R&B soul sensation Jinbo reps underground K-music culture with his new mixtape 'KRNB,' while still showing the K-pop heavyweights some love.
Joo Hahn, aka Jinbo, is a self-proclaimed SuperFreak. In a market saturated with bubblegum dance beats and increasingly monotonous pop tunes, Jinbo swims against the current with his self-produced R&B tunes. But if you let Jinbo tell it, R&B would barely define his catalog, especially his latest mixtape KRNB. Expect to channel through influences ranging from funk to pop to disco to the Minneapolis sound and back.
In 2010, Jinbo won a Korean Music Award for “Best Soul/R&B Album” for his debut effort, Afterwork. Just a year later, a brush with K-pop set off a chain reaction, in which Jinbo decidedly reinvented Korean Top 40 hits from the last decade as his own. In his versions, the BPMs slowed down, lyrics chilled out and the original songs were barely recognizable in the best way.
But Jinbo’s career didn’t begin in 2010. Since 2006 he has been active as artist within the music scene, an artist just beneath the surface of the Hallyu Wave. He was born in the Philippines, and grew up listening to music from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Madonna and Lionel Richie. And after honing his skills and fully immersing himself into the business of music, he launched his own label. He’s since been featured on tracks by big name artists ten-fold, but casual cameos don’t move this creative soul. For Jinbo, the best collaborations are the ones that require a real “combination of minds” in the studio.
Jinbo squeezed in a quick Skype interview with us just a few days ago, in between mixing tracks last week in South Korea. After his telling introduction— “I’m a singer/songwriter/producer/writer/loverboy”— we got right down to business, discussing his career, his influences and how he became Korea’s number one, self-professed SuperFreak.
OK, let’s get this out of the way right now – why “SuperFreak?”
I’m pretty rare. To the audience in the States or UK, or Japan or wherever, they’re pretty much familiar to R&B soul music. They made the culture and followed the music history, so in terms of genre, they’re very aware of it. However, in Korea, it’s just mostly pop or traditional Korean music. I’m one of the few soul artists in Korea, so that’s one reason I call myself a SuperFreak.
A Korean Music Award-winning SuperFreak…. Before we talk about KRNB, can you tell us about Afterwork?
It was totally different than other albums. When you go to a studio to mix your track in Korea and you want to make it sound raw, like very raw, dirty— like dusty—the engineers would say, “Ah, this is wrong. You have to do it right.” It’s always right or wrong, yes and no’s.
So I was like, ‘Can I just be artistic? Can I just mess it up my own way?’ I think that approach and sound was really fresh to the audience and that’s why they loved it.
So do you attribute winning a KMA for “Best R&B/Soul album” in 2010 for Afterwork to you going your own way, musically?
The only path I knew was sign with a huge record label and release albums through that label. After my deal [contract] with them was over with this record label, which had Epik High—after that contract, finally, I was free. And I thought, what kind of album do I REALLY want to release? What kind of music do I really want to do?
I just wanted to express my freedom. Not only musically, everything– package, design, artwork, songs, sounds, texture—everything. I wanted to try that at least once in my lifetime and it gained me a lot.
What was the main inspiration behind KRNB?
Influence and inspiration always come from people. I met JaeKi in NY earlier this year. He’s a hip-hop magazine editor, so he’s like a living dictionary of all things hip-hop. But at the same time, he’s a huge k-pop fan.
To me, I didn’t have the concept of both. [Laughs] I was outside Korea, so it was not the music of my hometown, you know? But after that moment, I started listening to K-pop again. It’s very natural for me to combine different genres and styles in my mind and just play with that. So this time, it was K-pop.
KRNB’s “Damn” transformed Girls’ Generation’s “Gee,” which is arguably the most K-pop song of K-pop songs, into a sensual R&B track. What was your first impression of the original?
Ummm, I love the chord-work and arrangements, but it was too cute for me. [Laughs] Most K-pop songs are too cute, however, if you just slow down the BPM, it makes good R&B music. The melody and chord progressions are beautiful. Just slow it down a little bit, or make the beat stronger. Get rid of the cuteness and it and becomes something else.
“Damn” isn’t too far off from your usual style, so what brought about the funky, synth-pop treatment you gave BoA‘s “Game” in “Love Game?”
If you listen to the bridge, that early ‘80s vibe. I never imagined that I would make a track like that and record it—record it that way, I should say, because I was a more modern kid.
I was listening to Usher, Musiq Soulchild when I was in middle school and high school, so I started producing modern, urban R&B tracks like that from the beginning of my career. I was just recently listening to songs like [from] Prince–just playing and listening to them, but never imagined that I would really produce a track like that. So that was really fun and special to me.
You definitely channeled your inner Prince for that one. What can you tell us about the next single?
The next single is “I Need You Girl.” It was originally “I Need a Girl” by Taeyang, but I flipped it as “I Need You Girl.” Like, you, specifically. This time, rather than Prince, I guess I’m channeling Michael Jackson. It’s my Michael Jackson side singing, “I Need You Girl.”
How do all of these very different tracks fit together into KRNB?
I tried to make it cohesive. It’s not the genre or production style – it’s more…. I think by remixing and reworking those K-pop songs, I think people can understand me even better in some ways. ‘Cause they know the original songs, and they can figure out how I flipped it—what I was filtering through myself, I guess.
Every album is a landmark of my history, my timeline. It just captures the moment. This album was from late 2011 until summer 2012. It captures that moment of myself. You can experience my progressions in my life as well.
What would you like to leave the MTV K audience with to think about?
In Korean news, they use the term Hallyu Wave a lot. I don’t buy it, actually—the wave is just the top layer. Under the surface, there’s more interesting things going on. When you go on a trip and discover a new city, you find that the tourist buses are boring. You want to discover more authentic restaurants and hip spots. Unveil interesting places.
Get under the Hallyu Wave and there are more artists like me, you know…. who claims himself to be a Superfreak. [Laughs]
KRNB will be available as a free download on August 29 through Jinbo’s bandcamp.