Exclusive: US Artist and Repertoire Executive/Producer ‘Niddy’ talks about signing the first African-American K-Pop artist and opens up about working with JYJ.
Tyrone “Niddy” Buckner, head of Billboard Music Group LLC and A&R* for C-JES Entertainment, started out in the business at a young age as an aspiring artist/rapper in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating high school, Niddy studied music and film at Full Sail University and earned a degree in both film making and recording arts. After graduation, he started his career as a A&R talent scout for Transcontinental Records/Fashion Rock, working with groups like the N’SYNC and the Backstreet Boys. Throughout his career, he has worked with huge names such as Pitbull and Nelly/St. Lunatics on music based film projects, and has recently gained the attention of the K-Pop fans worldwide with his work with CJeS Entertainment’s own Xia/Kim Junsu from JYJ.
We recently sat down with Niddy, via satellite from the Qubeey headquarters in Los Angeles, to discuss how he got into K-Pop, what the genre means to him, what it was like working with Kim Junsu, and his plans and aspirations for the future of K-Pop in the US and around the world.
How were you introduced to K-Pop?
Niddy: “I was working with an artist by the name of Francis Kim. He was a really good friend of mine. When I seen him perform, he was just this amazing K-Pop artist. When I heard his voice, I was like ‘Man, this kid is just amazing.’ So he’s the one that kind of introduced me to K-Pop and then as I started learning about the genre, I was even more amazed. I was so surprised when I started to look at the American pop charts and realized that not one K-Pop artist was on there.”
What was it about K-Pop specifically that made you fall in love with the genre?
Niddy: “The performances of K-Pop artists themselves. I had never seen an ethnicity that could perform soulfully and physically on the level of any other mainstream pop artist here in America and have the audience that K-Pop has. It was that , that really peaked my interest specifically. I looked at it and realized that the Asian community in US really didn’t have their own niche in popular music here, and I wondered why. Music transcends race, gender, ethnicity, and everything. So, I felt like K-Pop truly deserved a place in the mainstream market because its dope.”
How did you end up working with CJeS Entertainment as a freelance Co. Producer and A&R?
Niddy: “While working with Francis Kim, I was asked by Dr. Dre to bring in some song writers for a new record at that time. So, I brought in Francis and we spent nine hours in the studio with Dr. Dre. After that, he introduced me to CJeS.”
With the collaboration between Bruce “Automatic” Vanderveer and Kim Junsu for his solo English album Uncommitted, you were heavily involved with its creation. Can you tell us a little about how that project came about?
Niddy: “At the time, I was A&R for CJeS and I had about seventy-five track submissions from different producers and songwriters. I was introduced to Automatic through a friend and he sent me a couple of tracks, one being Uncommitted. When I heard it, I was like “Aww man this is a banger. This is right up their alley.” The funny thing is, that track actually was originally submitted for JYJ (as a whole). It just so happens that CJeS Executive Ray Yeom loved it and wanted to do it for Junsu. It almost happened by accident”
Niddy: “CJeS hadn’t even announced that they were going to do a solo album for Junsu at the time. so I thought they were going to use it for the boys, but it ended up being for his solo project instead which was a really good thing for my self, Automatic, and the company because it became a very successful English record. I’m so very proud of that record.”
Can you tell us a little about what it like working with both Automatic and Kim Junsu in the studio?
Niddy: “The actual experience in the studio was amazing because it was the first time I got to really hangout with Junsu. It was really exciting because he has this really cool vibe. He’s got great energy and he smiles a lot. The funny thing about Junsu is his smile. You know when he’s in a good mood, in a good place, and when he’s around good energy because he always smiles. He was totally a really great and fun person to work with. He worked hard and diligently. He wanted to make sure that record was really good. It was amazing.”
Recently JYJ held their “The Return of JYJ: Tokyo Dome” concerts in Japan. Afterwards, Uncommitted hit number one on Japan’s Amazon K-Pop charts. How did you feel when you found out the news?
Niddy: “I was actually at my son’s track meet when I got the call from Automatic. He was like “Yo Niddy! We’re there son! We made it baby!” and I was like, “What happened?” He told me that Uncommitted hit number one on Japan’s Amazon K-Pop charts and I was amazed. I was so excited about it because it was a great accomplishment considering what JYJ has been though the last few years. To see the fight starting to show a winning phase, it felt really good.”
How did you feel when you found out that Junsu performed the track in front of 210,000 Japanese fans?
Niddy: “The first time I ever seen JYJ perform, I was in Peru. I had the privileged to be sent to Peru by CJeS to see them perform in front of about eighteen thousand fans. When I got there, I got to see just how powerful and amazing JYJ truly are. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. There were thousands of fans with glow sticks in the air, it was dark, and they’re screaming and chanting JYJ’s name. My heart was just pounding because I knew that one day they would be singing a track that I was apart of, that I did.
When I saw Junsu perform Uncommitted in front of the fans at the Tokyo Dome, it was overwhelming because it brought me back to that feeling I felt in Peru. It was amazing to see all that effort, that we had put into this track, was paying off and the fans were loving it. I was ecstatic.”
At that moment, Mr. Automatic popped into the studio to say hello to Niddy and check out what he was up to. You could tell that the two were truly great friends by their interaction with one another. We asked Automatic if there was anything he would like to say to our readers about Niddy and he gladly responded with this statement:
Automatic: “I’m happy for my boy Niddy and for being a part of this team. InRage Entertainment loves CJeS and JYJ. This whole experience has been phenomenal and it all got started with my man Niddy. It’s just an incredible camp and I’m proud to be a part of it! He’s about to do some big things so watch out for it.”
We then steered the interview to the subject of K-Pop fans and discussed how he feels about being a K-Pop fan himself, how he views the other fans of the genre, and how the fans have treated him since the release of Uncommitted.
While K-Pop music itself can boast a wide range of accolades, it’s the genre’s dedicated and loving fans that have become the heart of K-Pop. What is it about the genre’s fans that you like the most?
Niddy: “As professionals, we always try to find a way to get back to the essence of the real fan. When I ran into the K-Pop fans, I had seen a rebirth of that essence. I had seen the real fan. The fans that cry, that fight for their artist, and believe that their artist can do no wrong. They love their artists unconditionally, they love their music, and they are willing to fight for their cause and what the music stands for -so that is a place in the music industry.”
That’s why I love K-Pop fans. They’ve embraced me. They tell me about their dreams, hopes, stories, aspirations, what they love about K-Pop, what they want to see happen in K-Pop, what they’re willing to do to make it happen, and how active they are themselves. I haven’t seen a community of fans like that in a very long time. I think that if the big people in America could really get an eye on K-Pop fans and really see them, they would truly see the power of this music and how it really deserves a place here. The fans deserve a place here.”
K-Pop fans always love to share their favorite artists with their friends. As a fan yourself, who are some of the K-Pop artists you enjoy and why?
Niddy: “I’ll have to go with my boys JYJ first, because I’ve worked with them and they are just extremely talented. Aside from them, there’s another group that I really think is dope: Big Bang. I really love Big Bang. They got a track called Bad Boy, that I like, and the music video is dope. I also like BoA, Girls Generation, 2NE1, Tablo, Wonder Girls, 2PM, Aziatix, and definitely Jay Park. I want to do something with Jay Park cause he’s amazing. I want to do a couple things with that dude.”
Have you ever wondered if your favorite artist really reads fan letters or appreciates fan gifts? We had been discussing K-Pop fans for a lengthy amount of time, when Niddy was reminded of a very interesting incident that happened while he was on tour with JYJ in Peru, and he decided to share it with us. Listening to his story epitomizes the very essence of why JYJ is so loved by the world over.
Niddy: “When I was in Peru, I had the opportunity to witness the gift giving portion of the fans love. The fans, once again, because they are so incredible, take the time out to create all kinds of fan gifts -from bag and posters to even buying merchandise- for the group. It was the last day of the tour in Peru, and we all went out to take a tour of the city. When we were leaving the hotel, there were fans everywhere, putting gifts for the group in our hands -asking us to give them to JYJ, and even throwing them through the window of the bus. After the boys stopped to pick up some new Samsung tablet phones and pairs of Beats By Dre, we got back on the bus to finish the tour.
When an artist gets that big, you know fans always wonder if they really keep that personal connection with their fans.
I was sitting on the bus and Junsu was sitting right in front of me. I asked him to check out a record I was listening to, so I handed him my phone. While he was checking out the record, he reached over into the seat next to him and starting going through the fan gifts and reading the letters. I thought that was kinda cool because I knew he was still a real person, that he was still down to earth, and that he truly cared about his fans. I just thought that was so cool. That was one of the greatest experiences of my time with them, before I got to know them better, and I wanted to let the fan fans know. JYJ are all like that. The really do love their fans.”
*A&R refers to Artists & Repertoire: a division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters.
Note: parts unrelated to JYJ were omitted.