1, 2, 7
After releasing the most polarising comeback of 2021 (Sticker) and a warmly welcomed repackage, NCT 127 took a break for nearly a year, opting to instead focus on the members’ respective activities. Much to the delight of their eager fans, in August the group announced their awaited comeback on September 16th with their fourth studio album, 2 Baddies.
After being stranded with no new music for nearly a year, fans were beaming with expectations, wondering how the comeback was going to measure up to its predecessor. Were they satisfied? Let’s read and find out…
2 Baddies 1 Porsche 1 Banger
The lead single 2 Baddies is for sure an NCT title track, and that is its main strength as much as its main weakness.
2 Baddies is loud, exuberant and exploding with energy right from the get-go. After opening with a nasty pots-and-pans kind of intro, the song goes straight into its hip hop dance identity, which is pretty much the wheelhouse of the group. The rappers bounce with dynamism over the rubbery beat, while the vocalists showcase their talents once again, thus creating a contrast of melody and potency that blends well in their discography. Given its noisy appeal, the track is precisely within the bounds of 127’s safe-zone, but for a group as inventive and experimental as NCT, that accounts for a very large area.
2 Baddies doesn’t sound like anything 127 has put out before, yet it has that flamboyant and polarising quality that characterises NCT. And that is precisely the reason why though you will like the song if you’ve enjoyed previous 127 title tracks, you will not like it if you are not a fan of their sound.
As I said, 2 Baddies gets loud and energetic immediately from the start, intertwining dissonant verses with thrilling melodies, before exploding in the catchy chorus. With its bare-bone yet crowded production, and the silly ‘2 baddies 2 baddies 1 porsche’ repetitive catchphrase, this track feels like a dentist drill to the skull… and if that’s not something you usually enjoy, this song is just not for you.
B-sides – the love triangle between RnB, hip hop and pop
2 Baddies’ b-sides play around with the group’s preferred genres – namely, RnB, hip hop, and pop.
The record opens with Faster, which is a hip hop dance track with a strong baseline, and a powerful yet minimal hook. This song is simply-put the perfect choice for the album’s opener, as it is sturdily representative of 127’s musical identity, and eases listeners into the racer concept of the title track that follows.
In the remaining 10 b-sides, the group taps into the two sounds that have reigned supreme in their discography since their debut days – RnB and hip hop –, interweaving them with other genres and production choices. For instance, fourth track Crash Landing pairs the two with a UK drill-style beat, tenth track Vitamin infuses hip hop with a 90’s-reminiscent sound, and ninth track Tasty harmonises hip hop with a heavy synth bass. RnB by itself strongly appears in the first half of the album, such as in mid-tempo songs Time Lapse and Black Clouds.
The latter is part of a song trilogy that extends from track six to eight, which are connected by an overarching lyrical narrative of a love triangle between two lovers and an old flame. Sonically, the three differ quite a bit, going from sentimental RnB with a vocoder-effect production in Gold Dust, to mid-tempo RnB with a guitar baseline in Black Clouds, and up-tempo pop with an 808 bass and a trap beat in Playback.
We have other feel-good pop b-sides in the final two tracks of the record, with charming guitar riffs in the bright neo-soul LOL (Laugh-Out-Loud), and a funky 90’s groove in the uptempo 1, 2, 7 (Time Stop).
Last but not least, fifth on the tracklist Designer is your classic run-of-the-mill NCT 127 b-side – a hip hop RnB song that accosts captivating vocals with conversational rap on a bouncy beat.
2 Baddies… too goodies!
Overall, 2 Baddies is a great body of work both in itself and within the context of NCT 127’s discography.
It showcases many facets of the group’s identity, but focuses primarily on their harmonisation skills and mastery of the RnB genre. Hip hop is very present as well, but tends to favour groove and melody over hard-hitting beats and tones. This album is cohesive overall, but the fusion between different styles and the same genres (RnB and hip hop) ensures that there is enough freshness for it to not sound bland.
And that is exactly what manages to differentiate 2 Baddies from Sticker, which had the tendency of coming across as quite messy in its attempt to cover more sonical grounds. Sure, just like its predecessor, this record does not represent an abrupt 180 from the group’s usual sound, but having a more solid identity sound-wise pushes it slightly ahead.
If I had to pinpoint one aspect I wish was different about the album is the tracklist order. The tracklist is not bad per se – it has great opening and closing tracks! But having songs of a similar genre clumped together (Rnb > hip hop > pop) makes it harder for them to stick at first listen. They come across as a tad too similar with one another, which runs the risk of making them mix together in the listener’s mind at first.
But even so, this album has a very strong identity, and greatly encapsulates the sound that 127 have built over the years. It is a bit more safe compared to its predecessor, as it steers a bit away from the cornucopia formula that characterised the previous record. But in hindsight, that safer approach is what makes it read as more cohesive and straightforward.
2 Baddies is proof that 127 have finally found the perfect recipe for their albums – rough edges are smoothly offset by more chill RnB, and the pizzazz of their more experimental tracks is nicely balanced by easy-listening tunes. It’s audience-friendly and enjoyable while still not sacrificing the group’s signature zing. It’s interesting without being divisive, and that is exactly why NCT 127 hit the jackpot with 2 Baddies.
Verdict - 8.5/10