Gallant blew fresh air into the R&B world in 2016 with his Grammy-nominated Ology album, and his newest song is similarly smooth — but with a K-pop twist. The collaborative retro slowjam “Cave Me In” brings Gallant’s falsetto together with the raps of Epik High’s Tablo and the sweet crooner Eric Nam.
Released on Thursday (Jan. 26), the simmering dreamscape of a song is an impressive start to the new year for all three artists. Described as the “perfect before-and-after-the-club-Uber-ride anthem” by Tablo on his Instagram, “Cave Me In” blends the trio’s artistic colors to create a smoldering tune that emulates the ups and downs of life and love.
“This song, in some ways, will get you pumped and ready for the club and, in another way, when you’re back in the Uber and things didn’t work out as well as you imagined that night, it could console you,” Tablo tells Billboard over the phone from South Korea. “I’m a huge fan of music and what it can do to your psyche and also to your life. There are songs that have affected me my entire life and turned me into who I am, so whenever I’m on a song it feels like to me it’s a mission to change somebody at that moment, or for longer if that’s possible.”
With its ‘90s R&B sound, “Cave Me In” is cosmopolitan by nature and took months to come together. The first inkling of a collaboration began at Coachella, where Korean-Canadian Tablo and Gallant met. Korean-American Nam –whose recent song with Timbaland “Body” peaked at No. 3 on the Spotify Viral 50 — was brought in later on.
“On any collaboration, you want to respect your music and the other’s music,” Nam says, also over the phone from South Korea. “When you think of Gallant’s music and his voice, you don’t automatically think, “Oh, Eric Nam would be great a fit” or ‘Hey! Tablo would be an amazing fit.’ So to be able to have a seamless piece of music, I think that’s what we were talking about the most.”
The three spent around nine months going back and forth on the track, sending suggestions to one another amidst their hectic lifestyles and working on it wherever they were in the world — even if it meant recording in rented studios mid-tour. Once Gallant sent the lackadaisical melody with few words aside from the titular “Cave Me In,” Tablo was inspired to write his contrary rap verse, which led to the rest of the song’s formulation.
“As soon as I heard the phrase, I thought [it] was the perfect way to describe what love actually does to you,” said Tablo. “I noticed that a lot of times when we talk about love we use phrases that are very violent. So as soon as I heard ‘cave me in,’ I wrote out the lyrics to my verse.“
The international language of love tied the song together, but creating music for a global audience also spurred Nam into the collaboration. It’s one of several cross-cultural projects that he’s actively pursued with the eventual goal of forging a path for Asian American singers, including himself, in western media.
“So much of the reason that I’m working in Korea is because [Asian Americans] are not given the opportunity to do this in the States, to showcase our talent in entertainment,” he said. “I think acting has developed a lot lately, with shows and movies that feature Asian faces, but I don’t think there are a lot of Asian faces in music in the western world. So what started off as a humble project of, like, ‘Let’s make good music, let’s make some waves here or there’ led to having a song with Grammy nominated Gallant and Tablo, who I’ve been a fan of for years.”
The Grammy nod for Gallant came at the tail end of the project, but he won’t be the only one of the trio attending the award show: Tablo was also invited to see the ceremony. “It’s an interesting situation where one guy in the song is nominated for a Grammy and one guy is going there to see it,” he said. “I think it’s fun.”
And more fun will continue later in the year, when Tablo’s band Epik High releases their first album in three years. Nam also is working on a new album, which he expects will be released in March or April.
“Cave Me In” premiered on Beats1–where Gallant discussed his longterm love of K-pop– on Thursday along with a melancholic music video featuring the three singers strolling through Hong Kong at night. Watch it now: