Kwon Hyuk (Hangul: 권혁; born November 10, 1992), better known by his stage name Dean, is a South Korean alternative R&B singer-songwriter and record producer. He has released one solo EP, 130 Mood: TRBL, as well as multiple collaborations with both American and South Korean artists.
Kwon Hyuk was born and grew up in Hongeun-dong, Seoul. He developed an interest in American hip hop and rap in middle school, and began singing in high school.
At that time, he considered music as an “escape from studying,” rather than an occupation. He initially wrote songs in his room, which he kept secret from his parents at first. Although he was the first musician in his family, his parents enjoyed music and supported his decision to become an artist.
He began his career at the age of sixteen, performing with hip-hop artist Keith Ape. By eighteen, he was writing tracks for K-pop stars, under the name ‘Deanfluenza’. The name originated from actor James Dean, whose rebellious image appealed to him, and the word ‘influenza’, signifying his desire to make a “viral” impact on the music industry.
At the age of twenty, he was under the tutelage of Joombas Music Group CEO and producer Hyuk Shin, employed with the songwriting team of the Los Angeles-based company whose works include EXO’s “Growl” and Justin Bieber’s “One Less Lonely Girl”. He was credited on tracks including Exo’s “Black Pearl” and VIXX’s “Voodoo Doll”.
2015: U.S. and South Korean debut
Dean debuted in the United States in July 2015 with the single “I’m Not Sorry”, featuring Grammy winner Eric Bellinger.
This set him apart from other Korean singers who had collaborated with American artists, the vast majority of which began their careers in Korea.
FACT UK magazine’s Claire Lobenfeld subsequently referred to his work with Bellinger, when listing him as an R&B artist to watch for in 2016, noting that artists like Justin Bieber and Chris Brown had also worked with Bellinger.
That year, he also collaborated with Mila J on “Here & Now” and Anderson .Paak on “Put My Hands on You”.
He debuted in South Korea in October that year, and his second single “Pour Up”, featuring Block B’s rapper Zico, was named Best R&B and Soul Song at the Korean Music Awards on February 29, 2016. He also collaborated with Korean hip-hop artists Zion.T, Crush, and Junggigo on the single “247”, Dok2 on “I Love It”, and Dynamic Duo on “How You Doin’?”.
2016: SXSW, first EP 130 Mood : TRBL and MAMA
On January 8, he performed “Pour Up” and “I’m Not Sorry” on You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook.
In the same month, he released the single “What 2 Do”, featuring Crush and Filipino-American singer Jeff Bernat, and appeared on the JTBC show Two Yoo Project Sugar Man as a producer, arranging a well-received version of the Mose song, “It’s Love” for a performance by iKON.
In March, he appeared for the second time on Two Yoo Project Sugar Man, this time arranging Hey’s “Je T’aime” for Winner members.
He also became the first Asian artist to perform at Spotify House at SXSW, alongside international artists including Miguel and Chvrches. U.S. magazine Spin wrote that “the Bryson Tiller-indebted youngster – and recent Universal signee – had some attendees comparing him to a young Usher.”
Vibe commented that he had a “smooth sound that reminds you of 90s era Usher to this year’s Bryson Tiller flow.” He additionally performed at the Hypetrak Stage and at SXSW’s K-Pop Night Out.
On March 25, he released his first EP 130 mood : TRBL, which he wrote and produced with collaborators, with several of the tracks previously released as singles.
The EP charted at No. 10 on the Gaon Album Chart, No. 3 on the Billboard World Albums chart, and No. 22 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart, while “Bonnie & Clyde” entered Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart at No. 12.
The album received good reviews, Billboard K-Town columnist Jeff Benjamin said that the album was an “impressive debut creatively that pushes R&B ahead into the future with its compositions and collaborations — notably the woozy “Pour Up” featuring Zico of Block B, the Weeknd-recalling “21” and “What 2 Do” with Korean R&B star Crush and L.A. singer Jeff Bernat.”
In April, he was featured in Vogue Korea’s monthly issue with Club Eskimo, an informal group of artists he has performed with in South Korea’s underground clubs. On May 28, he performed at the Seoul Jazz Festival.
et with Zico.On July 26, he was featured on an Asian content platform, 88rising, which is based in New York, and called the “R&B prince of Asia”. On July 29, at KCON Los Angeles 2016, he performed at ‘Klub KCON’ at The Novo with Amber; and on July 30, on the Staples Center main stage, he sang “Bonnie & Clyde” and “I’m Not Sorry”, and later joined Zico on a collaboration special of “Pour Up.”
He was listed as one of the K-pop artists “you should know” from KCON NY and LA, by USA Today’s Hoai-Tran Bui, who said “Los Angeles is getting their own honey-voiced R&B artist with Dean, whose sultry tunes are a shade darker than the more mellow Crush.”
On August 6, he performed at the Skydome in Quezon City, “DEAN: The Philippine Promo Tour” and said, in a pre-concert press conference, “I am very happy and excited because I know Filipino Rebels (fans) know how to speak English so they are going to enjoy the songs since they understand English very well.”
He also said, “My favorite song in TRBL is ’21’ because it is hybrid, which means a collaboration of several genres in one song.” On August 14, he performed at the Seoul Soul Festival (SSF 2016), alongside Jeff Bernat and Crush. O
n August 16, Joombas Music Group CEO Hyuk Shin interviewed with Yonhap in Seoul, and spoke about Dean’s successful debut with his agency, and his hopes for the “diversification of K-pop”.
In late August, he prepared two tracks for a September 2 appearance as producer on the Unpretty Rapstar 3 show where contestants would use the tracks in the rap competition.
On September 10, he performed for the first time in Malaysia at the “My FM Dare Dare Come 2.0 Roadshow” at the Sunway Pyramid in Selangor and met with fans. On September 11, he held a showcase performance at the Gurney Paragon in Penang and was scheduled to appear at the September 12 Malaysian Music Awards (AIM 2016)) at the Sunway Putra Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
In October, he was nominated in two categories for Mnet Asian Music Awards 2016, Mnet Asian Music Award for Song of the Year and “Best Vocal Performance Male Solo” for his song “D (Half Moon)” featuring Gaeko.
On November 1, he was included in a Time report about K-pop artists who were attempting to enter the mainstream American market, along with CL and Eric Nam.
It stated that he had taken an unusual route by debuting first in the U.S., then building his fan base with smaller local performances around the country; video footage showed him performing at KCON LA, NYC, Chicago and SXSW Austin.
During the interview, he said, “I like mixing alternative, futuristic and experimental elements into my music. First I was really influenced by American pop music, so when I received an offer to make music here in the U.S., I was curious, I wanted to know how American audiences would react to my music.”
He continued, “To be honest, the challenge is that, America is a huge country with many different cultures and many talented artists. It’ll be difficult to distinguish myself in this field, and I know that it’ll take a very long time.”
Also, in November, he collaborated on a single and music video with Zico and Crush, “Bermuda Triangle”, which they performed at the Mnet Asian Music Awards 2016 show on December 2, after appearing together at the pre-event press conference.
On December 6, the song debuted on Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart at No. 3, making it the highest position he had received on that chart; “Bonnie & Clyde” having previously charted at No. 12, and Taeyeon’s “Starlight”, which he featured on, charted at No. 6.
On the same date, he placed for the first time on two “overall popularity” charts; he and his song “D (Half Moon)” featuring Gaeko debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Twitter Emerging Artists chart and the song at No. 33 on the Billboard Twitter Top Tracks chart. On December 11, “Bermuda Triangle” won the weekly competition on the Inkigayo music show.
On December 22, 2016, his EP 130 Mood : TRBL was No. 5 on Billboard K-Town’s critic’s choice list of “10 Best K-pop Albums of 2016”. Two songs that he featured on were on their “20 Best K-Pop Songs of 2016” list, Zico’s “Bermuda Triangle”, also featuring Crush, at No. 1, and Heize’s “Shut Up & Groove” at No. 9.
2017: Single “Limbo”
On February 9, he released a preview video of his first solo work in eleven months, a single Limbo, whose handpainted imagery seemed to be “sucked into limbo”, reflecting the title.
The single, a genre fusion that combined jazz and R&B, was released on February 17 with two tracks, “Come Over” featuring Baek Ye-rin, and “The Unknown Guest”. “Come Over”, the title track, an upbeat reminiscence of a past relationship, quickly rose to the top of several South Korean music charts. The accompanying music video was created and directed by artist Seong Lib, who had also worked with SHINee.