mong and Sung Yoo Jin sing about moving on even if love still exists. The classical undertones in the instrumentals add twinges of regret and sadness. Mong’s rap carries a biting tone while Sung’s voice feels more hopeful. The differences help create a story full of desperation. Everything just falls into place nicely.

Finally, “E.R.” brings The Channels back to close the album. While listening, the song felt like One Republic let Mong sample part of “Apologize.” Mong’s rap is strong, but The Channels steals the show. The vocals just wash over and consume the listener like an emotional tidal wave. This song along with “Miss Me or Diss Me” earned the most playtime during this review. “E.R.” is just perfection and one of the top songs on the album.

Overall

Love him or hate him, MC Mong delivered one of 2014’s better albums. Miss Me or Diss Me provides many tracks that suit any mood or listener. There is a reason why the album is performing well on the charts: It’s a legit, solid album. It may not get the love the music deserves  because of the hate the artist receives. If a listener can separate the two, Miss Me or Diss Me is a hit.

Grade: A-

—- Joelle Halon

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