[INTERVIEW] R&B artist Zion.T breaks musical silence with 'Zip'
In a market dominated by K-pop artists armed with the catchiest melodies and fanciest choreography, a question still remains for all R&B and hip-hop artists — one that hit singer and producer Zion.T especially hard: What kind of music should such an artist pursue in Korea?
“My next album, ‘Zip,’ is a result of these concerns and musings,” Zion.T said during an interview with reporters in Mapo District, western Seoul, on Monday, ahead of the release of his first full-length album in six years.
“When I first started off as a singer, all I wanted to do was create music, because I enjoyed it immensely," he said. "After I discovered that people actually liked my music, the next step was to think about these questions — my role, the type of artist and the needs of the market.”
"Zip" is Zion.T's first new solo music in two years since his last single "A Gift!" (2021) and two months since he took part in a group project titled "World Stop Turning" by artists of U.S. hip-hop label 88Rising, who go by the name 1999 Write The Future, released on Oct. 13.
"Zip" is a 10-track album with three lead tracks: "Unlove" with Honne, "Stranger" (translated) and "V (Peace)" with sibling duo AKMU.
To say that people like his music is an understatement. Zion.T, who debuted in 2011 with his first single “Click Me” featuring rapper Dok2, has numerous hit songs under his belt, including “Yanghwa BRDG” (2014), “Zero Gravity” (2015), “Eat” (2015) and “Complex” (2017). He has collaborated with the likes of G-Dragon, Beenzino, Gaeko and Crush, and has made more hits with his appearances in the Mnet rap survival show “Show Me the Money” (2012-2023).
“I appeared on ‘Show Me the Money’ and was actually very busy between the five years and two months that I haven’t put out a full-length album,” Zion.T said. “I took that time to explore what kind of talent the music industry was looking for, to expose myself to different environments and to make up my mind to become the kind of artist that could survive in the long term.”
The kind of artist Zion.T envisions himself to be and the type that the industry and the public wants is someone who is “elegant” and who can do the things that he does best, the singer mused.
“By elegant, I mean elegant in terms of the attitude of an artist — being autonomous and open,” Zion.T said. “An elegant artist isn’t just well-kept outwardly and eloquent, I think. Elegance comes from the attitude of always looking for completeness and perfection in their work. I don’t think that I am a naturally elegant person, but I strive to be.”
During the interview Monday, Zion.T played short segments of all of his 10 tracks from “Zip,” including songs in which he collaborated with British pop band Honne, Korean sibling duo AKMU and jazz artist Yun Seok-chul. All of the new tracks feature the singer’s signature style of intentionally and slightly offbeat singing and slick grooves, with tracks “How To Use (Intro),” “Not For Sale” and “Unlove” being especially engaging. The 10 tracks were all produced very recently, the singer said.
“During the time I wasn’t putting out my own music, I really didn’t feel like I had much to say,” he said. “Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, I felt kind of down in the dumps and discouraged. The songs on ‘Zip’ are tracks that I made within a span of five to six months after I got over that slump.”
Zion.T says he prefers songs that speak about his daily life and tell a personal story, but he doesn’t only make music that is purely personal — the singer also contemplates on the commonality that his own experiences could offer to others.
“Many of my songs, like ‘Yanghwa BRDG’ where I talk about my father being a taxi driver and my childhood, are very personal, but I made them while keeping in mind the question of what the story in the song could offer to appeal to the wider audience,” Zion.T said. “It’s the same with songs of mine like ‘Complex.’ Everybody has some kind of inferiority complex, so you can see how I made the connection there. And I spend a lot of time coming up with the titles of my songs, because I think that the title is like a plate that holds in everything else.”
Looking back on his previous work, Zion.T jokingly said that his past self seems to have racked his brains to make his music appealing.
“I do think that I had a very distinct color to my music, and I think in the past I worked hard to give that color to my work,” the artist said. “I wouldn’t say that my music in ‘Zip’ this time has changed drastically from my previous albums, but I have also kind of relaxed a little.”
Zion.T’s goal with “Zip” is to make an impression on new listeners who may be hearing him for the first time, and to be “successful in a certain community or category,” according to the singer.
“I don’t think we have what we used to call national artists — musicians that everyone and anyone would listen to — anymore,” Zion.T said. “It would be a success just to be hailed in a certain group, a certain community or category. ‘Zip’ is essentially about the concerns and musings that come from my own daily life, and I hope that listeners will resonate with that.”
BY LIM JEONG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]