G-Dragon catalogs his various musical influences, from classic Korean rock to Kanye West.
This feature is part of Complex's Coup D'Etat Week with G-Dragon.
A glance through G-Dragon's favorite albums list makes it clear that the K-pop idol is a big fan of American hip-hop. But, as any GD loyalist will tell you, his own music encompasses way more than just rap. So, if you look more closely at this collection of G-Dragon's favorite records, you'll notice that there are a few connective threads—for example, music that emphasizes melody and emotion. “There’s this thing called Korean sentiment, and since I grew up listening to it, I understand it,” says GD. “There’s a certain code that Korean people relate to in music and I’m able to deliver that.”
Certain feelings are universal, however, whether expressed through songs by ’70s Korean rock bands or Frank Ocean. To get a better understanding of G-Dragon’s musical inspiration from his teenage years to present, here are G-Dragon's 15 Favorite Albums.
As told to Jaeki Cho (@jaekicho)
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San Woollim, Gaji Ma Oh (Please Don't Go) (1981)
Label: Dae Sung Records
G-Dragon: “As a rapper, I was heavily influenced by American rap albums. But for songs that are more melody-driven, I get my inspiration from Korean albums. For Korean music, I mostly listen to individual songs over complete albums. Deulgukhwa [a seminal ’80s Korean rock band] has a lot of great songs; I also liked Sanwoollim [’70s Korean rock band consisting of three brothers] a lot.
“My personal favorite by Sanwoollim is ‘Chung Choon [Youth].’ I actually sampled that record. [Laughs.] But I just can’t put it out. You know, the thing about Sanwoollim is that these are records sung by a bunch of ahjussis [middle-aged men], but for some reason, the lyrics, and the delivery all feel so modern. Even when I listen to it now, I’m just impressed like, ‘How were they able to write lyrics like this back then?’”
Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
G-Dragon: “I started rapping because of that album. It’s not a matter of whether it’s good or bad. It’s almost like a biblical, holy piece of music. [Laughs.] I listened to it so many times. I’m not fluent in English now, but back then I didn’t know anything. I would write down the lyrics to ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ in Korean—not translating it, but phonetically writing out each word. I didn’t know what they were saying, so I would just write everything down as I heard it. I would recite it and imitate it like that. That’s how I started to write my own raps. That album pretty much started everything for me. It’s a very meaningful album.”
Jinusean, The Reign (2001)
Label: YG Entertainment
G-Dragon: “It’s really a hip-hop album, man. [Laughs.] The intro of the album had Prodigy of Mobb Deep on it. And ‘A-Yo’ was the single of the album.
“Taeyang was in the video of ‘A-Yo.’ The other kid in the video is actually just an actor. A lot of people think it’s me, but I wasn’t involved in it. At the time, just watching the ‘A-Yo’ video I was pretty mesmerized. I was a complete rookie in YG at the time. When the hyungs [older guys] would perform at TV stations, I would just sit back and watch. The Reign was very special. Because there weren’t any other Korean albums at the time that openly featured so many different foreign rap artists. I was just in awe like, ‘How were they able to get these guys?’ B-Real from Cypress Hill was on it. That album has so many gems.”
Drunken Tiger, The Legend Of... (2001)
Label: Doremi Records
G-Dragon: “I was probably in middle school or in elementary school. Drunken Tiger [formerly a two-member rap duo, currently headed by founding member Tiger JK] at the time was amazing. Both Tiger JK and DJ Shine, to me during that time, they were idols. Of course, after I joined YG, I wasn’t as exposed to Drunken Tiger, but I still reminisce about those times when I idolized them.”
Fabolous, Ghetto Fabolous (2001)
Label: ElektraG-Dragon: “Along with Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), I listened to Ghetto Fabolous so many times. There are albums that I like because of specific songs, but then there are albums that I like as a complete body of work. Ghetto Fabolous is an album I lived with daily. Back then, I was in middle school, and I just started as a trainee in YG Entertainment.
"Teddy was the one who put me on to that album. I think I first heard it when I was in Guam, when we were shooting the music video for ‘Hip-Hop Gentlemen.’ I heard the album while we were driving around in Guam, and then when I went home, I bought the CD, and just listened to it daily.
“I was kind of dressed like Fabolous at the time. I really liked that album, and I even listen to it these days sometimes. Whatever I like, even after a long time, I still like it. And I reminisce about the moment when I first heard it. That’s what I love. Just remembering those moments.”
Kanye West, College Dropout (2004)
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def JamG-Dragon: “From Kanye’s discography, I like his older material more. I like his current stuff, too, but I'm not sure if he went a little too far. [Laughs.] I mean, it’s still Kanye, and it’s still great music. When I heard his latest release, I just thought, ‘Damn, so he’s just doing whatever he wants to do.’ In a way, I envy him. He really just did whatever the hell he wanted to do. He didn’t care about anybody. And it’s great. But personally I like College Dropout.”
Kanye West, Late Registration (2005)
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
G-Dragon: “Yoon and Verbal [of Ambush Design] are close to Kanye. So they tell me a lot of things about him. I wouldn’t say we’re alike, but I completely understand him.
“I look up to a lot of artists, but I don’t know how they are in real life. I always see them when they’re at their finest. After Kanye became a recognized icon, because he’s done so many things that went beyond people’s expectations, he has to continuously take chances. I heard he only sleeps like two to three hours a day. According to my friends, they compare him to an angry 4-year-old boy. He’s just so full of energy. He would scream and then he would be crazy about music, and then he would go meet someone, and then fall asleep. I hear that’s how he is.
I heard Kanye only sleeps like two to three hours a day. According to my friends, they compare him to an angry 4-year-old boy.
“I’m not saying I’m like that, but I understand him. I have this disease-like need to try to create something new. When you’re kind of being chased, and everything you do goes so well, you develop this sickness and a sense of need to constantly do something different. And you keep try to push your limit, more and more. I definitely had instances like that. Our stages are different. He’s on the world stage, and I’m on the Korean stage. Nobody’s telling me to keep pushing myself, but I feel like I have to.
“So when I hear how he is, I just think like, ‘Yeah, that’s understandable. That sounds about right.’ I think he’s very ambitious, whether it’s fashion or music. And whatever he does, I just think it’s really commendable, whether the outcome is good or bad. Whether he gets criticized or praised. And you know I’ve been criticized a lot, too. [Laughs.]”
Pharrell, In My Mind (2006)
Label: Star Trak/InterscopeG-Dragon: “I heard it didn’t do too well in terms of sales, but I personally thought it was really good. Not sure if it’s because I like Pharrell so much. When I saw the music video for ‘Number One’ I think I was still a trainee. Or I probably debuted already, but nothing was really going on for me. [Laughs.] I remember really being in awe, because I looked up to both Kanye and Pharrell so much.
“I wouldn’t say Pharrell’s a fashionista, but I’ve always liked him. As a kid, I’ve always looked up to his style. Even now, I just think he’s just so cool. In terms of his fashion, there’s no real change. He’s able to retain something that’s consistent. Kanye designs his own clothes now, and he changed his outfits from Polo to something completely high-end. But Pharrell’s always been doing something that’s consistent. That means that it’s not his clothes that make him cool, it’s just him as a person. To me that’s the biggest motto. It doesn’t matter what kind of clothes you put on, if you’re a stylish individual, you’re going to preserve that. And I gained a lot of that through Pharrell since he’s someone I observe a lot, I’m sure it affected me in many ways.”
will.i.am, Songs About Girls (2007)
Label: will.i.am/InterscopeG-Dragon: “The lead single off this album, ‘Heartbreaker,’ shares the same title as my solo debut. But the content of the records are completely different. It’s will.i.am’s third solo album, and the first album with a major-label push. Honestly, I heard it didn’t do too well commercially, but I loved it. I was greatly inspired by the project. I loved the fact that each record didn’t have a major, commercial feel to it. There was a sense of an underground vibe to every record. I like the will.i.am then much more than the will.i.am now.”
Kanye West, 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def JamG-Dragon: “For me, it’s the most fashionable album. I had this album on repeat for a long time. I think Kanye’s artistry during this phase was the most balanced. I like him now, and I liked him in the past, but to me this is my favorite period of Kanye West as an artist.”
Mr. Hudson, Straight No Chaser (2009)
Label: GOOD Music/MercuryG-Dragon: “Not sure exactly when I purchased the album, but I think it was right around the time it first dropped. I don’t remember how I first heard his voice. It was probably through a Kanye or a Jay Z record. I just remember it being very distinctive and his singing style reminded me of Sting. I liked it a lot, and I thought the album was really well put together. At the time, I was only listening to this album. I don’t know what it is, but personally I just love Hudson’s musical style. It’s very strong, but it also hints a sense of sadness.”
Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE (2012)
Label: Def JamG-Dragon: “I was interested in Odd Future and the whole movement. Then I stumbled upon ‘Thinkin Bout You,’ which made me buy the [Frank Ocean] album. channel ORANGE has a congruent color all throughout, but all the records are stylistically different. My favorite off the album is ‘Super Rich Kids.’ It reaffirmed my fandom when I saw the live performance of ‘Thinkin Bout You.’ The way Frank Ocean interprets each song, applying a singing method that’s neither rapping nor singing, is very unique and stands out.”
GOOD Music, Cruel Summer (2012)
Label: GOOD Music/Def JamG-Dragon: “It’s a compilation featuring the so-called best rappers in the game right now. I think neither the public nor the music enthusiasts could deny this album. Aside from Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, it’s been a while since I listened to a hip-hop album from front to back.”
Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream (2012)
Label: RCAG-Dragon: “Before he put out the album, Shaun Evaristo, who was the choreographer for Big Bang, told me a lot about Miguel. He told me that there’s someone who’s really talented that would be putting out a project real soon. So I’ve known about Miguel for some time now.
"Kind of like Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, I think I listened to it mostly when I was by myself in the house, while I was driving, or when I felt lonely. I just had it playing on my headphones while going through day-to-day activities. Whenever I heard it, I felt a sense of warmness to each record. At the moment, Miguel and I communicate a lot through social media, but hopefully we can get into the studio together in the near future.”
Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
Label: Top Dawg/Aftermath/InterscopeG-Dragon: “It’s the best album that I’ve heard as of late. It has a very traditional feel to it, and it didn’t sound like something that’s trendy. So I listened to it a lot. There’s a need to cater to the times and follow up with what’s going on at the moment. I bumped it so much, I tend to incorporate it into my style naturally. So I’m sure I’ve been influenced by the album.”