For BamBam – real name Kunpimook Bhuwakul – the past seven years was all about being part of the K-pop boyband GOT7. But now, with him and his fellow members choosing to strike out on their own following the end of their contracts with JYP Entertainment this past January, the 24-year-old Thai rapper-singer now has the leeway to unravel his true colours and personality as a solo artist.
‘riBBon’, his first release under new label Abyss Company, is his attempt to do just that. At one glance, it’s easy to tell that its title is uniquely stylised to make the double Bs stand out, as a reference to his stage name. However, when it comes to the actual six-track mini-album – the majority of which he co-wrote and helped compose– such an epiphany does not unfurl as quickly.
It kicks off with an intro track produced by Canadian producer Murda Beatz, who has worked with the likes of Travis Scott, Drake, Migos and Ariana Grande. Here, unintelligible, distorted vocals blend with a lo-fi rhythm (think the outro of Kanye West’s ‘Runaway’), which gradually eases in and out throughout the tune. The tangible beats come through mostly at its one- and two-minute marks, but by then it doesn’t do much to truly make it count. Intros, when done well, are meant to set the scene and create an initial connection with listeners. However, the airy, atmospheric tones of this one creates more distance instead, leaving more questions than a definitive answer.
BamBam makes his presence known next in the Auto-Tune drenched ‘Pandora’, in which the self-proclaimed ‘kidult’ with “twice the stamina than most teenagers” sings and raps about youthful rebellion. “The centre of attention is right here”, he puts forth boldly against building hip-hop beats, “I open this Pandora’s box when my curiosity explodes”. There’s a lot going on within the three-minute track: from its initial bass loop, to the pre-chorus resembling a more laid-back version of MONSTA X’s ‘Rush’, which then leads into an EDM refrain that prominently features scratching. While all this makes the tune a notably diverse one, it also reflects the identity crisis that exists in this mini-album.
The mood lightens up considerably with title track ‘riBBon’, which he affirms with the lyrics: “See a better version of my side / I’m like a feather now, I feel so light”. Compared to the first two tracks, this upbeat trap-infused pop number is a much more consistent listen all the way through, and would make a fun addition to any summer playlist. This cheery, positive vibe continues with ‘Look So Fine’, with its underlying message of self-assurance: “Today I won’t care about others, yeah, yeah / I will wear pretty clothes with confidence”.
The mini-album picks up further towards the end, and thankfully this helps redeem earlier missteps. BamBam’s soothing, mellow vocals on penultimate song ‘Air’ blends perfectly with its chill tropical house grooves, and is a stellar example of a musical direction that he could excel in. The fully English track is wistful and relatable all at once, particularly for anyone who’s currently separated from a loved one in a different country (“2021 and we still on freeze / Even private jets can’t get you to me”, he points out).
For him, and many other South Korea-based foreign artists alike, the extended physical separation that the pandemic has caused can take its mental and emotional toll: “Running out of time, got me running on E, ayy / I’m running outta air without you”. Nevertheless, he pledges to stay positive, crooning “I ain’t giving up girl / I rep the team still.”
‘Under The Sky’, a heartfelt ballad with an emotive guitar solo, rounds up the 18-minute mini-album as its longest track at 4 minutes and 15 seconds. On it, he reflects on his time as a part of GOT7, and how the septet know that “this is not the end”, though it also marks a new beginning for them all.
It is clear that he holds the memories with the boyband dear to him, and that much of who he is as an artist is due to those experiences (“The memories I have of those days / The times we cried and laughed / Shaped us into who we are today”). Though it may be a while yet before the guys reunite with new music, Ahgases (the name of GOT7’s fandom) would find solace in this comforting song.
In an interview with Allure Korea, per Soompi, BamBam spoke of how he now has to “show a completely new image… the real BamBam image” through his music. He may have been under some self-exerted pressure (as he admitted during the album’s online press conference) to find the “real” him all too soon, resulting in the mixed bag that is ‘riBBon’. That said, this project is just the start for the young artist; through his experimentation and some exploration, he will eventually be able to tie down a sound and style that he’s confident and comfortable in, which he can then proudly call his own.
- Release date: June 16
- Record label: Abyss Company