Stardom Entertainment’s newest addition, Topp Dogg, was in the spotlight when the group debuted on October 24th. Having released mix-tapes earlier last year, the thirteen boys had already garnered a small and growing group of fans, prior to debut. Lead by leader P-goon, the group consists of B-Joo, Hojoon, Yano, Nakta, Xero, Sangdo, A-Tom, Jenissi, Seogoong, Kidoh, Hansol and Gohn.
It was definitely not a huge surprise to find bits and parcels of Block B in this group. Produced by Cho PD, several members participated in the making of their first mini album. The hip-hop influences were strong – a mix of synthesizers, loud beats and strong rap bridges dominates the album. If anything, the album would probably remind K-Pop fans of BTS, BAP and a mix of Block B. Their concept, with fancy out-of-the-world songs, brightly coloured hair and outlandish clothes reminds one of an ‘alien invasion’ concept played previously by the likes of EXO and BAP.
THE SOUND: Album Review
Several members also had their hands at participating in the album, following their seniors in Stardom, allowing them to include their own colour for a more personalized touch. Members Kidoh, Jenissi, Yano and A-Tom were involved in the lyrics, composition, arrangement and even production, as could be seen on the credits.
First track of the album Dogg’s Out sets the tone with the consistent beats of snare drums and an introduction in deep vocals, as though rolling the red carpet out for a grand entrance. Jenissi picks it up with a rap bridge soon after, and the sequence falls smoothly into place. Minus the opening sound that marks the song as a property of ‘Stardom’, which sounds ominously like a game’s opening credits, the song is decent, but perhaps would be better as a 1:30 – 2:00 minutes intro track. The chorus sounds only serves to drop the pace of the song, and was something that could be done without the second time.
♫ 말로해 (Follow me)
(Watch the music video)
Title track Say it/Use Your Words starts off with strong beats, and wastes no time going into the chorus with loud background claps, mix of synthesizers, strong and no-nonsense rap bridges. In short, it took only about forty-seconds to establish their hip-hop sounds – each rapper had their own chance as they were given a rap bridge, vocalists in the big-numbered group had their chance at the center spot with minimal line – but that was expected of a hip-hop group where rap verses dominate the tracks. A dance break was introduced to allow some dance-focused performances for dancers to shine.
All in all, Say It is a track that follows the general dance-track formula: addictive and simple chorus, no theatrics but decent choreography, and hype-worthy raps and beats that make one bounce along. The formula is fail-proof, but would it be enough to stand out from the many rookies debuting this year?
The addictive chorus underlines the bold lyrics, inviting one to ‘say what they think of them’, where they are welcoming challenges with open arms, with the surge of confidence radiating in their raps. Calling themselves ‘a group of geniuses and bad boys have finished preparing to represent a special k-pop industry’, they sure are ‘a team created with guts’ as they command your attention, a gutsy cry from the rookies who is ready to lead the k-pop industry. I applaud their bravery, for it certainly captured my attention, even if I was listening with my eyebrows raised.
Kidoh’s solo track makes a fine bridge after two consecutively loud songs. Kidoh himself was heavily involved in the production of this song, having produced, wrote, composed and even did the arrangements. A Girl Like You is a fine track that could be arranged into an acoustic track or switched up for a duet for future performances. I wondered if the song would have been better if it had been swap up for a duet, one that featured a vocalist on the band. Not that Kidoh’s voice was bad – it was somewhat weak compared to his rapping, and made the singing portions seemed a little faded at times. Nonetheless, the mellow piano-synthesized background beats, mid-tempo rap and raspy vocals still made the song an enjoyable one.
♫ 귀여운걸 (Cute Girl)
(Watch the live performance)
The strumming of the guitar picked up the pace yet again, as Cute Girl starts off with the boys’ soothing vocals. This song would probably have passed off as a filler on a mainstream-pop album, but it has a certain charm in this album. Perhaps it is because of its youthful and carefree tune that finally gives the vocalists in the team a chance to shine. The lyrics however, made it seem like a bunch of high-school boys making their own twist of bad-boy in love, with lyrics like ‘I have no car so wanna take the 7 train to Ttukseom?’ While the song did not particularly stand out, it’s a track to listen on the road with friends, or even to play around a campfire.
Playground seems like an extension from the title track, going back to the strong rap bridges and loud beats, but with more vocals. It acts as if it is a final reminder, a last shout-out to the fans that this is the kind of music they want to be remembered by. As the name suggests, it starts off with an interesting, mysterious atmosphere and whispering, raspy vocals. The lyrics corresponds to title track, with intentions to mark their territory in the K-pop industry as their personal playground. To be honest, the claims are getting old – three out of five tracks, it’s a tad too much. They need to stop saying it and start doing it – prove to us that they will be at the top of their game. Playground is one of the tracks that I could imagine the likes of BAP belting out to, but is a good note to end the album on.
(Watch the music video)
Included in the repacked album, ToppKlass aren’t strangers to this track as it was first performed at their debut showcase. The R&B beats and soft instrumentals were accompanied by smooth vocals and strong rap bridges, making it a great song to groove to, and definitely a well-produced track. To be honest, it sounds like an extension of Kidoh’s solo, only better if I dare say. The lack of autotunes and synthesizers allowed the vocals to showcase what they’ve got, while rappers featured also had a chance to prove their worth. Interesting lyrics mentioning Facebook statuses, along with more matured lines of coffee and cigarettes, made it a song that most teens and young adults could emphasize with. With only five members involved, listeners got to better appreciate their voices , though it did brought about the same old question again – if five members can execute this song seemingly effortlessly, is thirteen really a good number to go?
It would also be interesting to see how parts are going to be divided as equal as possible among thirteen members. Let’s face it – thirteen is a huge number, and I’m not totally convinced that it is the best number for a group with focus on raps. Sunbaes Super Junior had mentioned countless times that the battle for song lines is always one of the major topics during the creation of an album.
The members are still relatively young, and one thing to note would be how they construct their own rapping styles to not only make themselves stand out from fellow members, but also help push Topp Dogg forwards. Nonetheless, it does seem like they are making do with the first album, with members all getting a shot at singing or rapping – or even leading the dance.
The problem is not really with the potential – thirteen members, thirteen colours – that makes room for lots of experimenting. The thing is, they have decent rappers, and decent vocalists, but not distinguished, personal touches. It also makes one wonder if they need that many members, especially when the vocalists only get minimal lines. They have decent tracks, but they still need to work on making the tracks more personalized, to have a signature sound.
For now, it seems like there is at least some general directions of what the boys are trying to establish. With members participating in the production and composition of the songs, it is exciting to see how much they would have grown and the next time they meet us. Kidoh is the powerhouse in the group, with hands on experience in production, making him somewhat alike the role Zico has had in building Block B’s portfolio. Eyes are on the group to see if they would succeed in bringing life back into Stardom after its controversy earlier last year, and perhaps with more experience they might have a better shot.
All in all, Topp Dogg still had a pretty well-crafted debut mini album. There is definitely room for improvement, but it does not leave one disappointed either. Five tracks, ranging from loud dance hip-hop tracks to pop, the boys showed that they could do variety if required, without losing hip-hop influences. It would be interesting to see how they fair after their debut – after all, hip-hop tracks are half the fun when listened to on the disc compared to watching the live performances. Let the Doggs out – we’re all ready!
Album Rating: 3.2 / 5.0
Topp Dogg will be in Singapore this weekend for their first overseas fanmeet. Singapore ToppKlass do show them your support. For more information on the fanmeet, please refer HERE. Do check out (x)clusive’s coverage on Topp Dogg’s Debut Showcase too!