by ELIZABETH EUN
At first glance, KRNB may seem like a gratuitous attempt from an underground hip-hop artist to win over a K-pop obsessed public, but the new mixtape from hip-hop and R&B artist Jinbo is actually just a simple love story of an artist mixing his appreciation for all musical genres, one of which happens to be K-pop.
Jinbo the “SuperFreak” is a Korean singer and producer who’s mainly stayed hidden from the spotlight. Epik High fans may recognize the 30-year-old’s name as he’s featured on tracks such as “Girl” and “Still Life,” and those who have a more eclectic Korean music library will remember his critically-acclaimed 2010 album, Afterwork.
But this time around, Jinbo is no longer shying away from the public. In fact, he’s courting the masses of people who only know Korean music as K-pop, by releasing a free mixtape titled KRNB, which consists entirely of remixes of K-pop hits.
The first inclination is to read each letter of KRNB as is, but it’s actually read Korean-B (think back to the days of AIM, when KRN = Korean and AZN = Asian) – and the B stands for a number of things: B, for B-Side (as in remixes), R&B, and, of course, Korean-babes, because these songs are all about the ladies.
We had a chance to listen to Jinbo’s KRNB before the online release on August 29 at Jinbo’s pre-listening party this week at the Union in the kyopo-friendly Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul, where he performed a few tracks live and previewed the rest. There, he also explained why this far-from-mainstream artist chose to remix some of the most poppy tracks to ever exist.
Case in point: the first single off the tape is a remix of Girls’ Generation’s mega-hit “Gee,” which swept the nation in 2009 and was at the forefront of the resurgence of the Korean wave. Jinbo saw the craze firsthand, as he was an eye witness at a Girls’ Generation fan signing event in New York and was surprised at how much K-pop had spread internationally.
But don’t expect a run-of-the-mill cover of the saccharine-sweet E-Tribe-produced hit. For one, it’s titled “Damn,” since “Gee” just doesn’t seem to cut it, not when the track is definitely no longer rated G. The deceptively simple lyrics of the original have been changed from lines like, “I feel shy because I’ve fallen in love” to “I’m sorry young girl, I used to lift them skirts’. And when you put it that way, “damn” seems to be the only word that makes sense.
While K-pop has definitely opened up to sexuality, this is still a genre dominated by coy winks from young idols who’ve seduced millions but “aren’t allowed to date.” So while Jinbo has kept the basic vibe of “Gee” alive, he’s not about to let contain himself to the limitations that K-pop still has.
While “Gee” may be the most recognizable hit he remixes, there are plenty of other mega-hits Jinbo takes on, which come from old school K-pop artists like Seo Taiji and Boys and Deux, to modern acts like 2NE1 and Big Bang’s Taeyang.
But he wasn’t always so plugged into the the latest K-pop trends.
“I was in New York, and my friends were like, ‘What kind of K-Pop are you listening to now?’,” Jinbo told iamKoreAm.com.
He listed off a stream of much older acts, including Jo Young Pil, to which his friends responded, “Yo, you’re so dated!”
The same friends went on to recommend a few tracks – several of which were remixed for KRNB.
While covering big pop acts has always been a way to get more recognition, Jinbo shares that he loves and appreciates the musicality of each track he’s taken on – even if he remixes them beyond recognition.
“Some of the songs, I remixed and left only the lyrics the same, and others I chose to tell the story with the music only. Truthfully, with lyrics, you can probably communicate the story better, but even without lyrics, the beats can give you an idea of what’s going on too,” said Jinbo.
Though KRNB’s roots are obviously in K-pop, much of the inspiration has sprouted from elements elsewhere – Prince songs, funk, electronica – and most of the tracks were created while he was traveling through America. The Korean artist, who was raised in both the Philippines and Korea, and has spent a fair amount of time in the States, believes that whether something is remixed, covered or “copied,” the original should be done right.
“If you’re going to make a hamburger, you should learn how to make it right, and then after that, if you want to make a kimchi burger or a garlic burger, then it doesn’t matter,” said Jinbo.
Considering how carefully he’s cooked things up with KRNB, things are looking good for Jinbo.
(Quotes and some lyrics have been translated from Korean to English.)
Album art credit: Dahahm Choi