10 Underrated Korean R&B Releases of 2018 (Part 1)
Code Kunst returns to pack a mournful punch, Planetarium Records’ entire roster stuns with thrumming synthwave and Heize experiments with Forties-style swing
“Osaka” by ELO feat ZICO
Released as part of his Gradation series of singles, “Osaka” is ELO at his best: orchestral R&B production paired with an unusual (but somehow ideal) hip-hop collaborator. In this case the singer-songwriter recruits rapper and producer ZICO (who helped compose the track), but the true ‘wow’ moment lies in the cinematic chorus of, “OSAKA/oh yeah/The place you and I dreamt of”– a line that lingers in the mind long after the song has ended.
Wish & Wind by Heize
Korean R&B’s princess Heize follows up last year’s ///(You, Clouds, Rain) with Wish & Wind, a six-track EP that sticks to her jazz leanings but dives a little deeper into the journey of moving on from heartbreak. Heize sharpens her production skills on “Jenga” and “Wind,” trickling in playful strings of acoustic guitar and jazz-drenched piano. The EP does see more of her vocals than rap, but it suits the Forties swing vibe running through the entire record.
Key tracks: “Jenga” feat. Gaeko, “Mianhae,” “Wind”
“Rain Bird” by Code Kunst feat. Tablo and Colde
Three of the biggest names in Korean hip-hop and R&B come together on “Rain Bird” to glorious results. Producer Code Kunst (who featured on last year’s Underrated Korean R&B list) returns to pack a mournful punch with “Rain Bird.” Hip-hop legend Tablo’s signature drawl is complemented by offonoff vocalist Colde’s falsettos. With lyrics by Tablo and Colde, “Rain Bird” is equal parts poetic, nostalgic and woeful; a suitable ode to time spent with an ex-lover. “Rain Bird” also marks Code Kunst’s first release under hip-hop label AOMG.
“Your Dog Loves You” by Colde feat. Crush
This endearing track earns Colde his second mention on this list for obvious reasons. Inspired by his relationship with his own dog, “Your Dog Loves You” is a tear-jerkingly sweet tribute to man’s best friend. The lyrics are from the dog’s point of view and highlight the unconditional love and devotion they have towards their humans. Colde and Crush’s vocals remain soft and harmonic throughout, complimented simply by acoustic guitar. A fantastic detail at the end of the track is the soft jingling of a dog leash.
Fountain by Joo Young
After completing mandatory military service, singer-songwriter Joo Young made his much-awaited comeback earlier this year in March with Fountain. The six-track EP is a powerful, dreamy collection of Joo Young’s intricate production and serene vocals. Filled to the brim with jazz and slow R&B, the record is a mellow but lush journey with collaborators that include R&B singers G.Soul and Sole as well as rapper pH-1.
Key tracks: “Dive,” “Wine” feat. G. Soul, “Fountain”
“Why” by Hoody feat. George
With a delicate rolling trap beat and touches of piano, Hoody’s “Why” does wonders to highlight her breathy, tranquil vocals. The track is one of two released in April on the singer-songwriter’s single Golden. While the title track features Jay Park, it’s “Why” that leaves more of an impact with its lyrics that question why it’s always so hard to move on from a failed relationship.
“Punishment” by NANO
Disbanded K-pop boy group History’s vocalist Jaeho makes a powerful solo comeback as R&B singer NANO on “Punishment.” With effortlessly smooth vocals over a simple, slow beat and soft strums of an electric guitar courtesy producer HSND, NANO goes back to the basics of the genre, reminiscent of tracks by Usher, D’Angelo and Ginuwine.
“Blind” by PLT
A comment on YouTube describes “Blind” as ‘the Weeknd meets Nine Inch Nails’ and we couldn’t agree more. Comprising of solo R&B artists and producers Jung Jin Woo, Moti, Gaho, June, Villain and Kei. G, PLT is a supergroup of sorts with a name that refers to their label Planetarium Records. With thrumming synthwave, impeccable vocal harmonies and falsettos over echoing background adlibs, “Blind” is haunting, unforgettable and utterly addictive.
“Run” by Lee Jin Ah and Gray
This wavy track from singer-songwriter Lee Jin Ah and rapper/producer Gray is possibly one of the brightest R&B releases of the year. Every moment in “Run” is a surprise as it twists and turns from sweeping synths to bouncy trap. Lee’s voice is high-pitched and dreamy, perfectly complimented by Gray’s soft vocals. Lee also busts out an impressive keyboard solo halfway through the track, making sure we don’t forget her composition and production skills. “Run” is the lead single off Lee’s debut LP Jinah Restaurant Full Course.
“Play Me” by Woogie Park feat. Penomeco and Sik-K
Sultry, decadent and dark, “Play Me” is easily one of the sexiest R&B releases of the year. Things usually tend to get sexy whenever rapper Sik-K is involved, but here it’s vocalist Penomeco who takes it to the next level. Sik-K starts strong with his raspy, playful rap and Penomeco cruises in slowly for the chorus; the singer is known for his unique, rippling voice and producer Woogie Park makes it the star of the show by keeping the beat at a slow, rolling trap, adding plush, tropical strains of electric guitar and subtle touches of piano.