When GOT7 made the decision to part ways from their longtime company JYP Entertainment earlier this year, it seemed like the members were eager to dive headfirst into their solo careers. Jackson Wang and Mark Tuan quickly went on to release new singles, while Jinyoung landed a role in the upcoming tvN blockbuster Devil Judge. But while his bandmates snapped up contracts with big name agencies like BH Entertainment and AOMG and pursued various solo projects, the group’s leader JAY B took his time to survey his options.
But last month, after weeks of speculations and rumours, JAY B – whose real name is Lim Jae-beom – announced that he had officially signed to H1GHER MUSIC, the R&B and hip-hop record label headed by Korean-American rapper Jay Park, who also founded AOMG, and producer Cha Cha Malone. It was a fitting partnership without a doubt; with his b-boy background, JAY B has always been an artist firmly rooted in and influenced by hip-hop first before anything else. It’s most often seen through the music he composes under the moniker Def., which has production credits on several GOT7 songs, including the two subunits he’s part of: JJ Project and JUS2.
JAY B’s sophisticated brand of contemporary R&B and hip-hop is front and centre on ‘Switch It Up’, his first single on H1GHER MUSIC. The song, with its rattling trap beat, is a refreshing break away from the usual high-octane GOT7 offerings, and a more refined and polished version of his earlier SoundCloud clippings. The production on ‘Switch It Up’, mostly helmed by label boss Cha Cha, might be crispier and cleaner, but it still has the daydreamy touches that often appear on a Def Soul track. It’s a thrilling sneak peek of what’s yet to come from the K-pop star.
As he gears up to release his new solo album, JAY B chats with NME about how he’s hoping to keep the GOT7 fire alive, what he’s learned from his idol days and a possible future venture: dipping his toes into alternative rock.
Congratulations on the release of your first solo single, ‘Switch It Up’! Can you tell us what the journey was like to find your voice as a songwriter/producer?
JAY B: “Thank you so much! As anyone would say, it required a lot of research and learning. When making music, I can’t stop doubting myself until I’m fully satisfied with the final product. One of the most important facets of a good producer is consistent effort.”
What has been the biggest challenge so far for you about making music independently?
“My biggest challenge is adjusting to my solo career as JAY B. I see this as my biggest challenge because I know how much work is required in this project.”
Going solo also means an opportunity to break away from the GOT7 or JYPE-approved sound. You’re obviously very fond of hip-hop and R&B, but what other genres are you hoping to experiment with and why?
“I’ve explored various genres but I’m most interested in alternative rock. I want to show people how I can incorporate alternative rock into my own style and how it would translate in my music.”
You’ve released music under various monikers – there’s Def., JJ project, JUS2 – tell us how different JAY B is compared to the rest of your other projects?
“JAY B is a bit more refined than my previous projects in the aspect of visuals or music. Since I had more [freedom] to work with less restrictions and confinements, Def. is a more personal representation of who I am as an artist than JAY B.”
How do you want to make those personas separate from each other? Or will there always be a connection between the different personalities?
“There will always be a connection between all my personas because it is always Im Jae-beom at the very core. All the other personas consist a part of who I am and JAY B is a combination of all the parts to make a whole.”
Aside from sharing the same name, you and Jay Park also have some similarities career-wise, in a sense that he also started his career in K-pop and with JYPE. What was one memorable advice he gave you when you signed to H1GHER MUSIC?
“The most memorable advice was surprising to me because I learned that we shared the same thought: that the most essential thing is to continuously work and develop as an artist.
“Another memorable advice I received from Jay Park was to not look back at my career with GOT7. It’s important to stay humble as JAY B because having the same expectations as I had before may result in disappointment.”
What was it like working with Jay Park and Cha Cha Malone on ‘Switch It Up’?
“I felt more free working with them than I have felt in my previous projects. I was tense during the first session but the freedom I had in working with them helped alleviate the pressure. It was very comfortable working with them.”
Will ‘Switch It Up’ be part of a much longer project that’s in the works?
“Of course. There is already an album in the works and ‘Switch It Up’ is just the start. I’m ready and eager to work on many more projects to come.”
What experiences from your K-pop journey are you hoping to bring along in this new chapter of your career?
“‘Work hard, expect less and stay true to yourself and there is no need to regret.’ I’ve had an experience where the result of my hard work didn’t meet my expectations. So I learned that higher expectations can lead to bigger disappointments.”
How do you look back at your time with GOT7? What were some of the biggest lessons you learned from being in the group?
“I learned the importance of being part of a team from my time with GOT7. I find myself randomly reminiscing about the fun [times] I had working with the other six members. What I learned as the leader is that there needs to be a balance of responsibilities in a group, and that everyone needs to compromise their individual habits in order for the team to thrive. I’m excited to see what will happen next.”
Moving from under management to being an independent artist must’ve been terrifying. What was one challenge that you had not expected to face and how did you overcome it?
“I’m still quite terrified, to be honest. I try to stay optimistic by exercising to get my mind off any negative thoughts I have. I knew [about] the challenges that come with this transition so I’m very proud that I’m able to overcome these hardships I faced so far. But I have yet to face any unexpected challenges.”
You’ve said previously that you’d like GOT7 to release at least one album a year. As the group’s leader, how do you plan on keeping the group together to ensure these releases come to fruition?
“As the leader, I try to be practical when I give directions to the group. I am being active and initiative in my role as a leader. Honestly speaking, I can’t guarantee if it will happen or not, but I am trying my best.”
Now that you’ve officially launched your new solo career, what do you think you could bring to both the K-pop and Korean hip-hop scene?
“I personally think that there is a blurry line between K-pop and Korean hip-hop. So rather than trying to make a direct impact, I hope to set a precedent that may motivate others in the pop and hip-hop scene.”
Lastly, what can fans expect from JAY B soon?
“You can most definitely expect an album. I’m working hard on that, as well as developing my personal YouTube channel. I’m also focused on interacting with my fans online because of the current situation the world is in.”
JAY B’s new single ‘Switch It Up’ is out now via H1GHER MUSIC.