After a brief hiatus, the K-pop star is back with a new EP.
In Elite Daily's series Early Influences, musicians reflect on the songs and albums that left a lasting impression on them in their formative years. Here, Korean rapper B.I talks about the male artists that inspired his new EP, Love or Loved Part 1.
American hip-hop impacted B.I’s worldview at a young age. In 2000, a 4-year-old B.I moved with his family from South Korea to the United States. As a kid growing up in the early aughts, he quickly became obsessed with Nelly and Eminem’s music. Though his family moved back to South Korea when he was 7, the influence hip-hop had on the future rapper didn’t fade. In fact, B.I brought his love for Nelly and Eminem in his carry-on, and it’s good he did.
Nearly two decades later, B.I has dusted off those childhood inspirations to release his first solo EP, Love or Loved Part 1, on Nov. 18. Following his 2021 debut solo albums, Waterfall (an introspective study on loneliness and depression) and Cosmos (a look at growing up and longing), B.I is trading pain for pleasure on his EP. There’s a reason he’s prioritizing joy.
With a complicated legal battle behind him, B.I is moving forward with a more mindful outlook. You can hear it in his music. Love or Loved Part 1 sees the singer prioritizing genres like pop and dance over his traditional rap roots with lyrics all about romance. “This EP is more joyful,” he tells Elite Daily. “There’s not a sad song.”
Still, traces of the early aughts rappers that first sparked B.I’s love for music remain in the DNA of his new songs.
Another artist that inspired B.I to pursue music was Nelly. Growing up, he also fell in love with “Shake Ya Tailfeather,” which Nelly dropped in collaboration with P. Diddy and Murphy Lee for the Bad Boys II soundtrack in 2003. “I loved Nelly’s tone when he sang and rapped — and his motions in the music video and when he performed on stage. It looked really cool,” B.I says, adding that he used to imitate Nelly’s melodic voice and effortless dance moves.
B.I can thank his parents for introducing hip-hop into his life. “When I was young, they [recommended] a lot of great hip-hop artists, like Jay Z and Nas, so I just naturally listened to a lot of hip-hop music,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to become a rapper.”
So when it came time for B.I’s 2022 reintroduction, it only made sense for him to call on one of his childhood icons: Soulja Boy. The American rapper features on B.I’s new track, “BTBT.” It’s a full-circle moment as Soulja Boy’s 2007 hit “Crank That” and its ubiquitous dance used to hype B.I up.
“BTBT,” with its catchy chorus and dance-worthy beat, went viral on TikTok following its release in May. This allowed B.I to experience his own dance trend. The #btbtchallenge hashtag has been viewed more than 130 million times on TikTok. Understandably, all this took B.I by surprise.
“They did well,” he said of his fan’s dance videos. “It’s really hard to dance [to], so maybe they [felt the same excitement as I did] when I practiced that choreography for the first time.”
From the TikTok success to the pivot to romantic dance and pop music, B.I views the EP as part of a larger vision. He calls it his “global album project.”
“I want to show myself to more people and [perform] on bigger stages,” he says. That’s why he looked to The Beatles, an “iconic” and “harmonious” act that crossed generations, continents, and genres. “It’s not too elaborate but still very beautiful. You never get tired of it,” he says of the legendary band’s music.
Much like The Beatles, lyrically, B.I has love on his mind. He sings about craving a lover’s touch on his club-ready track “Keep Me Up,” while “Middle With You” is a steamy, mid-tempo pop song about wanting to run away with someone special. Then there’s the EDM-influenced track “Endless Summer,” which finds B.I innocently admiring a crush from afar.
“Love or Loved Part 1 is about young love and insecurity,” he says. “I wanted to express a cool but hot and at the same time passionate love that’s lively but lonely.”
With B.I settling back into the spotlight, what lingers on Love or Loved Part 1 isn’t the conversation around its production, release, or even its influences. The record is most simply an account of B.I learning a life lesson more timeless than any musical mentor: B.I’s got to love himself to love someone else. Fortunately, it seems like he’s well on the way.