U.S. A&R Exec signs African-American K-Pop artist and reveals ‘true’ side of JYJ
Exclusive: U.S. Artist and Repertoire Executive/Producer ‘Niddy’ talks about signing the first African-American K-Pop artist and opens up about working with JYJ.
When you talk to K-Pop fans in the U.S., their biggest complaint is usually centered around the lack of attention the genre gets in the mainstream music scene and how the aforementioned oversight has become a detrimental obstacle to the path of wide-scale K-Pop tours in the U.S. While K-Pop is slowly starting to gain a foothold in the country’s market, many labels and producers still have not had the chance to fall in love with the genre.
I had never seen an ethnicity that could perform soulfully and physically on the level of any other mainstream pop artist here in America and have the audience that K-Pop has.
As we delved deeper into this unfortunate issue, we came across an individual who has not only worked with K-Pop artists in the past, but who also shares an overwhelming passion with K-Pop fans. With his love for the genre driving him, he has set his sights on correcting misconceptions about K-Pop, and is endeavoring to bring K-Pop to the U.S. mainstream music market in a big way.
Tyrone “Niddy” Buckner, head of Billboard Entertainment Group LLC and freelance Co-Producer/A&R for C-JES Entertainment, started out in the business at a young age, as an aspiring artist/rapper in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from high school, Niddy studied music and film at Full Sail University and earned a degree in both film-making and the recording arts.
Niddy began his career as a A&R talent scout for Transcontinental Records/Fashion Rock, working with groups like the N’SYNC and the Backstreet Boys. He has worked with huge names such as Pitbull and Nelly/St. Lunatics on music-based film projects and has now gained the attention of the K-Pop fans worldwide with his work with CJeS Entertainment’s own Xia/Kim Junsu, from JYJ.
Recently, hellokpop sat down with Niddyvia satellite, from the Qubeey headquarters in Los Angeles, to discuss how he got into K-Pop, what the genre means to him, what it was like working with Kim Junsu, and his plans and aspirations for the future of K-Pop in not only the U.S., but also around the world.
How were you introduced to K-Pop?
Niddy: “I was working with an artist by the name of Francis Kim. He is a really good friend of mine. When I saw him perform, he was just this amazing K-Pop artist. When I heard his voice, I was like, ‘Man, this kid is just amazing.’ So, he’s the one that kind of introduced me to K-Pop. Then, as I started learning about the genre, I was even more amazed. I was so surprised when I started to look at the American pop charts and realized that not one K-Pop artist was on there.”
What was it about K-Pop specifically that made you fall in love with the genre?
Niddy: “The performances of K-Pop artists themselves. I had never seen an ethnicity that could perform soulfully and physically on the level of any other mainstream pop artist here in America and have the audience that K-Pop has. It was this that specifically peaked my interest. I looked at it and I realized that the Asian community in the U.S. really didn’t have their own niche in popular music here, and I wondered why. Music transcends race, gender, ethnicity and everything. So, I felt like K-Pop truly deserved a place in the mainstream market, because it’s dope.”
How did you end up working with CJeS Entertainment as a freelance co-producer and A&R Exec?
Niddy: “While working with Francis Kim, I was asked by Dr. Dre to bring in some songwriters for a new record. So, I brought in Francis. We spent nine hours in the studio with Dr. Dre. After that, he introduced me to CJES.”
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I got to see just how powerful and amazing JYJ truly are. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live.
With the collaboration between Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer and Kim Junsu for his solo English album, Uncommitted, you were heavily involved with its creation. Can you tell us a little about how that project came about?
Niddy: “At the time, as A&R for CJeS, I had about seventy-five track submissions from different producers and songwriters. I was introduced to Automatic through a friend, and he sent me a couple of tracks, one of those being Uncommitted. When I heard it, I was like “Aw man, this is a banger. This is right up their alley.” The funny thing is that track actually was originally submitted for JYJ [as a whole]. It just so happened that CJeS Executive Ray Yeom loved it and wanted to do it for Junsu. It almost happened accidentally.
CJeS hadn’t even announced that they were going to do a solo album for Junsu at the time. So, I thought they were going to use it for the boys. But it ended up being for Junsu’s solo project instead, which was a really good thing for myself, Automatic and the company, because it became a very successful English record. I’m so very proud of that record.”
Can you tell us a little about what it was like working with both Automatic and Kim Junsu in the studio?
Niddy: “The actual experience in the studio was amazing, because it was the first time I got to really hang out with Junsu. It was really exciting, because he has this really cool vibe. He’s got great energy and he smiles a lot. The funny thing about Junsu is his smile. You know when he’s in a good mood, in a good place, and when he’s around good energy, because he always smiles. He was totally a really great and fun person to work with. He worked hard and diligently. He wanted to make sure that record was really good. It was amazing.”
Recently JYJ held their “The Return of JYJ: Tokyo Dome” concerts in Japan. Afterwards, Uncommitted hit number one on Japan’s Amazon K-Pop charts. How did you feel when you found out the news?
Niddy: “I was actually at my son’s track meet when I got the call from Automatic. He was like “Yo Niddy! We’re there son! We made it baby!”, and I was like, “What happened?” He told me that Uncommitted hit number one on Japan’s Amazon K-Pop charts, and I was amazed. I was so excited about it, because it was a great accomplishment, considering what JYJ has been through over the last few years. To see the fight starting to show a winning phase felt really good.”
How did you feel when you found out that Junsu performed the track in front of 210,000 Japanese fans?
Niddy: “The first time I ever saw JYJ perform, I was in Peru. I had the privilege to be sent to Peru by CJeS to see them perform in front of about eighteen thousand fans. When I got there, I got to see just how powerful and amazing JYJ truly is. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. There were thousands of fans with glow sticks in the air. It was dark, and they’re screaming and chanting JYJ’s name. My heart was just pounding, because I knew that one day they would be singing a track that I was a part of, that I did.
When I saw the fan-cams of Junsu performing Uncommitted in front of the fans at the Tokyo Dome, it was overwhelming, because it brought me back to that feeling I felt in Peru. It was amazing to see all the effort that we had put into this track was paying off and that the fans were loving it. I was ecstatic.”
At that moment, Mr. Automatic popped into the studio to say hello to Niddy and to check out what he was up to. You could tell that the two were truly great friends by their interaction with one another. We asked Automatic if there was anything he would like to say to our readers about Niddy, and he gladly responded with the following statement:
Automatic: “I’m happy for my boy Niddy and for being a part of this team. InRage Entertainment loves CJeS and JYJ. This whole experience has been phenomenal, and it all got started with my man Niddy. It’s just an incredible camp, and I’m proud to be a part of it! He’s about to do some big things. So, watch out for it.”
We then steered the interview to the subject of K-Pop fans and discussed how Niddy feels about being a K-Pop fan himself, how he views the other fans of the genre, and how the fans have treated him since the release of Uncommitted.
While K-Pop music itself can boast a wide range of accolades, it’s the genre’s dedicated and loving fans that have become the heart of K-Pop. What is it about this genre’s fans that you like the most?
Niddy: “As professionals, we always try to find a way to get back to the essence of the real fan. When I ran into the K-Pop fans, I saw a rebirth of that essence. I saw the real fan–the fans that cry, that fight for their artists and believe that their artists can do no wrong. They love their artists unconditionally. They love their music and they are willing to fight for their cause and what the music stands for. So, that deserves a place in our music industry.
That’s why I love K-Pop fans. They’ve embraced me. They tell me about their dreams, hopes, stories, aspirations, what they love about K-Pop, what they want to see happen in K-Pop, what they’re willing to do to make it happen. They are active themselves. I haven’t seen a community of fans like that in a very long time. I think that if the ‘big’ people in America could really get an eye on K-Pop fans and really see them, then they would truly see the power of this music and how it really deserves a place here. These fans deserve a place here.”
K-Pop fans always love to share their favorite artists with their friends. As a fan yourself, who are some of the K-Pop artists you enjoy and why?
Niddy: “I’ll have to go with my boys JYJ first, because I’ve worked with them and they are just extremely talented. Aside from them, there’s another group that I really think is dope: Big Bang. I really love Big Bang. They’ve got a track called Bad Boy that I like, and the music video is dope. I also like BoA, Girls Generation, 2NE1, Tablo, Wonder Girls, 2PM, Aziatix, and definitely Jay Park. I want to do something with Jay Park, because he’s amazing. I want to do a couple things with that dude.”
Have you ever wondered if your favorite artist really reads fan letters or appreciates fan gifts? We had been discussing K-Pop fans for a lengthy amount of time, when Niddy was reminded of a very interesting incident that happened while he was on tour with JYJ in Peru. He decided to share it with us. Listening to his story epitomizes the very essence of why JYJ is so loved the world over.
Niddy: “When I was in Peru, I had the opportunity to witness the gift-giving portion of the fans’ love. The fans, once again, because they are so incredible, take time out to create all kinds of fan gifts–from bag and posters to even buying merchandise–for the group. It was the last day of the tour in Peru, and we all went out to take a tour of the city. When we were leaving the hotel, there were fans everywhere, putting gifts for the group in our hands–asking us to give them to JYJ, and even throwing them through the window of the bus. After the boys stopped to pick up some new Samsung tablet phones and pairs of Beats By Dre,we got back on the bus to finish the tour.
When an artist gets that big, you know fans always wonder if they really keep that personal connection with their fans.
I was sitting on the bus and Junsu was sitting right in front of me. I asked him to check out a record I was listening to. So, I handed him my phone. While he was checking out the record, he reached over into the seat next to him and starting going through the fans’ gifts and reading the letters. I thought that was kind of cool. because I knew he was still a real person, that he was still down to earth, and that he truly cared about his fans. I just thought that was so cool. That was one of the greatest experiences of my time with them, before I got to know them better, and I wanted to let the fan fans know. The JYJ members are all like that. The really do love their fans.”
After Niddy finished his heartwarming story about Junsu, he introduced us to one of his closest friends and fellow K-Pop fan, super producer Jukebox.
Jukebox has become a highly successful producer in the music business with his work with renowned artist and actor Will Smith. He’s most well known for producing mega hits like Swizz Beatz Everyday Birthday, featuring Chris Brown, Ludacris and Jukebox, and the pop sensation Whip My Hair, by Willow Smith. We asked Jukebox what he thought about what Niddy was doing for the K-Pop market and he had this to say:
Jukebox: “(laughs) He’s the “Diddy” of K-Pop. I think what Niddy is trying to do is huge for music in general. He has a really innovative mind, and he’s really looking to bring that genuine love back to music. I think that’s one crucial thing that needs to happen, especially in today’s American music.”
As our interview began to wind down, we wanted to get a little more insight into what his company does, what their goals for the future are, and what they plan to accomplish for the K-Pop music market. He also gave us an exclusive on a very exciting, never-before-released announcement about a new artist that Billboard Entertainment Group LLC recently signed.
Could you explain a little about what Billboard Entertainment Group LLC is all about? What is your company’s mission statement?
Niddy: “We’re an across-the-board service company. We provide entertainment and music services such as marketing, A&R, management, and major distribution for artist and labels–especially for those international companies out there who are looking to tap into the U.S. market and global distribution. Our mission is our client’s mission.”
Would Billboard Entertainment Group LLC be interested in signing K-Pop or J-Pop groups in the near future? If so, is there any particular style of artist you are looking for?
Niddy: “Absolutely. We’re definitely going to be looking to sign some K-Pop artists and J-Pop artists. We’re looking for the same style as we would for American pop music. If I found an artist that’s an R&B K-Pop artist, and he or she is really great, then I’m going to want to work with them. If it’s a Soul artist, a Neo-Soul artist, a Pop artist, a Hip-Hop artist, a Rap artist, or even if there’s a Country K-Pop artist, I want to work with them all. I’m open to it all.”
What is Billboard Entertainment Group LLC’s vision for the future of K-Pop, and what do you want to do for the genre?
Niddy: “The vision of my company, within K-Pop, is to become another support system, another leg for K-Pop stand on, from the business side and the creative side as well. What we want to bring to K-Pop is to help companies and artists that are trying to work with producers and songwriters in the U.S. (or wanting to work on features with American artists), help artists from the U.S. who want to work with K-Pop artists, and kind of facilitate that convergence on both sides. I want to be able to offer the same services that we offered to CJeS (and more) to anyone that wants that opportunity. That’s the part that Billboard Entertainment Group LLC wants to play.”
How does it feel to be considered one of the most successful African American companies in K-Pop?
Niddy: “That’s very flattering statement. I’m proud that I’m an African American in K-Pop. It make me very proud to be recognized, both my company and myself, as a leader from the African American side in K-Pop. My company and I still have a lot to prove to K-Pop and the K-Pop fans. I don’t want to jump. I want to take my time. I want the fans to let me take my time. I want the K-Pop industry to allow me to take my time to prove myself, so that when those accolades come, they will really be deserved. That’s whats important to me.”
You recently posted on your social media, that you had a big announcement coming up with regard to signing a new artist. Could you tell us about her?
Niddy: “This is probably the most exciting announcement, and I’ve been holding it in for so long. Actually, we weren’t even supposed to be announcing this right now, but some really great things have come up. So, we’ve taken the position and made the decision to release this news to hellokpop first!
My company, Billboard Entertainment Group LLC, has signed the first female African American K-Pop artist in the world, commonly known as the Queen of K-Pop Covers. She is Pumashock (aka Natalie White). Pumashock is amazing on every level. She has covered some of the hottest songs in K-Pop. She has millions and millions of views online. She’s the only African American female K-Pop cover artist to appear on the Korean television show Star King and others. I think she going to make a huge impact on K-Pop. So, I’m very happy and proud to announce that we have signed Pumashock. I am looking forward to some great things that you guys are going to get to see in the next couple of days. She’s getting ready to release a huge feature with DTMG, which is another great K-Pop cover group. You’re about to see her star power.”
Before we let you go, is there anyone you’d like to thank? Do you have any special message that you want to leave for the fans?
Niddy: “I’d like to thank C-JES Entertainment Inc., music executive Jerrold Thompson and Qubeey.com. Also, a special thanks to hellokpop’s Adrian Cheng, for the opportunity to talk about K-Pop with the fans. Thank you to the fans for taking the time to read this interview, and for tapping into all the links that are in this interview, and I want you guys to continue to support me, because I will continue to support K-Pop.”
We would like to graciously thank Niddy for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down with us and for giving us some insight on what he is doing in and for the K-Pop world. It was an absolute pleasure, and we are looking forward to a very bright future for K-Pop in the U.S. with him and this genre and its fans.
[UPDATE] Check out our exclusive coverage of Pumashock’s feature with DTMG right here.