Inside the Music: NIDDY on Valentine, JYJ, and Kpop’s viability.
Tyrone “NIDDY” Buckner, Co-producer, A&R, and President of Billboard Entertainment Group LLC, first made K-pop headlines in 2012 with his crossover co-collaboration between the US producer Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer and JYJ‘s own Kim Junsu. The lyrically English track, Uncommitted, was the first official solo English song ever released by the artist and upon its release, it earned the number one spots on both Gaon weekly albums chart and Amazon Japan’s album charts, and peaked at number twenty on US iTunes. In July 2013 NIDDY, along with Automatic, co-collaborated with Junsu once again for the title track of the artist’s second solo album, Incredible. The summer party track hit album charts in a big way, charting well on Gaon, Amazon, and US iTunes, and snagged a coveted fifth place spot on the US Billboard charts.
With JYJ’s release of its third studio album, Just US, in August 2014, fans saw another side of JYJ’s ever evolving career and responded in kind by solidifying over 120,000 copies sold in pre-sales and helping sky rocket the album up to number one on the Gaon monthly album and Hanteo weekly charts, number three on Japan’s Oricon weekly album charts, and hitting number four on Billboard’s World Album charts.With the success of Just US fresh in our minds, we sat down with NIDDY once again to get more insight on the track Valentine, more on the enigmatic group that is K-pop’s JYJ, and his thoughts on K-pop’s true viability in the western market.
With your previous experience working with members of JYJ, how did you come to be a part of their latest album?
ND: “When CJeS first approached me it was to help JYJ break into the US market. So, that was the first initiation into everything. Initially, there was never supposed to be a solo project. I was brought in just to work with the entire group and through the success and hard work of me bringing so much music to the table, and the fact that JYJ was sort of split between acting and music at the time, it put me in a position to work on Junsu’s solo projects while they started to amp up for the group comeback. When we initially recorded Uncommitted, and we were working on Incredible, we also worked on other tracks that hadn’t been released. Valentine being one of them.”
The song, Valentine, became a hit with the fans rather quickly. How did you go about choosing the song and what made it, in your mind, a perfect fit for JYJ’s new album?
ND: “When we were originally choosing tracks for the entire group, I went through a ton of records and traveled all around the country trying to find songs that I felt were going to be able to destroy the US Charts. For me, it wasn’t just about making the records and making it hit big in the US, Asia, or even South America. It was really about finding the track that would allow us to break JYJ here in the US in a big way. I went around and worked with well known artists such as Timbaland, YMCMB, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell Williams, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Dr. Dre, Chris Brown, and so many huge producers that were just hit makers in search of the perfect songs for the group. I came back to the table with a lot of different options but it was Valentine (originally cut by Chris Brown) that really spoke to me. I knew, the second I heard the track, that this was the one; the one the boys could totally kill.”
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With the song originally being recorded and written by Chris Brown, did you believe that JYJ would be able to do the track justice? And if so, do you feel that they did indeed live up to your expectations?
ND: “Absolutely. The great thing about working with both JYJ and C-JeS, at that time, was that C-JeS made a really smart move, which was bring in someone that has their ear to the ground outside of what they think is happening or is trending, and I hope to see more K-pop labels do the same. What C-JeS did before we even got started working, was to give me an opportunity to get to know the group (and their stuff) on a personal level. How they formed. How they worked. And how their fans responded to their music. They gave me the opportunity to listen to their previous works, music they had created before and that gave me an understanding of where they wanted to go. So when we decided on Valentine being the record, I knew how to put all the people in place and execute the record so they would be able to achieve the sound and the feel of the track perfectly. This record is so special because its a collaboration between some of the biggest names in the business. When JYJ came in, they did a phenomenal job – even far better than my already high expectations. I knew that they were going to be great, that they were going to pull it off, and they did.”
It has been several years, and several albums ago, since JYJ (as a whole) have release an English track, what made you decide that they could not only sing a track in full English but also do it well?
ND: “The initial English collaboration with Kanye West was good, even though that particular record didn’t pan out as well as it should have. With it, I really got to see that these guys could really execute an English record well, if done right. So, we really took our time on the track, and JYJ really took the time to understand the lyrics, emotions, and delivery of the track. They were very patient when we were in the studio. They worked hard and made sure to do it right.”
What was your experience like working with the C-Jes executives and staff during the process of producing Valentine?
ND: “My experience while working with C-JeS staff was actually very pleasant, during the pre-production and production of Valentine. C-JeS staff are very energetic, fun, vibrant, professional people and they were phenomenal. To be the only African American among them, when business was taking place, was a lot to take in but the C-JeS staff and managers made me feel really comfortable and part of the family. Ray Yeom, Director of C-JeS America, did a really good job of bringing a team together and managing the relationships between the C-JeS USA and C-JeS Korea. It was a wonderful experience.
How where you able to bring so many award winning producers, songwriters, vocal producers and engineers to work with a K-pop group like JYJ?
ND: “I SOLD K-pop. Everybody on that particular record already knew about K-pop but it just wasn’t viable for them at the time. What I was able to do in the process was to show them what JYJ has done. I said “Look at who they are, what they’ve done in the past, and more importantly, look at their fan base.” With that information in hand, I was able to explain who JYJ is, who their fans really are, and explain the difference between their fans and the particular person’s fans. The K-pop fans’ drive, determination, and unwavering support, really struck a cord in them.”
What were some of the challenges you had in working with JYJ and their label on this project?
ND: “Some of the challenges, when working with the groups, were really getting the label to understand the process when working with major US artists and producers. You take a group who are superstars in Asia, and have earned a massive amount of respect overseas, and then bring them here to work with US artists who are superstars in their own right, sometimes there can be economical differences and misunderstandings of artistic arrangement. So, that was a very difficult part of the process, getting a meeting of the minds so-to-speak.”
What were your experiences like, meeting and spending time, with the three members of JYJ? Are there any unique differences between the members, that you had a chance to notice, that you would like to share?
ND: “The first time we had a chance to hang out and get know each other was when they were on tour in 2012. When we started to work together on all the previous projects, along with Valentine, it was more of an intimate setting. They were a lot more comfortable around me so I got to know each member individually.”
ND: “The first person that really opened up around me was definitely Yoochun. Producer J-TRX and I actually gave Yoochun a new nickname after getting to know him better. We dubbed him “hip-hop” because he’s just got this swag. Maybe it was because he spent a lengthy amount of time in the US in his younger years, or maybe because he felt more at home with us, I don’t know. But he was always comfortable around us and always cracking jokes.”
ND: “In the studio, one of greatest times I had with JYJ was when Junsu and Jaejoong were sitting on the couch (Yoochun was standing off to the side) and we were going over lyrics. I started singing the lyrics, really getting into it, and Junsu gets up and starts moving and singing along. Junsu just goes crazy and you see Jaejoong just sitting there all cool, calm and collected like it was completely normal.”
ND: “One of the funnest experiences I shared with Jaejoong was right before we headed out to Supper Club Hollywood. In the photo, from that night that’s been floating around (pictured above), you see Jaejoong sitting in the driver’s seat of a convertible Rolls Royce, me in the passenger seat, and Junsu and Francis Kim sitting in the back, but we were really just sitting there posing. The truth is that Jaejoong didn’t want to drive because he didn’t know where he was going at the time. Junsu’s just chilling in the back, laughing away because of something Jaejoong said in Korean. I didn’t know what he said but I sure got how adamant he was about not driving. So the management comes to me and says “Hey NIDDY, Why don’t you drive?”. I’m like “I really don’t want to do it.” because I didn’t want to be responsible for the car or be responsible for JYJ getting into an accident or something while they were in the US. And they respond with “But you’re family. You worked hard so you should get to enjoy the benefits too.” So I get in the driver’s seat and while I am driving, we’re all laughing at the fact that neither Jaejoong or I could figure out how to work the car’s high-tech stereo system. Jaejoong’s looking at it, I am looking at it, he’s fiddling with it, I’m fiddling with it, and we just had absolutely no clue how to get it to work. It was hilarious.”
After spending so much time with JYJ on a one-on-one personal basis, how would you best describe their uninhibited personalities? What are they like behind the scenes, away from the cameras?
ND: “The first thought that comes to mind is that they are TRUE brothers. When they are really comfortable around you, you really get to see how they are real brothers to one another. They play around and tease each other all the time while having not only a deep love for one another but also an even deeper respect.”
ND: “If I were to describe Yoochun’s personality, I would say that he’s the risk taker, the bad boy, who’s fun, versatile, and confident. Junsu, is just downright silly, chipper, and playful. Maybe it’s because he’s the youngest of the group, or maybe it’s because he is just that way by nature, I don’t know but he really gives off an air of being very extra-special. Jaejoong, however, is really unlike the other two. He is more the reserved, chill, contemplative, and driven big brother. You can just tell that he cares about his brothers and really wants to do what’s best for them, to look out for them like the big brother he is.”
Do you believe Valentine can be a top Billboard charting record in USA?
ND: “Absolutely. I do believe that Valentine can top the Billboard charts. If the fans want to see JYJ reach other territories in the global music industry and want to see JYJ become this huge mega group beyond Korea and Asia, then it’s up to the fans to take this track to the next level. Because, this is the record that can actually cross over into the global mainstream market and make radio worldwide. And KILL. All the fans have to do is show their power. This track can give the fans the voice they’ve always wanted, the voice to be able to bring Valentine, and tracks like it, to mainstream radio.”
What are your thoughts about K-pop collaborations with American award winning talent in the future?
ND: “I think it’s coming in a big way. It just comes back to the point of having someone understanding the value of it all and push the agenda. That’s what I want to do. I want to prove that K-pop collaborations are the next step in the music industry’s evolution. Collaborative tracks and co-performances on stage, between K-pop artists and US artists, are the future. If the fans challenge both industries to do more, you will see many MANY more collaborations like Valentine in the future, for sure.”
We know that you were the driving force behind the hit records Uncommitted and Incredible for JYJ’s own Kim Junsu. How does it feel to have now released a track with the entire group?
ND: “It feels absolutely amazing because its been so many years that C-JeS has been talking about this group coming back together. The fans were getting just completely impatient. Nobody even knew if these guys were going to have a comeback or not because their careers were just going in so many directions for the longest time. From acting and musicals, to solo projects, modelling, and sports, you just didn’t know if JYJ was ever going to come back. I never knew if this record would ever make an album because they were so busy with everything else. I was extremely excited and just overjoyed that the album finally came out. Its a complete blessing.”
Are there any other records you worked or are working on with JYJ?
ND: “We do have some phenomenal tracks that are still in the cans, waiting to be released, and I can’t wait till the world can experience them.”
Were you able to introduce JYJ to any other major American talent?
ND: “Yes. I introduced them to YMCMB, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Tank, Dr. Dre., P. Diddy, Duane Darock, Will.I.AM, Nelly, NO I.D, Bryan Michael Cox, JUKEBOX, Jimmy Ivine, Twista, and FLO RIDA.”
What’s next for NIDDY?
ND: “I’m in the process of rolling out additional projects with other K-pop artists, that I can’t divulge any detail about at this time. In the spring/summer of 2015 I will be launching a new urban/K-pop inspired female clothing line, called “HELLO NIDDY“, that I have been working on for two years with my lead designer Monica Zaharia that I met because of K-pop. More information about that particular project will be released early next year.”
Is anyone you would like to thank?
ND: “First of all, I would like to thank hellokpop for always being so supportive. I also want to thank C-JeS for giving me the opportunity to work with the fellas. I obviously want to thank JYJ. Its been an absolute pleasure working with them and I’m looking forward to many more opportunities with them in the years to come. I want to thank the entire team that worked on this project: Lonny Bereal, Charlie Bereal, Chris Brown, Charmelle Colfield, Beau Vallis, Jaycen Joshua, and DJ Mark Da Spot; Ray Yeom, Francis Kim, Jerrold Thompson, and most definitely the fans because they are the reason why I do what I do. So thank you fans for always being supportive of JYJ and for continually supporting what I’m doing.”
Last but not least, what do want the world to know about you and your affiliation with the success of K-pop in the USA?
ND: “I want the world to know that I’m passionate about the collaborative possibilities with K-pop and American artists, and its the future. I am one of those people out there, if the given the opportunity, I can make it happen for these major K-pop labels and bring more awareness to the US market. So we can really take this thing to the next level.”