Waterfalls are a beautiful sight to behold in the natural world, but few consider the process that results in its grandeur. According to National Geographic, it is “erosion, [or] the wearing away of earth, [that] plays an important part in [its] formation”, and that waterfalls themselves “also contribute to erosion”. It’s this same natural process that sets the scene for B.I’s first full-length solo album ‘Waterfall’. The self-penned 12-track release, on which he collaborated with producers like Millennium, Choice37 and Saint Leonard on compositions and arrangements, tells a condensed story of the singer’s year-and-a-half-long hiatus from his perspective.
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The album gets off to a strong and confronting start with the album’s namesake ‘Waterfall’. Just like water rushing off a cliff, B.I – real name Kim Han-bin – doesn’t hold himself back from the get go: “My name’s monster / My name’s sinner / My name’s hypocrite”. He continues his emotive storytelling as he recounts his fall from grace, taking listeners through the pain and despair from the erosion of a life he’d once known. It’s likely his own lyrical response to the aftermath of drug allegations against him in June 2019, which he eventually tested negative for in February 2020.
Britannica also states that waterfalls “represent major interruptions in river flow”, and this serves as a compelling allegory and imagery for B.I, who was on a roll as both the leader of Kpop group iKON and a credited songwriter, even winning the 2018 Songwriter Of The Year accolade at the 10th Melon Music Awards. The blemish caused by the allegations outshadowed these shining moments for a time, leading him to hope for his “shameful past” to be “washed away”. “I should accept it all, what excuses / I try to become like water and live with the flow”, he later raps in the second verse.
‘Waterfall’ reaches its crescendo with the lyric “Waterfall, that begins with falling down / That’s me” – which interestingly also appears in his 2014 song ‘Be I’ from the rap competition TV show Show Me The Money 3. The subsequent instrumental is visualised most poignantly through a powerful, synchronised dance break in the song’s accompanying performance video, providing an impactful visual and auditory experience.
The turbulent waters come to a momentary calm with title track ‘illa illa’, also known by its Korean title ‘해변’ (haebyeon) or ‘beach’ in Korean. “I wanted to describe the movement of waves in words, so I made [the term illa illa] up,” said B.I in a live album launch countdown segment. The song was also partly inspired by the Korean poem ‘Candy And The Taste Of The Beach’ (사탕과 해변의 맛) by poet Seo Yoon-hoo, with the line “there’s a beach at the end of my sleeves” incorporated into the rapper’s lyrics.
Described as the “first song he wrote after being left alone in the world” per Soompi, B.I hopes that it “could provide comfort to those that listen to it”. “As much as it can seem difficult at the time, there is a beach in the distance,” he said in a press release, alluding to how there is hope on the horizon even when struggling to keep afloat amongst life’s unpredictable tides.
The interchanging of piano melodies and synth beats gives the song its upbeat yet soothing rhythm, maintaining its consistency even between the singing and rap transitions. Compared to the slightly jarring transition previously heard in his first single ‘Midnight Blue’, this is certainly much easier on the ear. The soaring pre-ending bridge brings the song to a close with a message of resilience: “Though I know it will crumble / I’ll probably build a sandcastle again.”
When putting ‘Waterfall’ together, B.I said in the live countdown segment that he’d put a lot of consideration into planning the album’s track sequence, wanting to sustain his listeners’ interest from start to end. This included details like whether the track following the next should be piano-led or band-driven, and so on. For the multifaceted artist, he also has the liberty to choose between purely singing or rapping in a song, or doing both, which then creates a varied ebb and flow throughout.
One of the nicer song juxtapositions is between ‘Illusion’, or ‘꿈결’ (ggumgyeol, ‘dreamy’ in Korean) and ‘Flow Away’, which follow one other in the album’s mid-point. Just as its title suggests, ‘Illusion’ starts out light and dreamy with a glittery lo-fi vibe, transitioning into a smooth, synthesised rhythm that he sings almost hypnotically along to (“My life is my life in a dream / The feeling, the feeling like floating”). The melancholic piano intro tune of ‘Flow Away’ follows, providing a delicate lead-in to B.I’s wistful, retrospective rap lyrics (“I’d rather go to school / The reality is that every day is homework”).
‘GRAY’, or ‘비 온 뒤 흐림’ (bi on dwi heurim, ‘cloudy after the rain’ in Korean), is another standout. His lower tone and varied intonations serve him well on this catchy track about rainy-day melancholy, occasionally interspersed with the sounds of ‘raindrops’. Per his own words, “Even though the rain stopped, there are still dark clouds that fill the sky; my focus is cloudy no matter how much I rub my eyes.”
Just as how ‘Blossom’ from ‘Midnight Blue’ bore the “iKON sound” associated with B.I, a number of tracks in ‘Waterfall’ also have that same feel, including the mellow, band-driven ‘Help Me’, the cheery-sounding ‘Remember Me’ and the pensive, mid-tempo ‘Then’. This could be attributed to his higher-toned rapping, also heard in much of iKON’s past discography. While there isn’t a need for him to purposefully stay away from this association, it probably would still take a few more releases (and further creative experimentation on his part) before it may start to fade.
B.I has also been featured on a number of artists’ tracks in the past, including those by former YG Entertainment labelmates Epik High (2014’s ‘Born Hater’ and 2021’s ‘Acceptance Speech’) and Lee Hi (2019’s ‘No One’); in ‘Waterfall’, both artists return the favour. Lee Hi accompanies him on the youthful sounding ‘Daydream’, or 긴 꿈 (ginggum, or ‘long dream’), a song he’d written “as a reminder of the dreams [he] used to have and feel [for]”, while Epik High’s Tablo brings a fully English rap to ‘STAY’ in tandem with the younger artist’s quicker-than-usual delivery of verses.
‘Re-Birth’, or ‘다음 생’ (daeum saeng, or ‘next life’) rounds off the album on a calmer, more hopeful note. Here, his vocal tone mirrors the one heard in ‘illa illa’, but sounding much cleaner and clearer. The song, originally released in April as a surprise for his newly-christened fandom ‘ID’, is “a message to himself and listeners that every new road must start at the beginning”.
B.I may have once reached his lowest, but this self-proclaimed waterfall has since been able to smoothen out the ground beneath him and start anew, from creating his own label to making a triumphant return to the music scene with ‘Waterfall’. Though he does not claim to be a one-man island; in the songs, there is also an underlying sense of gratitude and appreciation for those who supported and stood by him. This raw, cathartic release shows just how powerful it is to creatively channel the anguish from adversities; if one were to liken B.I to an oyster during the time he was away, this album then, is his pearl.
- Release date: June 1
- Record label: 131 Label