Daniel Armand Lee (Korean: Lee Seon-woong; Hangul: 이선웅; born July 22, 1980), better known by his stage name Tablo (Hangul: 타블로), is a Korean-Canadian hip hop recording artist, lyricist, composer and record producer. Tablo is best known as the leader and producer of veteran Korean hip-hop group Epik High, and the founder of independent music label HIGHGRND (High Ground), which houses bands Hyukoh and The Black Skirts.
Tablo became employed as a lyricist while still in high school. Under the supervision of Tobias Wolff, Tablo graduated from Stanford University with honors in English literature and creative writing. He then moved to Korea, where, in 2001, he formed Epik High alongside DJ Tukutz and Mithra Jin. The group has since released 10 full-length albums and 1 EP, with Tablo having produced and co-written all the songs. His debut solo album, Fever’s End, was released in 2011.
Outside of Epik High, Tablo is a record producer and songwriter for other artists and involved in collaborative projects such as Borderline, Eternal Morning, and Anyband. His music incorporates numerous styles, ranging from trance, trip hop, to rock. Tablo is also the author of the best-selling book Pieces of You, published in both English and Korean, and Blonote. He made his film debut acting in Nonstop (2005). In 2016, Tablo left his radio show, MBC FM4U’s Tablo’s Dreaming Radio, after eleven years to focus on YG’s music sub-label HIGHGRND.
Tablo moved to Jakarta, Indonesia in 1980 shortly after his birth. Due to his father’s work, he spent around 3 years living in Jakarta before his family relocated again several times to Switzerland and Hong Kong for his father’s career until Tablo was six, when they returned to South Korea briefly. His family moved again to Canada when he was eight. Tablo attended St. George’s School in Vancouver, British Columbia. He then transferred to Seoul International School. As a coterminal student at Stanford University, Tablo simultaneously attained a Bachelor’s Degree in English literature and a Master’s Degree in creative writing in three years. Tablo has an older sister and an older brother, who graduated from Cornell University and Columbia University respectively.
Tablo started playing piano at the age of six but later switched to violin, which he played for 10 years. His music teacher, who had been a pupil of Isaac Stern, used to lecture him saying: “Music is communism, but you’re playing democracy”. Tablo wrote the lyrics to legendary singer Kim Gun-mo’s song “Rainy Christmas” when he was sixteen years old, as Kim took an interest in Tablo after reading a poem of his.
During his early life, Tablo suffered from bouts of depression. Whenever he faced hardship, hip hop music served as an outlet. However, Tablo’s father disapproved of his career choice, so as a teenager, he frequently ran away from home. Ostensibly, Tablo asked a friend to live out his dream, but when that friend died of cancer, it became an impetus for him to re-enter the music industry. Tablo later admitted his family forced him to enroll in Stanford, and even after the release of his second album, was still persuading him to return to the United States to attend Law School. While he was at Stanford, Tablo associated with an underground hip hop group, 4n Objectz.
Tablo met Mithra Jin and DJ Tukutz in the underground hip-hop scene. They formed Epik High and under the tutelage of Movement crew members, especially CB Mass (currently Dynamic Duo), they attempted to record their first record alongside hip-hop duo, and close friends, TBNY (composed of Yankie and TopBob). However, CB Mass member Curbin allegedly embezzled Epik High and TBNY’s funds for their first studio album, effectively causing the disbandment of CB Mass (and the creation of Dynamic Duo without Curbin). Tablo and Epik High were finally signed by Woolim Entertainment, which at the time focused on underground hip hop and modern rock. Tablo made his official debut as the leader of the group Epik High in 2003 alongside DJ Tukutz and Mithra Jin. The group’s first album, Map of the Human Soul, was released on October 21, 2003. However, due to hip hop’s lack of popularity in South Korea at the time, the album was a commercial failure. It wasn’t until the release of their second album, High Society, that the group started to become more popular. Epik High’s third album, Swan Songs, was originally intended to be their last album; however, upon release, the album became number one on numerous charts, and swept the year-end hip hop awards. One of the lead singles from the album, “Fly”, was featured on the soundtrack of the video game FIFA 07. Due to the numerous offers to remake “Fly”, as well as “Paris”, the second single from the album, a CD sampler, was released in Japan.
In 2007, the group released their fourth studio album, Remapping the Human Soul, and managed to push Epik High to the number one spot for best upcoming artist after selling almost 90,000 copies in the first month of release. The album ended up becoming South Korea’s third best-selling album of 2007. However, many songs from the album were banned from several channels and the album buying age was restricted to 19+ due to some songs dealing with issues the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in South Korea deemed inappropriate for younger listeners. The group later went on to release their next album, Pieces, Part One, which was also a commercial success.
In late 2008, Tablo published a book entitled Pieces of You. Although the stories were originally written in English, the book was first published in Korean. The Korean translation sold 50,000 copies in its first week of release and topped the bestseller’s list in Korea. The original English version was released in February 2009 and also met with moderate success. The book garned a positive reception from critics, with Tablo’s writing praised for a first-time author. After the group’s contract with Woolim Entertainment expired in 2008, Tablo, alongside his group members, founded their own independent label, Map the Soul, and they went on to release an album of the same name. Through their independent label, the group went on to release two more albums; in 2009, and Epilogue in 2010. In November 2013, Tablo revealed the reason of shutting down the label “Map the Soul” in his interview with HiphopLE that one of the executive member of Map The Soul embezzled the label’s funds.
In 2010, it was announced that Epik High would go on hiatus after DJ Tukutz enlisted in his mandatory military service, whilst Tablo and Mithra would be working on solo careers until DJ Tukutz’s return. However, in mid-2010, a group of Internet users raised doubts about the academic background of Tablo, who majored in English and English Literature at Stanford University. Led by two fan sites, most notably “We Demand the Truth from Tablo” (Hangul: “타블로에게 진실을 요구합니다”; also known as “Tajinyo”, Hangul: “타진요”), some netizens claimed that Tablo could not have graduated from Stanford University with both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in English and Creative Writing, respectively, in just three and a half years.
It became front-page news in Korea in June 2010 when one of the fansite’s managers, who went by the username whatbecomes, claimed that Tablo’s academic record was “not making any sense” and showed what he believed to be inconsistencies in Tablo’s transcripts. Even though Tablo posted his official transcript and other legal documents online, many netizens refused to believe him, and called for other documents such as his immigration statement and diploma to be released. Tablo visited Stanford University in late August to disprove these allegations by having the University registrar re-print his documents on camera, and many of Tablo’s acquaintances and former professors from Stanford attested to the validity of his academic background on camera. The documentary was shown in two parts: “Tablo Goes to Stanford” and “Tablo and South Korea Online”, which aired on MBC October 1 and 8. However, despite the documentary and Stanford’s administration clearly siding with Tablo, membership at “We Demand the Truth from Tablo” increased to as many as 190,000 within a few days, as numerous netizens refused to believe Tablo or the documentary. Tablo and members of his family received death threats and he became a virtual recluse. Tablo ultimately left Woollim Entertainment during the Tajinyo incident, not wanting to spread harm to the agency or to Infinite, who had only recently debuted when the controversy broke out.
On October 9, however, police confirmed that Tablo had indeed graduated from Stanford, having requested information beyond what Tablo had already provided, directly from Stanford University. South Korean police filed an arrest warrant domestically and with Interpol for the arrest of whatbecomes, who was revealed to be a 57-year-old Korean-American named Eungsuk Kim living in the United States. In addition, twenty-two netizens received summons indicating they had been sued by Tablo for criminal defamation. The fansite was shut down soon after by its host site, Naver, following the results of the investigation, which also revealed that whatbecomes had fraudulently used a friend’s ID number to create the website, violating Naver’s terms of service. However, many members of the fansite joined another community called “We Demand the Truth from Tablo 2” (Hangul: “타블로에게 진실을 요구합니다2”, or “타진요 2”; “Tajinyo-i” for short), which has a membership of over 33,000 netizens despite proof provided by both the university and the police that Tablo did indeed graduate from Stanford University.
On September 27, 2011 YG Entertainment announced that Tablo would be signing a 4-year contract with them and that his first solo album would be released on November 1. Although Tablo signed as a solo singer under YG Entertainment, he indicated that it did not mean that Epik High disbanded, nor that they would necessarily sign with YG as a group. On October 14, 2011 Tablo released the song “Airbag” from his new upcoming album. On October 21, 2011 YG announced that the new album, titled Fever’s End (Hangul: 열꽃), had been split into two parts. The first part was released along with the recent announcement, and the second part was released on the planned release date.
On September 27, 2012, YG officially announced through yg-life.com that Epik High would have their comeback in October 2012, after a three-year hiatus as a group. Their first single, “춥다” (“It’s Cold”), featured SBS’s K-pop Star finalist Lee Hi and was released on October 9, while their comeback album, titled 99, was released on the 19th. On December 30, 2012, during the SBS Gayo Daejun, Tablo joined fellow Epik High bandmate Mithra Jin, Dynamic Duo and Simon D for Cypher 2012, a remix of popular hip hop tracks of the year, to much acclaim.
In October 2013, Tablo joined KBS variety show The Return of Superman with his daughter Haru.
On April 21, 2014, Tablo returned as radio DJ. His show’s name is Tablo’s Dreaming Radio. He was the DJ for this same program until 2009.
In March 2014, Tablo carried out a collaboration with China’s top female singer Bibi Zhou.
On October 18, 2014, Epik High released their music video for “Born Hater”, after the video was delayed by YG due to the Pangyo Techno Valley Festival Tragedy. The track is from their eighth album, SHOEBOX, and features a myriad of hip hop artists including Beenzino, Verbal Jint, Mino of WINNER, along with B.I and Bobby of iKON.
On August 31, 2015, Tablo released a teaser clip for a collaboration track with American rapper an co-founder of Pro Era, Joey Badass. Their collaborated song, “Hood,” was released September 5, 2015.
On January 26, 2017, he collaborated with Gallant and Eric Nam on the single release of “Cave Me In”, and music video which was shot in Hong Kong. “Cave Me In” premiered worldwide on Zayn Lowe’s Beats 1 Radio Show and was trending globally on YouTube and Facebook for over 72 hours upon releasing.
Tablo married Korean actress Kang Hye-jung on October 26, 2009. Their daughter, Haru, was born on May 2, 2010.
Tablo has been a long-time fan of hip hop music, citing an almost lifelong affair with the culture itself. While listening to hip hop at an early age through artists such as Run-D.M.C. and acquiring Cold Crush tapes, he concurrently gained recognition as a rhymer. His major and enduring love affair with making hip hop music was sparked later in life, however; after hearing Drunken Tiger rapping, the group Epik High was formed in 2000 at an early time in the culture’s local evolution. Tablo has since claimed to be the first emcee to have used the “rhyming rifle” technique. With the hip hop scene in Korea and Korean emcees being known for their fickle tendencies, Tablo has through the years kept alive his legacy and career through numerous shows, appearances on influential overseas (American most notably) hip hop artists work, such as EPMD.
In 2008, Tablo published a collection of short stories he had written, titled Pieces of You. The English translation was published in 2009. In 2016, his second book “BloNote” was published in Korea with a pink book cover. The English version, translated by Tablo himself and a black cover, was published on December 21, 2016.