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Bobby: ‘I Wanted to Become a Versatile Artist’

The South Korean-American rapper talks about the creative process behind his solo debut LP ‘Love And Fall,’ baring his soul on a public platform and wanting to visit India

Riddhi Chakraborty Oct 05, 2017

Bobby's 'Love And Fall' takes a swift departure from his signature dark hip-hop sound to explore brighter trails of pop, dancehall and R&B. Photo: Courtesy of YG Entertainment

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When Bobby first started working on his debut album back in 2015, he was clear about what he wanted to showcase and where he wanted it to take him. In fact, there’s always been clarity. Born Kim Jiwon in Seoul before moving to America shortly after, the South Korean-American rapper quickly built a reputation as the ‘rookie foreigner’ who defied all odds to stand out in K-pop’s hip-hop-heavy scene. He initially gained attention by shooting to fame as the youngest artist to win Show Me The Money in 2014, a cutthroat rap competition on TV, and went on to carve out a space for himself in K-hip-hop via hit collaborations with the likes of Epik High, Dok2, Beenzino and more all while he was just 18 years old.

The album artwork for ‘Love And Fall.’

His much-awaited debut as a member of YG Entertainment’s seven-member boy group iKON soon followed in 2015, granting him mainstream K-pop stardom as well, but he was definitely far from done. “I wanted this album to be refined,” the now 21-year-old rapper tells Rolling Stone India about the goals he mapped out ages ago around his solo debut. “I also wanted to show that I could make a go at a wider spectrum of music genres.”

Love And Fall, which finally released in September this year, is Bobby’s promise to himself fulfilled; the LP takes a swift departure from his signature dark hip-hop sound with iKON and MOBB (a duo he formed with Korean boy group Winner’s lead rapper Mino in 2016) to explore brighter trails of pop, dancehall and R&B. The record opens with the vivid, tropical “I Love You” before slipping into the gut-wrenching “Runaway” and picking up the mood again with the playful “Tendae,” all of which use generous doses of Bobby’s husky vocals. It’s a theme he follows all through the album before bringing in orchestral sounds and refined vocals on “In Love.” For long-time fans, it’s an absolute treat and many took to social media to express their (pleasant) surprise at being able to see a softer side to the rapper who is best-known for his fast, gritty rap. “At first, I was unfamiliar with these new sides too,” Bobby confesses. “But I wanted to expose more of myself to the public. So I really worked hard to do so. It was fun.”

Used to working as a unit with both iKON and MOBB, recording a solo 10-track album wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. “Filling each track that runs for three to four minutes with my voice only… was a little difficult,” he admits. “But the fact that I could speak my own words and thoughts was a great advantage.” He had help from a small total of three including Mino, (iKON bandmate) DK and YG Entertainment trainee Katie Kim as collaborators. It is possibly the one thing he wants to work on changing on future releases. “When I was working on my album I wasn’t really stuck with the thought that ‘I must release this’,” says Bobby. “I just enjoyed the overall process of making music. So I didn’t really come up with the thought that ‘This particular person had to feature in this particular song’—That’s where I feel the most lack in this album.”

Bobby wrote “Runaway” in 2015 and reveals that he worked on it right up to a few days before its release.

A bit of MOBB does shine through on “Up,” a dark, trap-heavy track which Mino guests on and there’s a slice of iKON on “Secret” (courtesy DK who co-wrote and featured on the track) but as a whole, Love And Fall stands out in Bobby’s discography thanks to how drastically different it is from anything he’s ever done. I ask him if he wanted to draw a line between who he is with iKON and MOBB and who he is as a solo artist and he explains that it wasn’t the case. “Well, I didn’t really consciously want to draw a line,” he says. “I guess I received a lot of influence from things or music that I like [or] was impressed by so it naturally smeared with the final results of my solo album. I didn’t just want to prove that ‘These days rappers are also good at singing’—I just wanted to become a versatile artist.”

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As you listen through it, the early-2000s R&B and old-school hip-hop influences on Love And Fall are striking and comforting in their stylistic familiarity. Bobby explains this inspiration for the record came from Korean hip-hop legends Dynamic Duo and American hip-hop producer Nas. However, musical influences are only a fraction of the nostalgia that builds the foundation of the LP. “Receiving inspiration is something very important and sensitive,” says Bobby. “I receive a lot of inspiration from movies or webtoons. For example, I received a lot of inspiration from the famous Korean webtoon Man and Woman when writing ‘I Love You’ [and] ‘Runaway’ is about my life.”

Bobby wrote “Runaway” in 2015 and reveals that he worked on it right up to a few days before its release on September 14th, 2017. The track is easily one of the most powerful and honest K-pop releases of the year and addresses the rapper’s struggles with homesickness, exhaustion, depression and frustration around his career. While the music video—shot in his home state of Virginia—a portrays the story of him leaving his home and parents in America to come to South Korea to pursue music, the core idea of the song hints at escaping to live a life outside stardom and all its limitations. “When I got off from work, I saw some people around my age playing around outside,” recalls Bobby of the moment in 2015 when “Runaway” was born. “I thought to myself, ‘I could never play around like them. But I would like to get the chance to do so someday.’ That’s where this song started.”

Bobby: “What doesn’t kill me will make me even stronger.”

Bobby made the big move to South Korea at the age of 16 when he was selected as a trainee by YG Entertainment and left behind his parents, friends and an entire life to ‘chase the dream.’ It isn’t an easy route for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old in an unfamiliar country, but Bobby kept going. “Some of my friends who lived in the U.S. say that Korea is a good place to hang out but not to live… I’m not sure about this. Wherever I am, I just want to be in a place where I am close to my work.” A lot of Bobby’s fans often state they relate to him because of the struggles as an ‘outsider’ in both American and Korean culture due to his upbringing and it’s something he’s aware of. I ask what he would tell kids who have also left home to pursue a dream and he says, “I want to share the following message: ‘What doesn’t kill me will make me even stronger’.”

The message is universal and fans from India aren’t excluded from the narrative. Many struggle with Indian rat-race mentality and eternal pursuit of creative careers and a lot of them are voicing their thanks to artists like Bobby on social media for penning down their fears and frustrations. In the music, there’s a reassurance that they aren’t alone. “I want to visit India,” he says when I tell him this and he goes on to marvel at music’s ability to transcend language, culture and distance to provide some relatability. “Hearing that my music has jumped over barriers is really exciting.” It’s all come full-circle for him; from finding comfort in foreign artists when he was a kid, he’s become a foreign artist people in countries around the world find comfort in, even as far as India. “To pass on the feeling of when I first heard music from abroad to someone else… it’s really cool.”

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All photos courtesy of YG Entertainment

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