Epik High‘s Tablo recently sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone where he looked back on his past and how it shaped the person he is today.
At one point, he opened up about the trauma he faced in 2011 when an online community of anti-fans (“TaJinYo”) accused him of faking his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Stanford University. They alleged that it was impossible for him to complete such a feat in just four years.
The rumors continued to spread like wildfire despite Stanford University themselves releasing a statement backing up Tablo’s graduation status.
Daniel Seon Woong Lee entered Stanford University in the Autumn Quarter of 1998-99 and graduated with a BA in English and an MA in English in 2002. Any suggestions, speculations or innuendos to the contrary are patently false. Daniel Seon Woong Lee is an alumnus in good standing of Stanford University.
— Stanford Registrar Thomas Black
Public opinion quickly turned against him, with hate comments thrown his way both online and in person. Financial problems also arose as his music-related schedules dried up due to bad publicity. Tablo had no choice but to sue the main perpetrators in order to clear his name. He won the case a year later in 2012, putting eight of the worst of them behind bars.
It had gotten to a point where I now had no choice but to fight
Over a decade later, the rapper continues to stand strong in the face of injustice. He refuses to bow down to comments urging him to forget about the scandal with the passage of time.
Some people are gonna be like, ‘What the hell?’ or maybe they’ll feel uncomfortable, but these are just ways for me to bring it under control into something I can understand. Some people might think, ‘Hey, yo, it happened 10 years ago, man. Just forget it. Enough.’
He pointed out that the netizens who persecuted him under the anonymity of the internet still live in peace. To him, the “TanJinYo” incident is not at all a distant memory.
But the thing is, the people who did this to me are still here. They didn’t disappear. These people are walking around the streets of Seoul, Chicago, New York, any place. When I won, did all [the members of TaJinYo] disappear from the face of the planet? No, they all went back to their lives and probably moved on to do it to other people. I’m pretty sure they’re next to me when I’m buying bread, or when I’m buying strawberries, or they’re sitting next to me when I’m at a movie theater, or are doctors and nurses at the hospital I go to. Literally, there were doctors and scientists—legit people in society—who were caught. What I’m saying is they’re all still here. Ninety-nine percent of them walked away without any punishment, like they were walking away from a video game. How can I stop talking about it? How can I stop thinking about it?
Tablo works through his trauma through his passion for music. The earliest diary of his thoughts during this period was his solo debut albums Fever’s End: Part 1 and Fever’s End: Part 2.
Epik High’s 2014 hit song “Born Hater” was another response to the scandal, this time a straightforward call-out to “TaJinYo.” Contrary to the directness of the lyrics, the rapper and his company were initially actually afraid of making the song—and thus the history behind it—public.
When I did that [on ‘Born Hater’], I was very scared. The label was like, ‘Maybe you want to change your lyrics because it might bring attention to something you don’t want to think about.’ There was some fuss about me talking about the people that hurt me — that was [considered] wrong in the eyes of some people. But every time I opened up about it, I did it in different ways. Sometimes I would be very serious. Sometimes I’d be kind of joking.
Tablo now stands strong in the face of public opinion asking him to move on from the ordeal. He emphasized the losses he was forced to endure and his decision to approach the future with a renewed conviction to succeed. Important to him is keeping his principles at all times: “What I won’t do is be afraid to tell my own story.”
People are like, ‘Oh, you overcame [TaJinYo]!’ But what did I overcome? I lost my dad and two or three years of my life that I will never get back. I have barely any recognition of [my daughter] Haru’s early childhood. I was physically there because I couldn’t leave the house, but mentally I was absent. And they say I overcame it? They say I won? What did I win exactly?
That’s why for me, the only sweet revenge I can get is to continue thriving in their faces. And that’s not even that satisfying. You’ve got to understand that these things I lost, nothing will make up for it. Nothing. I could get personal revenge on every single person that participated in this and I still wouldn’t be able to fix any of these things. I just can’t. But what I won’t do is be afraid to tell my own story.
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