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By: Hannah Waitt
Nearly a year after their July 2016 debut, NCT 127 made their return last week with the release of their new single, “Cherry Bomb,” and their EP of the same title. Over the past year, NCT has been pushing the envelope when it comes to Kpop convention with the idea of “Neo Culture Technology,” or the theory that a Kpop group can have infinite combinations of members and units, curated to musical concept and geographic location.
The group has also been redefining the sound of modern Kpop with their trap and hip-hop influenced singles, many of which come courtesy of an impressive roster of foreign producers and songwriters. The most recent collaborator to be added to that list is three-time Grammy nominated producer Dem Jointz, who has an impressive roster of his own. Having worked with a list of legends including Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Rihanna, “Cherry Bomb” is the third track and the first single that he’s put together for a Kpop group. Dem Jointz took the time out of his schedule to talk to moonROK about his experience working in Kpop, how “Cherry Bomb” came to be, and why he thinks Kpop is ahead of the game when it comes to pop groups.
“Cherry Bomb” is your third track for SM Entertainment – how did you end up working in Kpop?
A lot of our good friends over at SM Entertainment, they actually came out to see me a while ago. So I’ve been giving them music for some time now. [“Cherry Bomb”] is just one of the ideas that we shot over to them and they came back to us and they loved it.
This is your third time producing a Kpop track and your first title track for a Kpop group. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of producing for Kpop groups?
Well the cool thing about it is, when they first came to see me, man they came through super deep. They must’ve had six, seven executives from the actual label. So all they had to do was sit me down, show me the videos — I’ve seen the profiles of all the artists that they were interested in me working with — and I pretty much did my homework right in front of them, got my study on, and then when I got a chance to hit the studio, I knew exactly what they were looking for. I had ideas as to what I could give to them, and then we just kept seeing them from there.
They played me a whole bunch of stuff, and I think that at the end of the day, the whole idea was — well what stuck out to me was, I felt like everybody that they showed me was dope. So I was like, “y’all just let me know what y’all want me to work on, I’m in on the deal.”
You’ve worked with some incredible American artists – from Anderson Paak to Rihanna to Eminem, Kendrick, and Dr. Dre – what were some of the biggest differences you found between working with those artists and working with Kpop artists?
The crazy thing about it is, all the stuff that we know and love and what we used to grab from pop generally, they’re actually still doing that. And I think that that’s missing here. We definitely miss that. Like when I saw the group, NCT 127, you see how they’re all in unison, and even though they got the rapper in there, the rapper still got the dance moves with the whole nine. It’s like what they used to do back in the ‘90s — it was just like pure entertainment. So it was just like, you can still have spit, and still have a little swag on stage and whatnot. I thought that was dope. They don’t really do much of that anymore out here.
Do you think that’s why Kpop has become such a huge phenomenon all over the world? Is that there’s not really that group dynamic anymore?
That’s exactly why. It’s gonna come down to the point where we’re behind and now we’ve gotta catch up here in America.
You worked together with SM producer Deez for this track – what was the process like? Did you come out to Seoul or did you guys work online?
It was more online. I actually got a chance to meet everybody when they all came out here. I haven’t been out there yet, but we’re making that change as soon as possible. I think I’m trying to come out there like at the end of this month. I’m trying to come out there ASAP and meet everybody and actually get the vibe going on in person. Everything’s just been online from that point we actually met the first time in person. When we met it was more of a meeting, it wasn’t a studio session. I had to sit in the conference room. I got to sit at the end though. I felt a little special.
Have you had the opportunity to meet any of the Kpop artists you’ve produced for? What were your impressions of the artists?
We’ve definitely crossed paths before, but I gotta come out there and see what it is out there, because it’s much different from what it is out here.
NCT members Mark and Taeyong wrote their rap parts for “Cherry Bomb” if I’m not mistaken…
Yeah that shit hard!
What was your general impression — you’ve worked with Dre, Eminem, Kendrick — what did you think of the NCT members and their skills?
I was very impressed, that shit was really, really dope. And their cadences went hard. It’s dope how, from my understanding, it’s a couple of different languages that they’re putting into one verse. That shit’s crazy to me.
It’s cool to hear that even though they have these verses, these bars in Korean, that you can still recognize their talent without even knowing what they’re saying.
Oh yeah for sure. At the end of the day, it’s still wordplay. That shit was really impressive man, they sounded really dope.
Did you have a sense of just how big Kpop is before your first Kpop track dropped?
I definitely knew about it. In terms of how big it is, I didn’t really get a chance to see how big it is. I’ve gotta experience that in person, you know what I mean? But, when they showed me the profiles, the shows, the videos, I got more of a feeling as to how big it is. I was like this shit is crazy.
NCT’s new single “Cherry Bomb” just dropped, what can you tell us about it?
Yeah so I did that track in a session with Jen Decilveo — she is a very talented writer and producer as well — and when we get in, we just lose our minds and just spazz out and see what comes out. You know, just wild the fuck out in the studio. I think when we do stuff like that, that’s when it ends up standing out — that type of vibe just ends up creating the kind of music that stands out. We knew that someone was gonna grab it up, we just didn’t know who. So when we threw it over [to SM] and they said they loved it, I wasn’t surprised.
Have you seen the music video yet?
The video was hard. That shit was dope. The video was really really dope. It was colorful, super high energetic. I don’t think I blinked. You can’t blink. You’ll miss something for sure.
Was it different from what you had in mind, or did you feel like they captured it?
I was like, oh yeah, they got that. They matched with that shit, they knew what it was. As soon as they were done with the song, they were like “yo we’re about to kill this visual,” I already knew they were gonna do that.
Were there any big changes made to the original demo to adapt it to the Korean market?
Oh yeah for sure. And we went back and forth, so I created a couple of pieces, and I didn’t know where they were actually gonna put it, but yeah we created a couple of pieces, and then Deez was actually the other producer that produced the bridge, and the more colorful side of it where the keys came in and everything. So he produced that side of it. We were all going back and forth and just making sure that it was right prior to them actually recording on the record and whatnot.
Is the meaning of the Korean song the same as the original American song? Or were the lyrics all in Korean from the beginning?
They just had it in Korean from the beginning. The “I’m the biggest hit on the stage” part is similar to what the demo was, but the demo was crazy like we was spazzin’ out super super nasty. Like every word was a curse word, those are the type of songs that I love.
Can you tell us what the original lyrics for “I’m the biggest hit” were?
The original was “I’m the biggest shit in this bitch.”
Was there anything unique about working in the Kpop industry that surprised you? Anything you weren’t expecting? Or oppositely, expectations that weren’t met?
Nah man it’s crazy, they cross all t’s and dot all i’s. Actually, I think that they make sure that their songs are way more full, it’s complete from top to bottom. They go above and beyond in terms of the process of creating the song, more so than we do here now. I think that the level of entertainment is taken more seriously, especially when it comes to the pop groups that are putting together this whole movement. It’s just way more of a big production and effort to it, as opposed to what we’re doing here, especially in the pop world. So yeah, they’re not missing anything.
NCT stands for Neo Culture Technology – the idea of this group is that the group members are never set. Who’s in the group changes based upon location and concept. What do you think of this concept in which one pop group has potentially infinite members? Do you think something like this could work in the US?
As of right now, I’m gonna say that that’s definitely Kpop concept. It’s gonna take us a while to get to know that formula and master that. We’re slow over here (laughs). Nah but, I feel like if they did it it’d be dope, and I also feel like a lot of things that are happening in Kpop that gets the customer involved and excited about projects like this, we’re actually starting to get into stuff like that back here in America as well. I feel like we’re definitely on the right track. I’m excited to get out there and actually see it for myself.
Are there any other Kpop groups or artists that you would want to produce for?
Not just yet, but when I get out there I will. As of right now, we got NCT 127, we got Red Velvet, and we got EXO.
Not a bad trifecta to have.
Not bad at all (laughs).
Do you have any other Kpop tracks coming up that we can look forward to?
Not just yet. I think we’re in the middle of submitting some new stuff to them right now, and I’ll be coming out there, so once I get out there, I’ll be able to answer that question 10 times fold.
What is some of your other material that fans should check out?
I’m actually working on a project that I’m very proud of. I’m working on a project that features a bunch of artists that we all know and love, I’m not gonna say who that is, but you’ll find out when we get closer to that date.
I also have an artist that I’m working with by the name of K.A.A.N, and I signed him. I’m having fun creating new material with him, we’re actually working on an album right now that’s actually coming out next month.