In the United States, the entire month of February is observed as Black History Month. Stating in 1926 as “Negro History Week”, Black History Month evolved into an entire month celebration and achievements of African Americans in the U.S in 1976. This Black History Month, I wanted to shine a light on some Black creatives in the Korean music industry that you may or may not be aware have contributed greatly to some of your favorite songs. Everything from song writers, producers, musicians, and dancers/choreographers have been involved in Korean Music for more than a decade.
If you would like to know more about Black History Month click on the link below: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-month
This 2018 Rollingstone article https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/how-american-rb-songwriters-found-a-new-home-in-k-pop-627643/, talks about “..K-pop’s attraction to R&B, a style developed by black Americans..” and the sometimes cultural difficulties that come with that attraction. The article also talks about the song writing camps in South Korea that seek out talent from the U.S. , especially among Black songwriters and producers that have experience in American R&B. August Rigo, who has written for Musiq Soulchild, Kehlani is quoted as saying in regards to his experience at a 2013 writing camp; “They had a whiteboard there with pictures of all the U.S. producers they were bringing in,” Rigo recalls. “When I got there, I think there were about 10 pictures, and they were all like Harvey, Teddy, R&B O.G.s.”. R&B-New Jack Swing singer, songwriter and producer Teddy Riley and song writer and producer Harvey Mason Jr. were the first to come on the scene in South Korea in the late 2000’s. Since then the amount of Black creatives working in the Korean music industry has grown. Below is just a snippet of those that have made a way and a name for themselves.
Deryk Mitchell professionally known as Sleep Deez is a music producer, based out of the United States, that has been working in the industry since 2005. He has worked with and on productions for Western artist such as The Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry and the great Michael Jackson. In 2016 he was introduced the to Korean music industry. His first production was for groups SF9 and CNBlue. Recently he has gained notoriety for his work in co-producing My Time for BTS Map of the Soul: 7 album. My Time is a R&B Pop track sung by Jungkook and is reminiscent of classic R&B pop you would hear in the Western music industry. Since My Time was released in 2020, Sleep Deez has developed a following among A.R.M.Y, BTS fandom. He stays engaged with A.R.M.Y. through not only chats on Twitter, but also hosting Q&A’s, and giving professional advise for those that are working towards careers in the music industry. If you would like to learn more about Sleep Deez please click on the link below. https://www.thespillmag.com/articles/heartbeats%3A-sleep-deez-on-blurring-the-lines-in-music%2C-finding-success-and-inspiration-in-lockdown%2C-and-shaking-up-the-industry
Geoffrey McCray professionally known as Geoffrodamus is a U.S. based rapper, song writer and music producer. He has written, produced and released five LP’s of his own music since 2017. In 2019 he crossed into the world of Korean pop music when he co-wrote the single Jopping for SM Entertainment’s mega group Super M. This was Geoffrodamus first foray into K Pop music , which was new to him and he learned from the experience. He says in his 2021 interview with Teen Vogue; ” After writing “Jopping,” I definitely studied a lot of K-pop music and did my homework because I knew nothing about it beforehand. So as I was writing my new music, I started thinking about what kinds of melodies and bridges I could incorporate from K-pop and how I could make them my own..”. Also in the Teen Vogue article he talks about connecting with other Black creatives in South Korea and the struggles he has faced being a Black male artist in the United States, but also having a new fan base because of his work on Jopping. To learn more about Geoffrodamus, read the Teen Vogue article below.
If you are a fan of music from SM Entertainment artist such as Shinee, f(x), EXO, and NCT then you have definitely heard Adrian McKinnon‘s work. Adrian is a songwriter and producer that started as an U.S, based artist signed to Warner Music Group (formerly known as Warner Bros Music) in 2007. In 2014, through his label, one of Adrian’s songs was shown to SM Entertainment to potentially use for one of their rookie groups at the time. That rookie group was EXO and the final song was their single A Winter’s Tale off of their Exology Chapter 1: The Lost Planet album. This was the start of Adrian McKinnon’s career as a K-Pop songwriter and producer. He went on to write and produce other tracks for EXO such as Lightsaber, Artificial Love and Tempo. He has also worked on Shinee’s albums 1 of 1, For Now On, NCT’s albums NCT 2018 Empathy, Neo City Seoul: The Origin and NCT 2020: Resonance.
Recently Adrian worked on the single Ride or Die for EXO’s Kai The 1st Mini Album, Monsta X 2021 album Fatal Love, and 2022 Enhypen album Dimension: Answer. Also, don’t be surprised if the background vocals you hear are courtesy of Adrian. You can hear his vocals on EXO’s Sing For You, NCT 127′s Superhuman and a number of singles on Super M’s 1st album in which he also co-wrote and co-produced. To learn more about Adrian please see his interview with Umu from React to the K on their YouTube channel; link below.
With an industry that is often male dominated, Rodnae Bell known professionally as Chikk is a powerful force within the Korean Pop industry. Based in the U.S., Chikk started her career writing for Western pop artist such as Iggy Azalea, Jordin Sparks and Jennifer Hudson. However her career in the Korean pop industry started with her co-writing Mr. Mr. for Girls Generation in 2013 and Overdose for EXO. Since then, she has written and co-written some of SM Entertainment‘s biggest hits such as EXO‘s Monster, Red Velvet’s Love Is The Way, NCT 127‘s Kick It and Shinee’s Don’t Call Me. https://www.wfsb.com/you-know-your-k-pop-stars-now-meet-the-american-producers-and-songwriters-behind-them/article_36191671-509f-5a25-8930-fdc1171719f1.html
Just like Adrian McKinnon, you have probably heard Chikk’s vocals in the background on Red Velvet’s The Red and The ReVe albums, plus Girls Generation Lion Heart album. Below is a video from her YouTube channel The Chikk Experience on her experience writing EXO’s Monster and in the background you can hear her vocals in the demo. https://youtu.be/9utCm1l0x7w
The Band Six
Personally, as a music lover, there is nothing more trilling than to hear your favorite songs played live with a live band. And, when it comes to musical bands in the Korean Pop industry no one does it better than The Band Six. Made up of members Gil Smith II (Music Director), Adrian ‘AP’ Porter (Pro Tools Programmer), Dante ‘Inferno’ Jackson (Keyboards), Bennie Rodgers II (Drummer), Justin ‘Guitarslayer’ Lyons (Guitar) and Omar ‘O-Dub’ Dominick (in 2017 adding members Brandon Finklea and Yung Wurley), were formed when YG Entertainment‘s Big Bang needed a tour band during their Alive Tour. Choreographer LaurieAnn Gibson, the creative director for the tour, reached out to AP to get a band together to go on tour. They became the touring band for YG Entertainment starting with Big Bang’s 2012 Alive Tour and then again on their 2015 Made World Tour. https://unitedkpop.com/2015/06/kpop-creators-exclusive-interview-with-the-band-six/
They have also played for YG Entertainment groups 2EN1 and most recently for Blackpink’s 2019 In Your Area World Tour and BP’s online concert The Show. However, the members of The Band Six have credits beyond working with some of South Korean’s biggest K-Pop groups. With 20 years in the industry Keyboardist Yung Wurly has worked with Whitney Houston, Usher and TLC. Also members Drummer Bennie Rodgers and Guitarist Justin Lyons are working on their on solo music and projects. https://blackpink.cafe/the-band-six/
“Meet” The Band Six through their 2018 interview with Entertainment journalist Elmo Lovano https://youtu.be/3tptqbV42WI and their 2021 interview with Entertainment journalist Andy Trieu https://youtu.be/3-iEeTnbxFo
More Than You Know
Unfortunately, I was only able to cover a small fraction of the Black creatives previously or currently working in the Korean Pop industry, However, behind some of K-Pops most exciting concerts, ear-worm worthy hit singles and eye catching visuals are Black singers, songwriters, producers, musicians and dancers. In the K-Pop world, Black K-pop fans can and have often felt misunderstood, misrepresented and at times disrespected. It is still a “genre” that is rooted in a culture that is still very homogeneous. It is with great pride that I highlight these creative forces, that at times, are not publicly know to the masses. It’s about time someone stands up and cheers not only for their favorite idols, but for those that make it all happen.
If you still want to read up and on more Black Creatives working in the Korean Music industry please click on the links throughout the article and in the link below.
Until next time….