BTOB’s main rapper Jung Ilhoon has just released his first solo mini-album, and its title track “She’s Gone” truly might be the most unexpected thing I’ve heard all year. This guy just made a solo debut in the K-pop industry with a bluesy rock song. It’s not that Ilhoon, and BTOB for that matter, haven’t dabbled in this genre before—the group is best known for their ballads, and those ballads are sometimes tinged with country; besides, the group’s solos project saw Ilhoon touching on twangy jazz with “Fancy Shoes.” Still, this is a new level of out-there. Of course, if there’s one thing I know about Ilhoon, it’s that he’s not concerned with trends. Cube Entertainment, on the other hand, is, which just goes to show how much creative freedom the agency is recently allowing the members of BTOB, who are by far their oldest and most successful group at the moment. The eccentric sound of “She’s Gone” is a testament to BTOB’s relevance in Korea, because Cube knew that people would listen to Ilhoon’s debut regardless of trendiness.
That said, I can’t get past a certain…lukewarmth in regards to said eccentricity. The huge, stomping hook is a bit dazzling upon first listen. But after the stun factor fades, it’s hard to fall in step with the rhythm of the song. I want to jam out—this song should be completely jammable—but I can’t. I think that perhaps it’s a little too aggressive in its pursuit of a heavy rock sound, and that costs the beat a fair amount of catchiness. Ilhoon’s delivery is surely the song’s highlight, between the drawly melodic rapping in the verses and the attitude-filled vocals of the chorus. Still, I vastly prefer the album’s comparatively downtempo tracks. Both “Come Closer,” which features BTOB’s own lead vocalist Hyunsik, and “Always,” which features PENTAGON’s main vocal Jinho (Cube loves to make Cube artists feature other Cube artists, that much we know), are nice. “Always” especially is lovely, with an engaging chorus that progresses from Jinho’s wistful vocals to a sweetly nostalgic melody sung by Ilhoon. Out of all the songs on “Big Wave,” though, it’s the track for which the album is named that, for me, steals the show. This blending of acoustic ponderousness with hip-hop artistry is exactly what I was hoping for from Ilhoon’s debut. Maybe I’m a bit biased towards this genre in some ways (does this song remind anyone else a little of late-2000s Kanye or…?), but “Big Wave” is the song that carries the heaviest pathos on the album, and for me, it’s where Ilhoon himself is at his best. Wherever Ilhoon takes his solo career next, I’ll welcome it with open arms, but I’ll hold out hope for more of the “Big Wave” sound on his next project.
SHE’S GONE: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? I want to love this song so! bad! but, well, I’ll take “Always” and “Big Wave” over “She’s Gone” any day.
Take a look at Ilhoon’s “She’s Gone” MV below: