After a casual browse through my six-year collection of Korean music I came across what I had dubbed my favorite Korean R&B album back in 2012: ‘KRNB’ (which is what is it is – Korean R&B) by JINBO the Superfreak. Superimposing Korean music onto his American roots, JINBO is a predominantly internet-based independent artist-slash-producer. Independent here is a key descriptor. He self-promotes on Soundcloud and Bandcamp — and though I don’t want to say despite of that, but I’ll imply it because of the mainstream nature of the music industry — he received a Korean Music Award for Best R&B in 2011 for his first LP ‘Afterwork’. He isn’t signed to a label, but rather started his own: SuperFreak Records, made up of himself and a small collection of creatives. Sadly, there isn’t that much information on JINBO in the English language web… but enough of what we can’t find. Let’s move on to what we can; and friends, ‘KRNB’ is quite the gem.
K-pop fans in particular may appreciate ‘KRNB’ because many of the tracks are remakes of JINBO’s favorites from the early 90s to the later years; from Deux and S.E.S to Taeyang and 2NE1. But as JINBO notes in the album description, all tracks have been “re-composed, re-produced, and re-coordinated” — in fact, the only elements retained are the melodies, if not a couple of lyrics here and there. What I love the most, however, are the few recurring motifs most songs have in common: a groovy, sometimes slightly ’80s and sometimes slightly synthpop, sound. At the same time, however, the listening experience is a relaxing one. There is also a subtle cheekiness within the lyrics and dialogues, which becomes only amplified via JINBO’s really smooth and sexy delivery. I rarely describe voice as ‘sexy’, but it’s honestly warranted here. Wait until I start talking about my favorites off the track list, though.
‘Damn’ would be my strongest recommendation to anyone shamelessly compiling a K-pop playlist for the bedroom (a-ha, there’s an idea for a future K-pop 5s edition…). This personal favorite of mine is a remake of ‘Gee’, the almost-classic hit that catapulted Girl’s Generation into mass popularity. But unlike the original angelic, bubblegum-pop sound, JINBO cleverly twists it into something more sultry, cheeky, and – here it comes – straight-up sexy. All prudes out there should avoid this track, but for any Korean music fan seeking something more Trey Songz, this is your anthem.
JINBO states in the album description that this track (originally by BoA) is “one of the best songs” he has ever made. Though I’m honestly not sure why, it could be because he had a lot of fun in the process. Perhaps in his eyes, ‘Love Game’ in terms of structure and content provided a lot of flexibility, allowing for experimentation and personal flair. JINBO clearly does not hold back from either – I’ve heard the original, from which this version almost completely diverted. All in all, enthusiasm and groove from its production completely shines through; and in my opinion, whatever was fun to create makes it fun to consume.
‘She’s Beautiful 아름다운 그녀’
Despite not being familiar with the original (‘Red Umbrella 빨간 우산’) by Kim Gun-Mo (김건모), I am really attracted to this song, which I think that reflects the charm of this entire compilation. This song is a testimony to KRNB’s potential appeal to any generation. Those in older age groups will appreciate the throwbacks; but by fusing them with a more modern, sexy (here we go again) sound (particularly an R&B twist via his own voice), JINBO extends a welcome to those who missed out on Korean music’s golden years.
With the same lyrics on loop, this track isn’t really anything more than treat to ears that enjoy the more old school synthpop sound. What I do like about ‘Best Friend’, however (a remake of Salt & Light’s (빛과 소금) ‘An Old Friend 오래된 친구’ is that it diverts from being the usual ode to one’s special girl. Instead, it is a shout out to JINBO’s “homeboy”, his best friend and buddy; and in an industry in which love songs dominate, those like ‘Best Friend’ are refreshing.
Final Thoughts and Purchasing Details
If re-mastering is all about the technical enhancement of auditory quality, I like to think that what JINBO has done is a conceptual re-mastering of these older hits – modernization in terms of character and flavor. Neo-90s and neo-millenium, if you will. JINBO aptly describes KRNB as “Korean B-side” in the closing track ‘Yes and No’, which I feel is the core impression of the compilation. JINBO gives the songs an incredibly different flavor, thus for those particularly familiar with the originals, a completely fresh listening experience.
If I got you asking me to stop talking and start telling you where you can get your hands on ‘KRNB’, I have done my job. And yes, lucky for all of us, it is available for a free listen on JINBO’s Bandcamp, which you can own with a small fee of $7USD.
Did you listen to JINBO’s ‘KRNB’? Share your thoughts below!
Disclaimer: The opinions shared in this article are solely those of the author’s and not ATK Magazine’s as a whole.