I.M Gets Personal on His Third Solo E.P. ‘Off the Beat’

I.M isn’t big on introductions. The Korean singer-songwriter-rapper, and Monsta X group member, wants to let his music do the talking.

“There’s a reason that I don’t write lots of introduction when I introduce my songs, because I don’t want [listeners] to get affected by what I wrote,” I.M says over Zoom in late March, one week before the release of his new EP “Off the Beat.” His song titles are minimalist, often just one word, and the ambiguity creates space for listeners to draw their own conclusions. “I just want them to feel what they want. So I hope you feel free when you listen to my music.”

More from WWD

I.M speaks deliberately while answering questions, and is most effusive when the topic is firmly rooted in music. Which isn’t to say that I.M isn’t willing to get personal. With the release of “Off the Beat,” his third project as a solo artist, I.M is showing fans yet another side of himself through his songwriting.

A few days before the six-track release, I.M is feeling “calm, but really excited,” he says.

It’s a vibe that matches his headspace while making the album. “I was feeling comfortable,” he adds. “At the time when I was making my album, I was quite chill, free — but I had a little pressure on me to make music. It’s always like this,” he adds. “But it’s a good stress.”

The EP is his second release with Sony Music Korea, which signed him as a solo artist in late 2022. “They’re really nice to me. I really feel their effort, and I’m happy to work with them,” he says of the still-fresh relationship — adding that he was also happy under his previous label Starship, which still manages Monsta X. “The new environment gives me new inspiration,” he adds.

EP cover for "Off The Beat."
EP cover for “Off the Beat.”

“Off the Beat” follows the release of “Overdrive” last summer. His sophomore project was sultry and smooth; the through-line was a sense of longing. “Off the Beat” is sonically more upbeat — and often, as the name suggests, offbeat — incorporating influences from hip-hop, soul, R&B and Latin music. The project began as a world that “popped” into his head. “I just wrote it down and mined that thought,” he says, adding that fashion was an early component, and he drew inspiration from film. “Lure,” the lead track, is a seductive narrative that draws listeners into the album, and a teaser for the music video previews a sleek visual aesthetic.

I.M, who turned 28 in January, made his debut with Monsta X in 2015. Although not officially on hiatus, the majority of the group is currently fulfilling their mandatory military service, having enlisted late last year. The difference between his two professional identities — as a member of Monsta X, and as the solo artist I.M — is laid out in the music’s writing credits. Listed as the lead writer on many Monsta X songs, his voice is one of many. With “Off the Beat,” I.M is able to continue writing his own stories. The penultimate track on the EP is the confessional “MMI” — “Me, Myself and I.”

“My identity as a team, as Monsta X, I only think about the team, because the team is very important to me. And all the members are really like a family to me, so it’s always fun and it’s always precious when I’m working with them,” he says. “And when I’m working and it’s just me — it’s just me. So I don’t try to show myself as a cool guy,” he adds. “I’m happy when I’m just making music.”

Singer, rapper, producer, writer — each identity adds up to I.M. “All of them are me,” he says. “In the past, I was kind of confused about what’s ‘real me,’” he says. “But right now, everything, every moment, came out for me. So it’s only me.”

I.M at the reopening of the Brioni boutique in Seoul.
I.M at the reopening of the Brioni boutique in Seoul.

His journey to I.M began in high school, when he was just Im Chang-kyun. “I really didn’t think about being a singer or an artist,” he says. “When I was in high school, music leaned into me very deeply. And I was thinking, what would my own music be like? What am I like on the stage? If they are listening to my music, how would they react to it?”

Following those questions, some answers have since emerged — and the reaction has been positive, both from fans and brands. Like many popular Korean stars, I.M has been tapped by fashion brands including Polo Ralph Lauren, Swarovski and Versace. In late March, he attended the reopening party for the Brioni boutique in Seoul.

But back to the music. Following the release of “Off the Beat,” I.M is planning for a performance in May, and is hesitant to divulge his plans beyond that. “I’m happy to make music, and I am happy about my six tracks right now,” he says. “And there’s lots of fans who love me — so if you’re happy, that’s it to me.”

I.M at the reopening of the Brioni boutique in Seoul.
I.M at the reopening of the Brioni boutique in Seoul.

Best of WWD