written by: Drowningn00b
Last year was big for Block B. Sold a butt load of records from both their releases, did a variety program with B1A4 (where ZICO had terrible dreads. Good look without them), and brought talented hip-hop to the idol platform. With their foundation firmly laid, ‘Welcome to the BLOCK” expands their hip-hop brand into different areas of pop, including laidback pop and dance. It’s a risky move, but growth depends on doing new things and for Block B, it’s a ‘welcomed’ change.
Before the change, however, the groundwork needs improvement. There’s a couple of cracks still there, but ‘Welcome’ rectifies some of them. For one, Park Kyung sounded excited every time he was on the track, as if it was the first time he did so. It was cute in the beginning, but sounded inauthentic. That changed in the intro track, “LOL”. This one is anything but your run of the mill throw away track. It’s only ZICO and Park Young doing the “I’m better than you” swagger rap, but it’s the best one yet. “Wanna B” was the loud rookie track, “Halo” refined it, and “LOL” is the self-assured track by those who know they’re the best and have no problem showing it. ZICO is amazing as ever, but Park Young comes across as the underground rapper I heard on the mix-tapes. He brought the boss mentality to the amazing bass track. Speaking of which, the bass loop throughout and the way it builds from there is their best yet. It’s a shame the rest of the guys aren’t here, but the question stands whether their absence is a good thing or not.
Sticking to the basics, ‘Welcome’s lead single “NalinA” puts BB back to the party started in “Freeze”. It’s the standard BB hip-hop party track, with shouting, a ridiculous hook (goo-goo-gaa-gaa??) and a busy beat structure. It’s high energy, a chest-thumping bass at high levels, but there are things missing. The track goes up and stays there the entire time without much change, except for the full stop before the break. A break is fine if it leads to a climax that matters, but with no difference between the first and last chorus, and no vocalizations by anyone to signal the song will end, the break feels like filler. “NalinA is by the numbers for BB, and coming after the intro, it’s a let-down.
Where ‘Welcome’ strays from the Block B template is first in “100% In Sync”. It has a laidback feel with a slight reggae sprinkle to the track, like a Jason Mraz take on hip-hop. It’s the first time an acoustic guitar and strings appear on a BB song, which helps soften their image and lends a relaxed atmosphere for the lesser known dudes to do their thing. And they do! The dancers, B-Bomb and U-Kwon, had one or something lines to “sing” on previous songs, but for “100%”, U-Kwon does well on his verse in the beginning and U-Kwon tries on “Did You Or Did You Not?”. They won’t reach Tae-il’s level of talent, but they’re trying, which is commendable. And PO continues getting better at singing and sounds his best yet. There are some k-pop groups that maintain that gulf between the good and bad ones, and seeing that effort to bridge that gap is fantastic. Maybe the relaxed nature of the track allowed the guys to relax and go with it. Not to be left behind, JaeHyeo sounds fabulous. The simple acoustic at the end makes the sentiment feel genuine. Overall, “100%” is a great first step in adding newer pop elements to their sound.
Lastly, “Action” takes Block B out of their element and into dance-pop territory. Everything before had a discernible street edge or sprinkle, and “Action” shares more elements of early hip-hop and disco than today’s incarnation of the genre. With dance rhythms, horns, and keyboard highlights, “Action” is the feel good track BB’s never done. Strip away the swagger, love songs, and the hard edge and what’s left is BB’s take on being happy. It’s a well produced track, though busy as always, but the guys pull it off successfully. It took a while to get to this point, where Block B is comfortable enough to explore different genres and do it convincingly. “Action” is pop fun from an unusual place made better by Block B as the source.
In many ways, ‘Welcome to the BLOCK’ is a step up and onwards. “LOL” ratchets up the level on their now signature swagger hip-hop, and “100%” and “Action” gives BB a reason to grow and expand their talent as pop artists and creators of their own brand. It reaffirms why fans liked Block B in the first place, while taking chances on new sounds.
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