NCT 127 has built quite the catalog when it comes to their music. From bass-thumping, hip-hop tracks to smooth R&B ballads, there isn’t an end of the spectrum the group hasn’t conquered. Now, with the release of their third studio album, STICKER, another instant fan-favorite has knocked listeners off their feet.
“Lemonade,” the second track off the album, was written and produced by K-pop veteran Benji Bae and K-pop newcomer, Rokman. Leading up to the album’s release, EnVi sat down with both creators to find out more on the making of NCT 127’s explosive B-side.
How It Started: A Blessing in Disguise
Between Benji and Rokman, their careers started in very different directions before they finally crossed paths. For singer-songwriter Benji, he was already classically trained in playing the violin and briefly attended Julliard.
Eventually, however, the now-29-year-old developed bigger dreams in music and moved to South Korea in 2011 to pursue them. From there, he debuted in a group called B.I.G in 2014 and promoted with them up until 2020.
Benji’s creative palette expanded into music production, where he released his first self-composed and arranged single, “Telephone,” in 2019. Since then, the Seattle native has been LA-bound, steadily improving his work behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, Rokman’s been in the production game for a while, but is now on a learning curve when it comes to K-pop. “I’ve been in the music industry for about 10 years, professionally,” he said. “Just doing a lot of licensing for commercials and music for EDM DJs—mostly Western stuff—but over the past year, I’ve been really interested in Asian music.”
Like many Western songwriters and producers, Rokman found the appeal of K-pop in its intricate and complex arrangements. “I’ve always been really into it because, to me, it’s just so much more interesting, on a lot of levels,” Rokman said. “It made me realize how much more advanced K-pop is in its chord progressions; we’ve definitely been upping our game a lot.”
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That’s when he and Benji first connected on Clubhouse back in February. “We actually met on an online dating app,” Benji joked. “No, but a friend pinged me into a room that was talking about K-pop and the business of it, and I was just listening to him talk.”
Rokman then chimed in and said, “I slid into his DMs hard.” After that introduction, the two met up in LA, booked a session, and have been vibing ever since. “He drove out here, I got in his car, and the first words he said were: ‘Well, this is romantic.’” And thus, the tone of their friendship was solidified from day one.
How It’s Going: A Match Made in Heaven
Since then, the duo has grown and learned from each other as collaborators, leading them to their first K-pop placement with NCT 127. Although both creators were hoping to work on the group’s music, it was especially a long time coming for Benji.
“We were promoting at the same time about four years back, and I think they were doing ‘Limitless,’” Benji recalled. “I remember seeing their performance, and I’ve just been a huge fan since their debut [in NCT U], so I’d always wanted to make a track that I felt like they could do.” Fast forward to 2021, and finally, “Lemonade” is born.
According to SM Entertainment, “Lemonade” is a hip-hop dance song with a strong 808 bass and minimal drop sound. On paper, it sounds very “127-esque,” but in reality, the two creatives were unsure whether the song would fit the group or not. “We were worried that they weren’t even going to take it,” Rokman told EnVi. “We thought it was too left-field for any K-pop group, but NCT was our dream group.”
“We thought it was too left-field for any K-pop group, but NCT was our dream group.”
At the start of production, Benji revealed the song was much more rap-focused than the final version. “We knew it was fire, but we just didn’t know if it would hit.” Interestingly, both Benji and Rokman described the song as “progressive,” which is the embodiment of NCT in a nutshell. After changing and switching sections around to their liking, they finally found a style that fully represents 127.
“Yo, Rokman is crazy with the sounds,” Benji smiled. “If you need something cool or something sexy… those are very different, and he knows that difference, 100%.” Luckily, fans couldn’t agree more in their reactions and memes once the “Lemonade” track video dropped. Tweets and comments were pouring in with showers of praise and a few very interesting nicknames to describe NCT’s sound.
finally some transformer sex music https://t.co/5krGpQ3bkU
— ximᵕ̈ JOHLO SOON (@neoyizhuo) September 9, 2021
Yes, both of them laughed when they heard the Transformers comparison. “That’s actually cool—sometimes I do have sounds from the movie Transformers that I’ll take and distort and sneak into certain songs,” Rokman told EnVi. Meanwhile, Benji knew exactly what part of the song the fans were referring to. “That sound is hard, that’s a vibe.”
Lemonade Expectations, Reactions, & Deliveries
In the events leading up to “Lemonade’s” placement, Benji and Rokman were unsure how well the 127 members would fit the song. Initially, they figured it would go to NCT’s main rappers as a duo track. But the result was not only shocking to the creators, but incredibly rewarding, as well.
“As we were making it, I remember thinking of which members would fit which part,” Benji said. “But then, 70% of the first draft just sounded like Taeyong and Mark, and I couldn’t figure out where members like Doyoung or Jaehyun would fit into this.
“That’s why we were so surprised to see Jaehyun take that rap in the beginning,” Rokman added. “But I think they picked him because, in the demo, we had a lower octave voice there, so he definitely nailed that.”
Fortunately, it was a huge weight lifted off their shoulders to find out how much the group resonated with “Lemonade.” Out of the nine members, Mark, Jungwoo, and Yuta all chose the hip-hop track as their favorite on the album.
“There was a sense of relief in that the motifs and energy that we created putting into this record were understood and translated well with the members of NCT,” Benji said. “So for multiple members to acknowledge that it’s such an appreciative and warm feeling… I was like, ‘let’s go, kings!’”
Joining in, Rokman echoed his appreciation. “Just seeing them react to it in a way that’s exciting, and seeing the fans leave us comments, it’s so crazy,” he said. “Benji’s been a rockstar for years, but for both of us to experience this together, it’s exciting.”
When EnVi asked if the two had any favorite parts or members, they did not hesitate to give enthusiastic answers. “I love Haechan,” Benji admitted. “I love the hell out of that dude.” But as for Rokman, he said, “There’s a lot of them, but I really love Yuta’s parts.”
With the song representing NCT 127 melodically, how do the lyrics fit into that category? “One of the lyrical conundrums we had was, ‘do we want to connect this to a love song in any way?’” Benji asked. “But then, the process ended up being less of a romance and more, ‘sweet like lemonade’ … meaning, life is sweet for me because I’ve been working so hard.”
Surprisingly, the demo version is reminiscent of a handful of 127’s past tracks. It’s about the idea of climbing the ladder until they’ve reached their peak. As Rokman pulled up the lyrics, he said, “We originally wrote, ‘All work and no play, at the top of the chain and it’s sweeter than lemonade.’”
At the time of this interview, the duo couldn’t give away too much info on the Korean translations. But hopefully, the overall message remains the same and highlights NCT’s trajectory in chasing their dreams. “In a way, this is a truthful story for us too,” Benji confessed. “We have a lot more coming that we can’t say yet, but we’re just super thankful for this experience and for meeting each other.”
Listen to “Lemonade” on NCT 127’s album, STICKER, available here on all platforms!
Check out our Q&A with Benji and Rokman here!
Thumbnail by Alex