Kwon Hyuk (Hangul: 권혁; born November 10, 1992), better known by his stage name Dean, is a South Korean alternative R&B singer-songwriter, rapper 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 raised 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”.
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 whom 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’?”.
On January 8, 2016, Dean released the single “What 2 Do”, featuring Crush and Filipino-American singer Jeff Bernat, On March 25, he released his first EP 130 mood : TRBL, which he wrote and produced with collaborators. 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 EP was well received, and was nominated for Album of the Year and Best R&B & Soul Album on Korean Hip-Hop Awards and Korean Music Awards, respectively, as well the two track on the album “D (half moon)” and “21” received multiple nomination.
In 2016 he had several collaborations, notably featuring on Taeyeon’s single “Starlight”, Heize’s single “Shut Up & Groove” and “And July”, and a collaboration on a single and music video with Zico and Crush, named “Bermuda Triangle”, which debuted on Billboard’s World Digital Songs chart at No. 3, making it the highest position he had received on that chart. He also 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.
Also, in 2016, Dean wrote and produced for other artists and music programs, such as two tracks for Lee Hi’s album Seoulite; he also created songs for Block B, Boys Republic and BASTARZ, a Block B sub-unit consisting of three members. He also 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, and “Je T’aime” performed by Winner. 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 February 17, 2017, Dean released his first solo work in eleven months, a single album Limbo, with two tracks, “Come Over” featuring Baek Ye-rin, and “The Unknown Guest”. “Come Over”, the title track, 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. In April, he made his first-time appearance as a producer on the hip-hop audition show Show Me the Money 6, along with fellow artist Zico, where they won the show as the winning producers. At the end of the year, he released the single “Instagram”, the song topped all local music charts in South Korea.
In April 2017, Dean also participated in a campaign with Kolon Sport alongside Bae Doo Na, to protect Jeju Island’s Leontopodium hallaisanense, which is an endangered flower species. In July, Kakaopay released a commercial advert featuring Dean and a track he produced for the collaboration (Get the Feeling). Dean also acted in the advertisement to promote the Korean digital wallet service. Later that year in September, Dean also collaborated with Puma, on a campaign called ‘Run the Streets’, for which he produced a track and starred in a commercial video. In November of 2018, he has since released single “Dayfly”, collaborating with artists Radmuseum and former F(x) (group) member Sulli.
In 2016, Dean 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.” In his U.S. tour, his New York City debut concert at the “legendary” Copacabana sold out tickets for June 4, 2016. The city stop included a pre-party concert the prior night, and a meet-and-greet on concert day. The venue was changed due to technical difficulties, but he performed eight of his songs at Flash Factory at a concert Billboard K-Town called “stunning”. In an interview with Fuse, he said that writing his own songs to fit his voice helps to distinguish his performances. He was featured on an Asian content platform, 88rising, and was called the “R&B prince of Asia”. 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.” 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”.
Dean 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.” Britain’s Miss Vogue named the 24-year-old on their list of “The 50 Fittest Boys Of 2017” along with his Instagram user link, and said, “He’s currently the most hyped act in his native South Korea”. The list included, among others, Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik; and South Koreans Jang Sung-hoon and Nam Joo-hyuk.