One of the benefits that NCT 127 brings to the musical juggernaut SM Entertainment (SME) is that the group provides the company with a vehicle for contemporary trends and an extension into genres that they haven’t been able to tap into previously, primarily hip-hop. While a group like EXO (as well as the majority of SME’s active groups) has dabbled with hip-hop influences in the past, it hasn’t been until NCT that SME has really dipped beyond their toes into the current hip-hop pool.
This brings us to NCT 127’s most recent release — their third mini-album (EP) and lead single “Cherry Bomb.” If there’s anything to take away from this song aside that it’s a rather unique marriage of hip-hop and SME’s production style, it’s that SM Entertainment has finally nailed the talent they’ve needed to cross-pollinate those exact elements successfully. That talent is rapper Mark, with group center Taeyong closely at his side.
Mark dominates “Cherry Bomb.” It’s his clear and crisp delivery that tethers the song to something concretely hip-hop. The production on its own isn’t jarring — this very ambient and hollow style is popular at the moment; it is at its core very much a hip-hop beat. Today, the metric by which rappers are largely judged on is the effectiveness in which they ride that beat and if for just a moment you trim away the excess vocals and focus squarely on Mark and Taeyong, this is a pretty damn good song.
Unfortunately, the song in the abstract is weak. What betrays it are the extraneous details incorporated to utilize the rest of NCT 127 not named Mark or Taeyong. Taeil and DoYoung, the two strongest singers in the group, are thrown bizarre vocal moments that don’t necessarily interrupt the song’s flow so much as pull it completely out of character. In K-pop, producers are notorious for throwing damn near everything but the kitchen sink at a pop song, but in this case, it’s the song’s transitions (or lack thereof) that fail to hold it together, in effect giving very little substance for the entire group to work with.
For a far more successful outing in the realm of hip-hop, give “Whiplash” a listen. It’s clichéd in how obvious it’s trying to emulate a trap song, but, as mentioned earlier, the talent on this track is what sells it. Taeil is born to sing R&B and this song slips just enough room for him to work his magic, while Mark and Taeyong freely lay down bars of hilariously explicit content. Jaehyun is also in this song, but he performs better elsewhere on the album.
The groovy “Summer 127” and “0 Mile” for example offer so much more surface area for NCT 127’s sub-vocalists to deliver, not just their vocal prowess but moments of group harmony as well. These two songs are by far the strongest on Cherry Bomb and some of the group’s best music to date. On top of how well thought out they are, stylistically, they are just so damn well produced, too. The mix and mastering on both are clean as a whistle. “0 Mile” in particular has one of the slickest basslines I’ve heard in K-pop all year and the vocal layering is strategically manipulative to make even the weakest of the bunch (like Yuta and WinWin) sound like they’re performing with full conviction.
Until now, SME’s modern day singles have only truly been infused with hip-hop elements for more or less decorative purposes, but it’s this month’s release of “Cherry Bomb” (along with last year’s “The 7th Sense” by NCT U) that openly show that SME is flipping that idea in reverse order on purpose. Hip-hop is on the rise in Korea and SME wants in. Thankfully, they seem to be slowly striking the right balance with NCT 127. SME has the hip-hop group of their dreams to rival those from other companies that are cut from the same cloth (JYP, Starship, YG), and it’s about time, too. All that they really need is to find a way to make better use of the massive number of members in NCT 127 without sacrificing the end goal, which is the group’s next challenge moving forward.
Genre: Dance, Ballad, Rap/Hip-Hop | Release Date: 6/14/17