Last December, shinsammy sj released blueood, his second album, and a new segment of the yellow blue saga, which started with the debut album #FFF000 (which is none other than the web color code – hex triplet – of pure yellow).
There was almost a two-year interval between those two projects, something you can feel when listening to both albums. While blueood is in the direct continuity of #FFF000, it sounds more mature, sonically, but also lyrics-wise.
shinsammy sj tackles a wide array of topics with this album, from the notions of legacy and the willingness to give back, to racism, or even the dynamics of the music industry. But ultimately, it feels like the common thread between all those topics is none other than a quest, a quest about finding a purpose, your true self, and letting it shine.
Keeping this in mind, I recommend you to listen to this album from start to finish, to fully appreciate the seamless transitions between the songs, but also because it’s a true journey that shinsammy sj is developing through blueood.
This article is an attempt to highlight some aspects of this adventure, an interpretation among others!
I/. Aiming for the moon to give back
It’s not a coincidence if I compared blueood to a journey. If you listen carefully to this album, you will notice how shinsammy sj’s tone is evolving throughout the songs.
INTRO: CANTO and PROUD, the first two songs, thus stand out through the eagerness that shinsammy sj is conveying, an eagerness that is quite reminiscent of youth.
As a matter of fact, INTRO: CANTO would be about how shinsammy sj understood that performing was his calling. In the first verses, he explained how young, his attempts to learn instruments such as piano, violin, or flute, had been fruitless. Early on, it seems that he already had this urge to let his voice flow through singing:
“But only thing I loved was
Simply singing without
Knowing how to read notes”
Hence why the title INTRO: CANTO. Canto is a Latin word and can be translated as “Song” or “Singing”.
However, youth can also be synonymous with a certain delusion of grandeur, and it seems that at some point, being under the limelight almost threatened his true passion.
Stage lights, delights
At that time,
I just loved how I shine,
Great musics behind.”
Therefore, it is with a newfound temperance that shinsammy sj would have decided to dedicate himself to his art. This evolution of mindset could sonically be represented by how progressive the beat is.
Temperance, yes, yet shinsammy sj is still eager for success, not directly for himself anymore though, but seemingly more as a way to give back. Or at least, that is what he seemed to imply with the song PROUD, especially on the hook:
“My blood, they made from sacrifice
I owe you much more than my life
Let me get paid for my mama
For all my friends
Who call me brother.
My blood, they made from sacrifice
So you better remember that
I’ll make him proud (x5)”
By “him”, in ‘I’ll make him proud’, it appears that he would refer to his father like in these verses:
“His sacrifice made me,
My hero, my pride
Taught me how to love
And live life
Gave me lessons
That’s massive gift’
Or more directly here:
“I grew up with my father’s LP,
Since I was age 3,
And that music saved me”.
The figure of the father is pretty fundamental throughout the album, but we will get back to this later.
More broadly, shinsammy sj wouldn’t be who he is without his mother, his father, his “father’s father” to quote him, but also his friends, thus this willingness to repay them somehow, through the success of his music.
II/. Reality check
As beautiful as life can be, it can also be perceived as cruel sometimes, and between the will to make it with music and the reality of the industry, the hard truth is that there is a world…
It seems that shinsammy sj came up with similar observations in light of the next songs and how the eagerness of youth gives way to more critical discourse, starting from LOBELIAS to PMH, and this is something that you can notice right from the title of the first one.
Lobelia is a blue flower characterized by ambivalent meanings. It can symbolize beauty, love, purity, and devotion, but also a feeling of malevolence, evilness, and distrust. shinsammy sj was kind enough to answer some of my questions and he actually highlighted that LOBELIAS is the third track of this album, just like yellow tulip was the third track of #FFF000, yellow tulips that have a meaning of “love that can’t be achieved”. Therefore, as he explained, the title yellow tulip can also be seen as a foreshadowing of the “pessimistic perspective” on LOBELIAS to quote him. The fact that the lobelias and the yellow tulip fit the color scheme of the yellow blue saga was also intended.
The lyrics of this song are especially important to understand the reflection behind blueood, and therefore you might notice that the instrumental is especially refined here. I’m not sure if it was intended or not but it might be seen as a way to truly emphasize his reasoning.
Hence if you pay attention to the lyrics you can notice the confrontation of two perspectives. He explained that the somewhat hopeful viewpoint represented his voice from 2020 while the cynical observations were from 2022.
But cynical about what exactly?
To understand this, let’s get back to the point about the harsh reality of the music industry. LOBELIAS starts with the assessment that the music industry is based on “fake fame”. This could be interpreted in the sense that now clout seems to prevail over artistry, something that the following verses could confirm:
“Well fake? What’s real then?
No business involved?
That’s impossible, false claim
Without money and followers,
We don’t call it game”
The harsh truth is that to be able to dedicate themselves to their art in the most optimal conditions, artists must be able to make an income from their music, and to earn money, well you need followers, a fanbase, and more often than not, being talented and genuine is not enough.
To please the algorithms, it’s better to favor quantity, which then can be at the cost of quality; or to develop strategies around personal branding and so on. Artists cannot really be artists only anymore if they want to pursue music, somehow they must become entertainers as well.
This point resonates with the points that shinsammy sj is making in the following verses:
“Well then, shorten lifetime
of artists, who do you blame
Between art and product,
A&R and bazar
Artist and Kardashians,
Dumping prince, I see no pride,
See some hype
Tactics over art”
The voice from 2022 then asks the younger one which direction they are willing to take in facing this dilemma, to which the 2020 voice replies:
“Easy made music, I can’t
Don’t relate with it”
But it appears that it’s not convincing enough for the 2022 voice which directly argues through the following verses:
“You don’t? Your blood does tho
Blood thicker than water,
How can you overcome?”
Why is he talking about blood though? In what could his blood be linked to “easy made music”?
The explanations he gave me are the following. shinsammy sj being Korean, as much as he likes it or not, he is de facto part of the K-Pop market (there is a whole debate about what is K-Pop but I believe that here he means K-Pop as the Korean Music Industry as a whole). To quote him, his blood is “a bond of ethnicity”. However, well, he doesn’t really relate to this industry, and the image that it has, hence why his personal goal was to be part of the US scene and not the Korean one. You can find a similar development later in the album with the song WON & DOLLAR:
“Cause I know I don’t
Love the industry I supposed
To go with
K-Pop? I don’t wanna be
A big fish in a small pound”
Which leads to the next movement of the song.
Because he felt that he would fit better in the US scene and to break off all ties with the K-Pop market, shinsammy sj left for the “Land of dream, land of opportunity” for his studies. But it seems that there, he once again faced disillusionment.
“Land of diversity
That’s all fantasy
Even your favorite rappers
Wrote Lots of stereotypical
You are yellow peril
You are dangerous weapon
Still, I see no connection
With myself and my representation
Not only mine but us”
It’s pretty transparent; in the US, a country supposed to be based on diversity, shinsammy sj has been meeting with Asian stereotypes, stereotypes that, he feels, don’t represent him, nor other Asian people.
So why? Why those representations? Let’s take a look at the answer from the 2022 voice:
“That’s natural phenomenon, look
Famous one’s characteristics
Are now on your’s
Forced to have all those”
It is a fact that there is a lack of Asian representation in Western Media, which probably contributes to the fact that the characteristics of the few Asian famous figures tend to be plastered to the Asian population as a whole, and are hence pretty reductive.
This is how we move to the last main movement of the song.
“Or? Or? Or? Or?
I’ll be the villain,
I’ll be the reason,
I’ll be the treatment
Not like my hero
I’m asking, is he really a hero?
Nominations are not my obligation”
This part is definitely a pivotal point of the album and the introduction of a topic that he will develop throughout blueood.
The Hero figure is indeed very important, and this from the very start, with references to how much he admires his heroes in the previous songs. But here, he is calling into question those heroes. Are they really heroes if they let those prejudices happen? This seems to be implied by the fact that he will be the treatment to those clichés “not like” his hero.
So more than just calling into question the hero figure, he is also willingly positioning himself as the antagonist. He will become the villain if it’s what it takes to remedy those clichés. A villain in the eye of Western society because he will go against the expectations that he was supposed to meet.
It’s a matter of perspective. What is a hero? Aren’t the heroes that he is referencing here the real villains? Isn’t he the real hero for attempting to break this pattern?
The use of the term “treatment” is also very interesting and could be linked to the term pharmakon which comes from ancient Greek and is a composite of three meanings: remedy, poison, and scapegoat. Depending on the context and the dosage, the treatment can be a remedy or a poison.
Facing this twisted reality, shinsammy sj is now convinced that he must take matters into his own hands, and FF featuring Project Pat is the confirmation of this. As a matter of fact, you can notice a progressive change of beat at the end of LOBELIAS, which slowly morph into an instrumental similar to the introduction of FF (It’s worth noting that a similar sample to the one used at the end of story of seoul: s.o.s is seemingly used). The deep and saturated 808 that you can hear throughout the song, sort of brings an abrasive side that could be interpreted as his assertiveness, an unalterable will.
“Not even god can punish me
They are the ones who looting free
Forbidden fruit, that’s saucing me
Make it to juice, fucking peace
Against the rule;
I’m breaking law
Who doesn’t have a single flaw?
Not one, not even god
I bet my life, they have a lot”
True to his decision, shinsammy sj doesn’t mind going against the rule anymore, he doesn’t mind becoming a villain in the eye of society by breaking the law.
But it’s actually more complex than this. As you may have already deduced by now, FF stands for Forbidden Fruit, the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which God commanded mankind not to eat. By eating the forbidden fruit, Eve committed the original sin, but also got access to knowledge, to free will.
It is a similar path that shinsammy sj seems to follow. By eating the fruit he is rebelling against God, the Father, and now has the free will to question moral values set by society, and not simply follow them blindly.
He is willingly breaking the law, abandoning the idea of being perfect because what does perfection mean in the first place? He prefers to be himself, to follow his own truth.
shinsammy sj is thus challenging his faith, something that you can see through the fact that he is even doubting God’s perfection, but later in the lyrics, you can also see a reference to Jesus’ crown of thorns:
“Hunting me down,
They wanna get rid of me,
Jealous of my crown,
Green eyes all over me”
shinsammy sj is now his own prophet in a way, and it seems that society is not ready to accept this, they are jealous of his ‘crown’, and his free will. The reference to the crown might also be seen as a reference to the title of the album itself, a contraction of the words blue and blood: blue blood; because the term blue blood refers to Royal nobility. Therefore this crown can also be a sign of royalty. A crown as a sign of empowerment.
Talking about colors, green is also the color of envy by the way, and because they envy him, they hunt him down rather than using this energy to pursue their own path.
It turns out that the hunt is fruitful though because shinsammy sj ends up in a TRIAL COURT, the title of the next track along with its music video (MV) directed by Hyunseung Ro. Here, shinsammy sj is facing several accusations proclaimed by a judge, as he indicates when it’s finally his turn to talk:
“Psychotic high orders,
Defining right moments,
I’m standing on trial court,
Punished by blind judges”
There is an important detail in this last verse, the judges are blind, and it’s similar in the MV, the first verse character is wearing a piece of clothing that is obstructing their vision. In theory, justice is supposed to be blind in order to be fair, but in shinsammy sj’s case, the trial ends up being unfair for the very reason that the judges are judging blindly. They are judging blindly probably because they are biased by Westernized stereotypes about Asians/Koreans, something you can notice from the very first verses of the song to give you an idea:
“You’re nothing but an Asian
Kid, grew up on adorable family
Stop whining about your parents,
Just cause they force you
To do more homework”
Thus, shinsammy sj must face the court supposedly to “pay for the sins that [his] blood holds”, the judges are accusing him to have falsified the portfolio that allowed him to enter his university, while his passion for art and music would be fake.
Are these legitimate reasons to put someone on a trial? Or is it a cover-up for something else, like because he refuses to settle for the vision society wants him to follow? One could also wonder if the judges are not simply bribed. After all, in the MV, the judge figure is in possession of a suspiciously large amount of notes, while you can see shinsammy sj burning one of those notes. His action to burn the note could be seen as proof that he is genuine in his pursuit of art and/or that he is true to himself.
But let’s get back to the point. shinsammy sj has thus no other choice but to show the incoherence of those accusations, but also to highlight that behind all their prejudices, the reality is more complex:
“you just ignoring
how complicated this is
Some of my friends failed
To make their parents happy
Felt too much pressure on
Themselves and ended up
Hanging on a belt
Can you really name
That a blessing?”
It’s about who will have the upper hand, and it’s probably for such a reason that you can see a Go game in the MV. To win, one must surround more territory than the opponent.
Then enters the last character of this song, who, according to shinsammy sj, represents a very close-minded/stereotyped person in South Korea. This character, dressed as if he was just heading out from the office, also has his fair share of prejudice over HipHop culture and entertainers. If you pay close attention to the paper that he is holding in the MV, you will notice a reference to story of seoul: s.o.s MV.
Is shinsammy sj convicted of murder in this storyline? Chances are that we will know more about it in the next parts of the yellow blue saga.
Now, if we take a step back to what has been narrated so far in blueood, one could argue that as much as he wanted to be the “treatment”, to fight the representations toward Asians in the West, even if it meant becoming a villain, in the end, just like his heroes, is he really free of charge?
It seems that he came to a similar realization with the song WON & DOLLAR:
“Rasterize my culture,
Call it westernized
That’s how we get recognized
At the same time,
That’s nothing but weaponizing
Our stereotypes, and also I,
Am part of that, can’t deny
Who are you, you as a person,
You as a daughter or son
You as an Asian,
You as one of us,
You as none
Abusing ourselves to look like
Others whatever cost”
To be recognized on a global level, in a way, South Korea tend to play by the rules of the West, which implies some sort of Westernization process, but by doing this they are also at risk to lose a part of their very essence, of their own culture. And it’s not only on a symbolic level, this pursuit of an irrational dream leads to very concrete social consequences:
“한강, that’s where everyone
dreams to live
Look, how and why everyday
over one commits
Suicide, soon decided
as nothing else”
Similarly, later, in KULTURE there is a reference to the fast economic development of the country and the consequences of those greedy approaches:
“Am I the only one
Who see disasters hovering
Around exterior properties
That we made in less
Than a century”
South Korea developed so fast, but not always in the safest way. The “exterior properties” he is referring to in his lyrics highlight how South Korea seems to be building with sometimes a lack of long-term vision. A historical example is the Sampoong Department Store Collapse in 1995 which killed 502 people and injured 937 because of a structural failure due to negligence.
And it seems that shinsammy sj is also pleading guilty to his share of sins. In a way, just like his country itself, it’s as if he was torn between two identities, but not quite fitting in anywhere, as hinted by the hook:
“Born and raise by Seoul
That’s where my soul is
Scalling between Dollar and Won,
That’s where my Seoul is
That’s what my blood is uh,
Scaling between Dollar and Won,
That’s where my soul is.”
And a few verses later in the lyrics
“Running out of my options,
Disruption, who am I
Between two dichotic
Definitions of my”
Facing all those inner debates can be quite overwhelming though, and it seems that after this song, shinsammy sj is going through a breaking point, with a direct transition instrumental-wise to MESSED MEDIA. The lyrics are not quite intelligible, you can grasp a few sentences here and there. The focus is on the raw emotions, just like he indicated on Melon. Instead of the lyrics you can read “I don’t want you to know this lyrics, but feel the rage.” in the details of the song.
Sonically, it’s distorted, almost oppressive. You can feel the breakdown.
KULTURE, feels like the calm after the storm. The instrumental is refined, and shinsammy sj’s flow is more tranquil. Somehow, it seems that he came to terms with what was bothering him, or is it that he is resigned?
“I’m still proud of who I am,
So you better bow on me
What am I going to lose?
With culture that
Doesn’t belong to me nor you
What am I supposed to do?
I just have no fucking clue”
Despite the previous breakdown, there is still a remaining dark side, that is especially noticeable in PMH, and this right from the very first verses.
“Rest in peace, lost already three
Never been ready
For each souls I mistreated
Don’t deserve any type of love
They took my scars,
Still need remedies
Sip, whiskey like it is a cup of tea huh
Pop, xan take it from
The pharmacy huh,
That’s how I get rid of my memories huh”
By saying that “they took my scars” he might imply that if he mistreated the souls he is referring to, it might be as a result of those scars. Because he was suffering from events from the past, he ended up hurting people. It’s totally a hypothesis though.
Whatever the real meaning is, the result is that he is feeling guilty, so maybe that’s the reason why he works so hard, to compensate, and give back to his closed ones.
“My friends are
Surviving on army
Do this for em around me,
For who found me
No matter what,
Just grind for my family”
And later in the lyrics “I can’t stop, for everything I owe”.
Hence why he aims for power, money, and honor, PMH, just like the title of the song:
“All I need is power, money,
Honor, make all ours’”
Because after all, aren’t power, money, and honor what transcend every society nowadays?
This idea to give back is somehow still present in INTERLUDE: SHIFT, the next song, yet with a difference. Compared to the previous tracks, in this interlude, it almost feels as if shinsammy sj was making an overview of what he has been going through over the past years. It feels more like an assessment, and just like the title suggests, it seems that he is having a shift of mindset. Rather than beating himself up, he appears to be acknowledging that from now on he will do his best and that he is coping better with the uncertainty of the future:
“How long will it last?
I have, no idea
But I’m doing my best”
In keeping with this, the end of the song could be interpreted as the fact that now he found his own truth:
“Is it really about you and me
All I see is you
What we name truth”
As a matter of fact, the tone of the songs that concludes the album is really different starting from SLEEPING ON ME featuring Roy Diller, which sounds more lighthearted, with a delicate side brought by the guitar. Sonically it kind of gives a renewal feel, a renewal that would be characterized by a more optimistic vision.
“Good night for my nightmares
Took a long time
To get rid all of my fears
I will be up on the clouds
In like 5 years”
While shinsammy sj made plenty of references to his friends in the previous songs, in SLEEPING ON ME I feel like the idea of a united team is even more prevailing:
“Love for you, that’s all I see
Toast it up, take a shot,
for our team”
STILL PROUD featuring CRUCiAL STAR, Untell, and Skyminhyuk, is a direct continuity of this, not only topic-wise but the instrumental is also based on the sample that you can hear at the end of SLEEPING ON ME. At the beginning of STILL PROUD you can also hear a reference to the song PROUD and the verse “I’ll make you proud”. But since PROUD, shinsammy sj’s mind evolved, he is not after trophies, power, money, or honor anymore as he used to say:
“Let me get some trophies,
AMA, BET, Grammys
Need more than 7,
No reason, just to do Messi
We celebrate dumb like
We never been ready
Power, money, honor,
I just want all of em huh uh”
No, what really matters is the value of friendship:
Doesn’t make a difference,
So I gave all to Hyunseung [Reference to the prizes they earn for story of seoul: s.o.s MV directed by Hyunseung Ro who used to go by the name of Lucider at that time]
That’s my own definition of success
Without my friends,
My everything is nonsense”
shinsammy sj is more asserted than ever, he is paving his own way, and the instrumental really conveys this striking feeling of empowerment with a sample that is highly reminiscent of gospel sonorities. It’s especially meaningful considering that Gospel belongs to churches, but along the songs, shinsammy sj sort of transcended God and that’s something that he is, even more, confirming in STILL PROUD:
Only the lord knows
But I trust myself more than a god
All I do is move forward”
Unlike songs such as FF, this idea of “breaking law”, of going “against law”, so going against the social notion of Good, is not present anymore in STILL PROUD, all he does is “move forward”, which can be interpreted as the fact that he would have transcended the very notion of good and evil and that he is truly independent of God now. Of God but also of his father, you will notice that there are no mentions of his father anymore, however, it doesn’t mean that he is not still willing to make him proud as he concludes the song.
“Verse to verse I’m still
Making you proud, come on”
It just means that now he is tracing his own path, not walking in anyone’s shadow, but also that he fought his own demons. A case in point is that now whiskey is for the blessings “From heaven, pour up whiskey, for the blessings” and not linked to destructive behaviors like it was hinted at in PMH.
From now on, shinsammy sj is setting his own rules, and one of them is that it will be his LAST NAME FIRST.
“Bring my last name front of first one,
That’s my pride”
LAST NAME FIRST seems to provide the answer that he was looking for in WON & DOLLAR and KULTURE. It’s his last name first because that’s how it is in Korean Culture, it’s his pride and Western Culture should respect that, and if people are not happy with this, it’s not his problem. He won’t accept representations that come from others, from the hero figures as previously mentioned in LOBELIAS. He is the sole owner of his life:
“For my superheroes,
Imma go with identity of mine”
There is a common movement in those last songs. Society is still the same, still paved with flaws and unfairness, fundamentally imperfect, but now he set his own vision, now he navigates following his own rules, which ultimately leads to BEYOND LIGHT, blueood final song. Sonically, it feels like a grand finale. And to me, it’s clearly a statement.
“We’ll know, when my heart stops
Wait, wait, wait, remember who I was
Remember who I am
So that my light never fadeaway”
One way or another, shinsammy sj will make his mark in history, and therefore, even after his physical death, his light will keep on shining through people’s memories. By accomplishing his vision, his existence will transcend time.
Thus, it would be a mistake to say that the blueood journey comes to an end, because in a way, to me the ultimate theme behind blueood is none other than transcendence.
Transcending our role models, the notions of good and evil, or the rules set by society. It’s about setting our own vision, and I believe that’s how, ultimately, one can transcend time as well.
Whether it is sonically or lyrics-wise, shinsammy sj’s blueood is incredibly inspiring. There is such a swarm of details in this album that I honestly couldn’t highlight everything – and I probably missed a lot too – but I hope I somewhat managed to do justice to this album and that you still appreciated this analysis/theory. I would be curious to know what you thought about it, your own interpretation!