Rhythm and Blues (R&B) might not be everybody’s cup of tea but when the modern Korean artists vocalize it in their own contemporary styles and forms, mixing in elements of pop, soul, jazz, etc., even the toughest souls give in to the flow. 2020’s K-R&B releases have propelled this genre of music into the spotlight, carving a revolutionized path of colourful, eye-catching discographies, raw emotions and the transcendental spirit of music as Art.
Discussing the impactful impressions of these K-R&B releases, our team hence picked out the top 10 tracks that serve as the best introduction of the contemporary genre to a first-time listener and an unforgettable memory of this rhythmic world to a reminiscing audience.
The releases however are not ranked and are listed below in alphabetical order.
‘AUTOMATIC REMIX’ – Chancellor and Various Artists
“To all K-R&B fans” – Chancellor
‘AUTOMATIC REMIX’ is a one-of-a-kind R&B Music Festival that displays the talents of a whooping 28 K-R&B artists in a span of 15-16 minutes; drawing a parallel with 2018’s hottest K-Hiphop bar-fest track, ‘119 Remix’ which had seen a collaboration between 51 rappers.
With a long list of artists (some prominent, some upcoming), the threat of disjointedness hangs over this remix. However, this threat is brilliantly tackled by a smooth music production where one verse seems to flow into and evolve as it transits to the other. The unfiltered individual verses of these artists also seem to exude their own confidence and personal flairs, starting off with Chancellor’s bold declaration: “You know we had to do a remix for this one/It’s official/This is/This the mutha fuckin’ remix baby”!
‘Beautiful’ – JUNE (ft. Gaho, Moti, Jung Jinwoo)
“Girl, I just want you/ You’re beautiful, beautiful/ Yeah I know how beautiful you are”
In his first mini-album, ‘Ending’, JUNE got together with a lot of underrated R&B singers and rappers; especially collaborating with his mates from the great R&B/ Hip-hop collaboration project, PLT, on various tracks. Combining forces with these artists widened the spectrum of his music release, ‘Beautiful’, as it switched from mellifluent vocals to equally melodic raps on an easy flowing chill beat. It also let JUNE shine and play to his strengths without losing the focus of the listeners as the main artist of the track, amongst the multitude of talented individuals featuring in it. The track is like a serenade for a beautiful lover, assuring her of their love for her through their simple, romantic lyrics.
‘Betting’ – Xydo (ft. pH-1)
“I’m addicted to your game baby, I just wanna scream the ‘ALL IN’!”
Betting, the title track of Xydo’s first mini-album, “X” wittily equates the act of betting of chips in a Casino to a betting made in the game of love. It starts off with a captivating verse true to Xydo’s rich singing abilities and vast musical spectrum. The backdrop of the track’s music video is a chill Casino setting where Xydo appears to be betting chips while serving visuals on par with his vocal talents. This is enough to set the song apart as one of the memorable ones of this year but we soon see it smoothly transitioning into the second verse where the ‘always cool and composed’ rapper, pH-1 takes over and adds further texture and color to the well-composed and well-executed track.
‘EMERGENCY’ – Vince (ft. Zion.T)
“Pull up on the block when you callin’ / It’s an emergency when you think of me”
The track, EMERGENCY is Vince’s second single after his debut single, ‘MENNAL’ which had gained a lot of attention upon its release. It conveys the straining tensions in a lovers’ relationship where VINCE is trying to assure and reason with his lover who feels insecure and unloved:‘Baby, can we slow it down It’s dangerous if we keep this up’.
Stating ‘EMERGENCY’ as a display of the music he wants to pursue as an artist, Vince slows down the tempo, amps up the hip hop-tinged R&B melodies, and gets on board the famous R&B singer, Zion. T, making ‘EMERGENCY’ one of the smoothest productions of this year. The polished production however is to be expected owing to the fact that Vince was prominent in the music circle as a producer even before he made his debut as a singer in 2019 with MENNAL.
‘Hate You’ – Yerin Baek
“But I’m tougher and I’m wiser/ I’m strong enough to get through you”
A track that truly shows that Art transcends all boundaries, ‘hate you’ weaves together powerful soul-stirring lyricism, an evocative storyline set in a vintage space, and hauntingly beautiful vocals of Yerin Baek. The track narrates the story of the emancipation of a woman from a toxic relationship as she struggles to break free and establish her own independent identity; almost as if drawing an analogy with the way Yerin Baek broke free from the constraints of the music world to set up her own R&B/indie agency.
‘Kazino’ – BIBI
Different from all her previous bubbly releases, Kazino (a spin-off for Casino) sees BIBI take the road-less-taken path; a clear proof of her confident and highly experimental artist’s spirit!
With a trap-infused production that relies heavily on her versatile vocals and the layering of the heavy synths in the background, BIBI uses this release as a showcase of not only her vocal diversity as an artist but also of her raw, unfiltered lyricism behind the composition of her tracks. Kazino talks of the dangers of gambling and even brings to fore, human trafficking (especially of women) that takes place in such gambling games and spaces:
“Sleepless nights playing with zeros/ See me buried in cash/ Next chips and the next checks/ Next matches and next chicks”
The dark, cinematic music video also adds to the overall bewitching hold that the track has on its listeners.
‘No Blueberries’ – DPR IAN (ft. DPR LIVE, CL)
“I like no blueberries in my ice cream cake/ No air to breathe with that masking tape”
In a thematic continuation of expressing his trauma from his previous track titled ‘So Beautiful’ where DPR IAN was last seen trying to escape an abusive relationship, ‘No Blueberries’ sees the banding together of female powerhouse CL, bilingual rapper DPR LIVE and DPR IAN, an artist in the truest sense, pursuing art both in music and cinematic forms. The music video is set in a low-lit, dark diner and combines science fiction elements and a series of flashbacks which are symbolic of the paranoia, haunting fear, and instability of mind faced by the person (IAN in the mv) suffering from trauma: “Afraid of what’s in your eyes baby/ Red, green, or blue”.
The combination of the rich musical sounds, raw lyricism, and brilliantly shot Music video, make ‘No Blueberries’ a truly alluring and memorable track to remember the ironic realities we saw come true in 2020.
‘RUBE’ – Jung Jinwoo (ft. Gaho, JUNE, Moti)
“Drop your Mature self for today/ Immature is Natural”
One of the best things about an album release from any member of the PLT, an R&B/ Hiphop collaboration project, is that it always includes a track where all (or most) members would feature together. ‘RUBE’ is that one collective track from Jung Jinwoo’s 2nd EP, ‘My Original Sound Track’ where they all club together and add their own individualistic appeal to the track.
Set in a mystic dark bar with the artists dressed in posh all-black outfits, this collective carries a totally different aura from their previous release together titled ‘Beautiful’. The track starts off with the honeyed vocals of JUNE that enthrall the listeners right from the get-go and as the song progresses, the listeners’ addiction with the track keeps reaching a new high with every transition. Despite the chill vibes of the track, it actually talks of the struggle of a fast-paced everyday life that tires a person out so much that they end up losing themselves and their happiness in it.
The highlight of the track is Moti’s manly, deep-voiced rap verses woven in between the mellifluent verses of the other artists. Every time it appears, it is like an electrifying jolt that keeps the listeners attentive and on their toes throughout the time the song is playing.
‘Strangers Again’ – Jhnovr
“I just gotta open up to the demons I held/Staring in the eyes of someone as strangers again/Strangers again”
Taking the trending ‘Eighties’ musical wave further down an Oriental path, Jhnovr beautifully merges the melodic chill vibes of the Eighties with the classical Korean instrumentals produced by a Korean plucked zither called the Gayageum or Kayagum. This binary is also reflected in the music video of the groovy, almost sensual track as the modern sound flows over scenes of various traditional spaces, outfits, dances, and customs of South Korea. The track also displays Jhnovr’s poetic lyricism and romanticism in his conscientious use of lyrics in the track.
‘Walk in the Night’ – MOON (ft. Zion.T)
MOON in this digital single with Zion. T displays her characteristic euphonious vocals, well suited to pair up with Zion. T’s own richness of voice. The laid-back track features lyrics that talk of loneliness after a relationship becomes just a memory and of the struggle of letting go of that someone who haunts our lonely nights:
“We used to walk here together/ And now I’m letting you go, who left me alone”.
The track is also a good measure of MOON’s overall artistry and musicality as it paints a portrait of not only her superior vocal talents but also of her composing and song-writing abilities.
Which of the following tracks of 2020 won you over?
Let us know in the comments!