8 Underrated Korean R&B Releases of 2017 (Part 1)
Code Kunst’s eclectic magnum opus, Samuel Seo’s fearless genre-blending and Heize’s lyrical honesty all deserve more attention
Like almost everything else Zion.T does, his sophomore EP is the very definition of elegance. Although his base is primarily R&B, the singer-songwriter plays around with latin jazz, soul, pop and even features tinges of rock on OO. The presence of rappers G-Dragon and Beenzino on the EP add just the right amount of edge while also widening OO‘s audience reach. All in all, OO is a sonically bright and lyrically contemplative breath of fresh air in the Korean R&B scene.
Code Kunst’s Muggles Mansion
I stumbled upon this LP on YouTube right after it’s release in February and it was like striking gold. Code Kunst is a gifted producer with a flair for crafting R&B/hip-hop tracks that perfectly complement the artistic styles of each musician he works with. Muggles Mansion is easily one of the top releases from South Korea this year; with over 20 superstar collaborators and splashes of downtempo, trap, soul, R&B and more, it’s a delightful listening experience.
Stand-out tracks: “Fire Water” feat. G.Soul and Tablo, “X” feat. Lee Hi, “Parachute” feat. Oh Hyuk and Dok2
Heize’s ///(You, Clouds, Rain)
Jazz-soaked with a running theme of the monsoon, ///(You, Clouds, Rain) reveals a new, slightly melancholic side to Heize. Known for her edgy but preppy style of hip-hop, Heize switches gears to explore a few slow ballads and heartbreak. She’s also known for her ability to flit effortlessly between rapping and singing, a skill she displays generously across the record.
Samuel Seo and Qim Isle’s Elbow
Samuel Seo is perhaps one of South Korea’s greatest hidden gems. The vocalist/rapper tends to blend hip-hop, soul and R&B with synthpop and electronica—probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s something that has earned him the tag of ‘genius’ and a cult-like following. When paired with rapper Qim Isle, the result is the eccentric and quirky Elbow EP which manages to feature instrumentals, a ballad, Eighties throwbacks and more in a space of just five songs.
Stand-out tracks: “Mango”, “Monk” feat. George, “Coke’s Head”
Although Penomeco did release a splendid EP titled Film this year, “Hunnit” (released as a single via SM Station) serves as a fantastic introduction to him as an artist. The rapper’s voice has an almost mechanical inflection that blends seamlessly with Auto-Tune, using the latter as an instrument rather than vocal Photoshop. Lyrically “Hunnit” is a raw breakdown of the anger and defeat that revolve around a toxic relationship. Have a listen and then definitely give Film a go when you’re done.
Vida is a highly cinematic and surprisingly philosophical introduction to Millic. Primarily built of trip-hop, jazz and trap, the LP features a range of prominent artists including R&B singers Dean, Julius, Crush and Han, rappers Zico and Penomeco and more. Vida’s production remains tremendously smooth from start to finish, making it easy to forget this is the producer’s debut album.
Stand-out tracks: “Something” feat. Julius, “Treasure Island” feat. Han, “Paradise” feat. Fanxy Child (Dean, Zico, Crush, Penomeco)
The perfect word to describe this EP is ‘smooth.’ G.Soul’s falsetto is a thing of wonder, melting into vibrato after vibrato seemingly effortlessly. According to G.Soul, Circles has a theme that revolves around alcohol due to the fact he was under its influence while writing every track. Released under Highr Music, Circles is the singer-songwriter’s most artistically intricate and personal EP to date.
Stand-out tracks: “Can’t”, “Circles”, “Tequila” feat. Hoody
Nomad’s Miss You
Sultry and edgy, Miss You is a short but exquisite collection of R&B meets electronic. Nomad’s sound is experimental and at moments reminiscent of Australian producer Flume, but he manages to carve his own identity through the emphasis he puts on the silences between the music. The presence of underground R&B vocalists like Kimm Chaan, Romy Wave and X.Q is a tremendous bonus.
Stand-out tracks: “Hate Me” feat X.Q, “Misdirection” feat. Kimm Chann