I’ll be honest: when I say I listen to South Korean pop music (more familiarly known as ‘K-Pop’), I get a lot of weird, side-eyed stares. This is understandable and, heck, forgivable, since most Western exposure to the Korean music industry was administered by the global phenomenon that is “Gangnam Style,” but American reproach for the genre is painfully generalized and undeniably misinformed, a lot like Great Britain making assumptions about U.S. based solely on Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
K-Pop, as a genre, may have its fair share of flamboyant theatricality (see: Fantastic Baby, circa 2012,) but the methods behind the madness are absolutely incredible on all fronts. The industry, though unorthodox and often avant-garde, is overflowing with incomparable talent, musical grandeur, and lots of heart—it’s fun to watch, and even better to listen.
More notable in than new to the East Asian music scene is Kwon Hyuk, popularly known as Dean, a multi-platinum R&B artist who’s already made quite a mark in Asia and America alike.
I’ll be upfront with you: this guy is a legend in the making. Now 22, he started out in hip hop at a mere 16, working with trap artist Keith Ape (I don’t expect you to know who that is, but he’s recorded with artists like Waka Flocka Flame and A$AP Ferg), and he quickly went on to discover a talent for singing and producing. By 2013, he had written and produced best-selling hits for K-Pop boy bands like VIXX and EXO (you might not know who they are either, but they’re incredibly popular) and had received attention from hip hop legends like Dr Dre.
Dean formally kicked off his solo career (in English, no less!) in 2015, when he released his incredible debut single: the upbeat, Bieber-esque, Soundcloud-exclusive “Here & Now” with Motown singer Mila J.
A mere month later he dropped “I’m Not Sorry”—literally one of my favorite songs—with Grammy-winning Eric Bellinger (who co-wrote “Halo” by Beyoncé), showcasing his enchanting vocal capabilities and his even stronger prowess in music production.
For the remainder of 2015, he sporadically released even better singles like “What 2 Do,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” and “Pour Up,” featuring other prominent South Korean musicians like Crush (more R&B royalty) and Zico (a rap god), and even American rapper Anderson .Paak (who’s worked with artists like Domo Genesis and Kendrick Lamar) All the while, he continued writing and producing smash hits for other popular Korean groups like Block B, Winner, and Dynamic Duo.
This all led up to the January release of his first and—so far—only full-length studio album, 130 Mood: TRBL, which is absolutely incredible. Mind-blowing. Dare I say it? Masterful. I’ve listened to it more times than I can count and can find no flaw—the album is musically, lyrically, and visually perfect.
Even in 2016, despite releasing and promoting an album, Dean has continued to make an even greater name for himself all over the world. He co-founded a group called “Club Eskimo” with several other Korean hip hop and R&B artists, performed at South By Southwest in Austin with Zion.T and MAMAMOO, and is currently working on his next two albums (TRBL is a trilogy.) He’s propelled himself thus far on talent alone, with no end yet in sight.
So, in conclusion, though the majority of his work is in Korean, Dean has beyond proven that he’s ready for a debut in America, maybe—hopefully—sooner than you’d think. With his obvious talent, musical genius, and already lengthy connections to the American music industry, I will be more than surprised if he doesn’t release a Grammy winner in the next couple of years or so. Just remember to keep me in mind when you’re singing along to his latest hit single in a few months!