G-Dragon and a host of collaborators from Korea, America, and beyond reveal the stories behind his new album
We celebrated G-Dragon's influential style in our digital cover story but remember: G-Dragon is a musician first and a fashion icon second. As one of Asia’s biggest stars, the 25-year-old is the rare K-pop artist with the autonomy and power—not to mention the seven-figure publishing checks—to fully execute his musical vision, even while under major label YG Entertainment.
GD’s latest brainchild, Coup D’Etat—which was released digitally in two parts last week—is the result of that creative independence. Breaking out of the K-pop box, Coup D’Etat is an eclectic mix of hip-hop, dubstep, rock, electro, and pop. It’s also G-Dragon’s most international release to date, with appearances from Diplo, Baauer, Missy Elliott, Boys Noize, and Sky Ferreira. And that’s not to mention G-Dragon’s core team of Korea-based all-stars, including longtime producers Teddy and Choice37.
To document a global collaboration requires a global pursuit. So, for The Making of G-Dragon’s Coup D’Etat, we called, emailed, text-messaged, Kakao Talked, and met face to face with all of the key players behind the album—starting and ending with, of course, the most important person in the process: G-Dragon himself.
Before the Album
Starring (in order of appearance):
Missy Elliott (performer)
Lydia Paek (performer)
Kang Wook-jin (producer)
Ham Seung-chun (producer)
Boys Noize (producer)
Sky Ferreira (performer)
On G-Dragon’s debut album, Heartbreaker (2009):
G-Dragon: “Personally, I can’t listen to it anymore. [Laughs.] When I finished it backed then, I loved it. I thought it was perfect. Mind you, this is four, five years ago, and I didn’t know as much. Back then, I feel like I did music purely with passion. When I rapped, I sounded very aggressive. The music I made was filled with too much energy. Now, I’ve been in the game for some time, and I understand how to have a better balance of things. I’ve come to realize ways of making music without being excessive. I’m more at ease when I’m rapping. Whether it’s music or fashion, the older I get, I realize what’s comfortable lasts longer. And a lot of that is reflected in the new album.”
On Choice37, Kush, and Teddy. GD’s core production team:
G-Dragon: “Whenever I work with them, the outcome is always satisfying. And I think it’s vice-versa, some of their best material comes from working with me. It’s also true that because I work frequently with the same people, there’s a possibility that my style could get stuck in one lane. And I know I should diversify the people I work with, but like anyone else, when I get records from friends that I know, I have an easier time creating it the way I envision it. Luckily, all the producers I work with have distinctive styles. Plus, I try to evolve my own sound as well. It’s a good chemistry that works well.”
Teddy: “I’ve known that boy since he was 10 and shit, you know? We don’t even need to speak. When we’re in the studio, I’ll play some shit, and he’ll just sing. We don’t really talk like, ‘Let’s make this.’ I don’t even have to tell him, ‘You should do the next part this way.’ While I’m recording he’s already thinking about what to do next. Since it’s organic, it’s always different. Every time. Therefore, we don’t have a set formula for the way that we work.”
On why it took four years between albums:
Teddy: “We have thousands and thousands of demos that are done just up to the first verse and hook. But when it’s not complete, you don’t want to forcefully finish it because you’re not in that vibe anymore. Then the rest of the song just doesn’t sound as good.”
G-Dragon: “There are various reasons why the second album took so long. Mostly, I just wanted to make things better and better. I have a lot of records that I sketched out, but they’re not really organized properly. So instead of putting out incomplete records, I wanted to trim things down and make it super tight. That’s why we put out the One of a Kind (2012) mini-album out first. With the remaining time, I redid the records, molded them, and now they’re complete. Whenever I consider putting something out, I just feel like more needs to be done. I wouldn’t say that I’m not confident, but it’s more so a sense of feeling like I could make it better. That’s why it took so long.”
On Coup D’Etat:
G-Dragon: “The album has a much more hip-hop sound than my previous effort. That’s why the boss [YG Entertainment CEO Yang-hyun-suk] doesn’t like it. [Laughs.] But it wasn’t our intention to make a certain type of album. It came out the way it is as we were making it. We just collectively channeled certain energy for each record, and then moved onto the next one. Truthfully, I didn’t put that much meaning behind each record. They’re just songs that I like to make and listen to.”
Teddy: “It wasn’t like, ‘Yo, let’s get down. This album’s called Coup D’Etat. Studio lockdown starts today!’ [Laughs.] It’s never been that way for me because I’m working on 2NE1, Big Bang, Taeyang, T.O.P., and other artists. So whatever GD likes, he’ll just grab it, leave to another room, and finish the song. It’s always been that way. We never really had a big vision for this album. The only difference was that record ‘Crooked,’ the last song that we did, which we felt like was necessary. Other than that, everything was really organic.”
G-Dragon: “Listening to it now as a finished product, I like it. But I need to listen to it three to four years later and still feel like, ‘Oh, this is pretty good.’ That’s what we’re striving to achieve. That’s what makes it a classic album. All artists are trying to make music of that caliber. It’s the same for me, too.”
Teddy: “It was like hell, man. The shit took forever. We just literally wrapped it up. All this last-minute mixing and mastering. There were so many changes. I don’t know how they flip these things around three days before the drop. I don’t know if it’s just YG, or it’s a Korean thing. I know they don’t do that shit in Japan. So I know it’s not an Asian thing.”
"Coup D'Etat" f/ Diplo & Baauer
Produced by: Diplo & Baauer
G-Dragon: “I received the beat quite some time ago. [Fellow Big Bang member] T.O.P and I actually did a record, ‘Knockout,’ with Diplo about a year ago. After that, we did a song over the ‘Bubble Butt’ beat. It was the very first version of ‘Bubble Butt.’ Diplo says that he’s looking to put out our version of the song as a remix sometime soon.
"The initial deal was for me to do a song for Diplo, and for him to give me a song. So, he gave me the beat for ‘Coup D’Etat’ some time ago, but I didn’t really know what to do with it, even though I heard it multiple times. I kept telling myself, ‘Oh, man. I have to do well.’ So after listening to it, I recorded the raps, and it was kind of sing-songy. I wanted to do something that could sound like rapping, but also singing. So I just ended up doing it the way it is. And you know, the meaning of ‘Coup D’Etat’ is rebellion, it’s overthrowing a government. Just perceiving the world, I wrote the lyrics with that in mind. I want to continuously instigate, whatever it may be.”
Diplo: “GD is a phenom, bigger then the K-pop scene. He is fearless and punk.”
"Niliria" f/ Missy Elliott
Produced by: Teddy
G-Dragon: “I’m not sure what it means, but I heard in the old days, when people were farming, they sang a folk song called ‘Niliria’ in Korea.”
Teddy: “I had made the beat two years back. For me it’s nothing new. I have a bunch of Korean samples and I have a bunch of ideas. They work better nowadays with trap music and 808s. I know on the other side of the world, they’re always dying to hear something ethnic. Like M.I.A., or even what Timbaland did with Egyptian music and Indian music. I got those for days.”
G-Dragon: “At first, Teddy just played with the beat for fun. When I first heard it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’ For a good year, I wasn’t sure how to interpret the rap with the beat. I would just listen to the beat over and over again. I thought about whom I’d want on this record. In YG, every few years, we would do these rap posse cuts. We were thinking if we should do something like that, but then we thought, ‘How about we get a foreign artist on a completely Korean song?’ Then I thought, ‘Okay, it’d be dope to have an A$AP Rocky or a Kendrick Lamar.’ But instead of getting someone that’s popping right now, I thought it’d be more fun to have someone I liked in the past.”
Teddy: “At YG, one of our favorite artists has been Missy Elliott, from her music to her outside-the-box visuals. So putting Missy on it? That’s meaningful.”
G-Dragon: “Personally, I think Missy Elliott as a rapper is really fucking good. I think I like artists more from that era. Not saying that the hot rap stars of now can’t rap, but they’re more geared towards style. But rappers from an older era, I think they’re just good at rapping, period. They’re not geared towards swag; they’re just really good at rapping, in the pure sense of rapping. So in a way, I get more inspired. It doesn’t matter if you have style or not, you have to be good at rapping first. When we brought [‘Niliria’] to Missy's attention, things panned out easily. ”
Missy Elliott: “I enjoyed working with G-Dragon and I think our chemistry meshed as if we had known each other for years! He is a talented, cool guy and very fun to be on stage with!”
(right) Lydia Paek
"R.O.D." f/ Lydia Paek
Produced by: Teddy
G-Dragon: “I would describe the genre as dubstep. The raps, the sound, the music are all made in a way that dudes would like it. Personally, I really like Lydia’s song and voice on it.”
Teddy: “The beat right before the bridge, up to the second hook, I did that section in one day. Whenever I have a big hook I’ll just tell Lydia to sing it. And Choice happened to be there, too. So Choice wrote the English lyrics.”
Lydia Paek: “I did not pen the hook myself, but when we’re in the studio, I feel like we catch the vibe. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like you’re giving and taking ideas from each other and flowing with that creative wave continuously. It’s inspiring even if I’m just sitting in the studio observing how he works.”
Teddy: “When our boss [YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk] heard it, he thought that song could be so much bigger in Korea if the hook was in Korean. So we tried several times to get it. I wrote a Korean version to the hook, and had many different artists record it. But when we did the hook in Korean, the words just didn’t feel right. It sounded awkward. Plus, GD was so set about Lydia we decided to go with her.”
Lydia Paek: “It’s truly a blessing and a huge honor to be on the official album. I mean have you looked at who’s featured and worked on this album? And to be a part of that list, wow! It's an amazing and humbling feeling.”
(right) YG signee Jennie Kim
"Black" feat. Jennie Kim
Produced by: Teddy
Teddy: “That’s been in my computer for two years. The original version has me rapping on the first verse and Lydia singing on the hook. I liked it, and I wanted to keep it for myself, since it was very personal. But then GD heard it one day, and went, “Oh, shit. Let me get on this.” [Laughs.]
G-Dragon: “It’s a love song; it’s a bit more personal. When you have a girlfriend, there are many things that are irritating every day, every night. I’m sure it’s different for everyone, but when you fight, it gets really annoying. You can’t do anything, so you end up just getting angry by yourself. Like punching the wall, or throwing your cell phone across the room. You know those types of feelings.”
Teddy: “As soon as he took it, he did the second verse. I thought it was going to be hard for him to write the second verse and stay on topic, since the record’s so vague and personal. But surprisingly he nailed it.
“Like ‘R.O.D.’ the hook was a process. Sky Ferreira recorded a version. Lydia had the original version in English. Then the boss came in, and pointed out that this song needs to be bigger, and said we should make a Korean version of the hook. So GD and I wrote the hook one day, and I recorded Jennie myself two days later. I don’t know much about Jennie’s personal information, but YG recommended that she’d be perfect for the song. Jennie heard Lydia’s demo like 10 times, and we recorded her version of the hook in less than five days before the album dropped.”
Produced by: Kush & Choice37
G-Dragon: “Kush actually left our company, but he might come back. Anyway, it’s the first song we did together since he left YG. It’s also a song I heard a while back, when I visited Kush’s studio. He made a guide for the record, I heard it, and I just took it from him. [Laughs.] I begged him to give it to me. I really wanted that record. So after getting it from him, I rewrote the lyrics, recorded over the beat, added multiple layers of melody, and Kush came by our studio and redid the record. The boss liked it, so we decided to go with it."
Teddy: “The original song just went, ‘Baby, fuck you.’ [Laughs.] I was like, ‘What?’”
G-Dragon: “The original title of the record was ‘Fuck You.’ The song’s content is pretty obvious. It’s about getting mad at your lady, and the only thing you want to tell her is, ‘Fuck you.’ But we can’t do that in Korea. [Laughs.] So we renamed it to ‘Hate You,’ and then it eventually became ‘Who You?’”
[Ed. note—We reached out to Kush, but he was unable to be interviewed because he is currently fulfilling his mandatory service in the Republic of Korea Army.]
"Shake the World"
Produced by: Choice37
Choice37: “GD had the concept and chorus to this song before I made the beat. YG suggested I produce the song, so I went in and tried my best to match the energy of what GD had.”
G-Dragon: “It’s a fast record. It’s kind of like ‘Crayon.’ I wrote it thinking that it’s going to kick off the album, so I didn’t want it to sound weak—I wanted it to sound crazy.”
Choice37: “We had about four versions of this song until we felt like we got it right. A few of the versions I thought sounded great, but GD wasn't happy with it, so he rewrote his verse a couple times.”
G-Dragon: “From the rap to sound effects to ad libs, I think I screamed a lot, too. I didn’t think it was right to sound sluggish or laid-back, so I just kept running.”
Choice37: “A couple of fun facts about the song: The sound at the beginning is the sound of a cash counter. The song was originally going to be a short intro, but it felt so good that we made it into a full song. And the song is used as the intro to a new reality show called Win, which is about a new boy band that’s going to debut through YG Entertainment very soon.”
Produced by: Kang Wook-jin & Ham Seung-chun
G-Dragon: “Ham Seung-chun and Kang Wook-jin are both producers that work for YG. They worked on ‘Without You’ off the One of a Kind EP, and [fellow Big Bang member] Seungri’s latest EP, Let’s Talk About Love.”
Kang Wook-jin: “Once a month, all the producers in YG have a meeting with the founder and CEO, Yang Hyun-suk. We present him with all the demos we’ve been working on throughout the month, and he’ll decide which artist will use what record. Through that meeting, ‘MichiGO’ was picked for G-Dragon.
“Only a few days after the track was sent to GD, the guide was finished. There isn’t that much difference between the demo version and master version of ‘MichiGO.’ The biggest change that’s noticeable would be the pre-chorus part. The pre-chorus in the master version was actually the outro in the demo version. GD wanted something hype that he can dance to before the chorus, so we ended up making that change. As a result, I think that’s what makes ‘MichiGO’ so unique and appealing.
“For ‘MichiGO,’ we had GD in mind from the beginning. We wanted to make something that’s trendy, hip, and exciting. It was a really fast process. GD’s recording gets done really quickly. More so than the recording process, we put a lot of emphasis on the mixing and balancing the synth and GD’s vocals. As producers, we are both very happy about the final outcome of the record. It hints at both trap and a bit of dubstep, but it balances them in an odd way.”
Ham Seung-chun: “To add to Kang Wook-jin’s points, after the first round of edit, the song reached GD. While at the video shoot for the record, GD requested an edit on the record. If you listen to the hook, which goes, ‘Dance, dance, dance,’ there’s a clap sound. This wasn’t there initially. Overall, the song came out perfectly.”
Produced by: Teddy
Teddy: “That’s a song we worked on last minute. It was a rainy day. Myself, GD, Kush, [Big Bang member] Taeyang, and Choice were all in the studio. It was one of those critical sessions, when we had to brainstorm for that one big record, which always happens. I remember thinking, ‘Fuck, again?’ Déjà vu. It just never ends.
“All of us were sitting there, talking and laughing. While they were fucking around and bullshitting, I started fucking with different chords. I played this one chord, and Kush and GD started singing. We didn’t end up keeping that melody, but that’s how it started.”
G-Dragon: “‘Crooked’ was intended to make the audience go crazy during live shows. We purposely made the raps and chorus to sound extra catchy so people could easily sing and dance to it.”
Teddy: “We felt like the album had a lot of trap music, some R&B records, and some club tracks. But GD’s like a punk rocker at the same time. He raps and shit, but he really loves that whole punk attitude. So we needed a track that could express that.”
Produced by: Dee.P
Dee.P: “I actually made the main guitar riffs of the track before I signed with YG. It was saved in my hard drive for a long time, along with many other demo tracks I made. One day, I was looking through my demo files and thought that this could fit GD's new album. So I started to brainstorm what concept I should go for.
“Hearing GD’s remake of "This Love”by Maroon 5 on Big Bang's first album, I thought GD and alternative rock match well. I was also into electro music, so I wanted to combine alternative rock with an electro sound. I began arranging the song, and started to stack up a bass synth and a mid-range synth, with an electric guitar on top to make the main theme of the song.
“I spent quite some time to make the synth sounds blend with the guitar riffs. After that, everything went smoothly and I was able to finish it without any stress. But [YG CEO Yang Hyun-suk] gave me a little bit of a hard time after he heard my track. He thought the theme lines were repetitive and boring. So I had to come up with a different theme on the second verse and the bridge.”
G-Dragon: “‘Runaway’ is kind of like the song 'Who You?' Since I tour, I have to think about making records that could resonate during a live performance—something that the audience could run around and jump to, and people could sing along to easily. It’s also something I enjoy personally. When you’re touring, it’s great to have people vibing with you because you look cool, but it’s always better, especially for fans, to perform songs that they could relate to and go wild. It’s something I enjoy as I’m doing it, and it’s also more memorable. So I consider those factors as I’m making a record. When you listen to it, you can tell, it’s more accessible than other records. It’s a record that a wider audience can enjoy.”
Dee.P: “I always hear the record after he finishes it, because he writes the melody and I don’t have to direct him. After recording, he would give me ideas on the track’s structure and I would get inspiration to rearrange it to fit his melody.
“This song was originally completed about two years ago. I was satisfied with the track and loved GD's melody and lyrics, but the album got delayed so I thought it was going to be on the One of a Kind mini-album. Somehow, the boss thought that it was better to be on the full-length album so I had to wait another year. When mixing and mastering was completed, I thought to myself, ‘Finally!’”
(left) Boys Noize, a.k.a. Alexander Ridha
"I Love It" f/ Zion.T & Boys Noize
Produced by: Boys Noize
G-Dragon: “Boys Noize was recently in Seoul. We decided to work on some music together, and knocked out the record in one day. The track to me has a Motown feel. [Boys Noize] said he had it with him for a long time, but we just decided to go with it because it’s different from other music that’s out now. And Zion.T’s a rookie. I first heard him on “See Through,” and have been interested in working with him since. I thought he’d be perfect for the record, so I reached out, and he happily accepted my invitation.
Boys Noize: “I’ve worked with G-Dragon a few times in the studio. To see how talented he is offstage is just incredible. He has a great sense for new music and how to change it. He locks himself up for a few hours and comes back with a full song written by himself and he records it right away. G-Dragon is one of the most talented artists and performers I’ve ever met and he’s such a cool MF...!”
"You Do" (Outro)
Produced by: Choice37
Choice37: “This song was made and mostly recorded in my room. I had a loop and an idea with the line: ‘GD that's me! Who you? Not me.’”
G-Dragon: “I’m pretty much saying, ‘You can do it. You can do it, but you can’t be like me.’ I’m saying you could be Tony Stark; you could be anybody if you want to. But you can’t be like me. That’s pretty much the basis of the song. And I wanted to do something that’s fun.”
Choice37: “GD came through and he wrote the hook within 15 minutes. We wanted a rough vibe to the song so we recorded his vocals with a microphone that I've had for eight years that cost $200. That’s in my room instead of the main studio. We vibed out and had fun with the song and tried to keep it simple and not overproduce it.”
G-Dragon: “[Laughs.] To be honest, saying ‘You Do’ is a little weird in Korean [Ed. note—The word for ‘nipple’ is pronounced as “yoo doo” in Korean.]
Produced by: Choice37
Teddy: “I went into Choice’s room, and I heard that beat. I really liked it. And my ass started singing with the auto-tune on. [Laughs.] I sing, but it’s not for anybody to listen to. When I have an idea, I just lay it down. That day I just recorded the hook, then the next day I came into the studio and found out GD added a whole ’nother section. He completed the song.”
G-Dragon: “I think there’s a certain code to my songwriting process. If you listen to ‘She’s Gone,’ ‘That XX,’or even ‘Obsession’ [by GD & TOP], they’re like horror films. There aren’t actual mentions of me killing someone, but there’s a sense of eeriness, which I think I inject throughout my songwriting process. I always end up writing a song like that.
“For this album, that song is ‘Window.’ It depends on your interpretation, but the song’s about murder. Well, I didn’t murder anyone. I’ve done something to a woman on the record and only the window knows what happened. It’s about love, obsession, and trying to have someone and only the window knows the truth. I wanted to keep a creepy sentiment and keep the raindrops pouring.”
Teddy: “For me the record was a love song. It was one of those sad, goodbye songs. And I thought GD and I were on the same topic, but when I asked him about the song he said, ‘In the lyrics, I’m killing someone.’ [Laughs.] Choice and I were like, ‘This is bugged out.’
G-Dragon: “I think it’s a pattern for me. I do enjoy watching those horror films, too. Whenever I watch those types of films, I get inspired to write those types of records. It’s not something I would do, so whenever I write it I get a sense of vicarious satisfaction. That’s why I insert a lot of fiction into my lyrics.”
Teddy: “I didn’t want my voice on it. So the initial replacement for my part was supposed to be T.O.P. But then T.O.P. was working on other stuff. So GD just went ahead and recorded over my part.”
(blonde in denim shirt) Sky Ferreira
"Black" f/ Sky Ferreira
Produced by: Teddy
Sky Ferreira: “I met with CL from 2NE1 when I was in Korea. She brought me to the studio where G-Dragon was making his record. They were like, ‘Sky, we have this song that we want you to sing on.‘ And I did it. When they played it back, it sounded cool, but so different from anything I would do on my own. But it reminded me of stuff that I really like, that late ’80s and early ’90s R&B.
G-Dragon: “Overall, when you love someone, it’s a bright feeling for the most part. But ‘Black’ is dark, and the more you get sucked into it, it gets darker. So I wrote about those feelings and emotions. And personally, I really liked the lyrics for the chorus.”
Source: Jaeki Cho @ Complex
Long but interesting.