Yaeji – EP2: “The experimental bent of her productions doesn’t mask their genuine value as pieces of music”
One of the tracks on EP2, the latest offering from from Korean/American DJ, rapper, producer and all-round cool girl Yaeji, is called ‘raingurl’. On it, she switches between Korean and English, building up to a chorus that starts “When the sweaty walls are banging/I don’t fuck with family planning,” before plaintively repeating “Make it rain girl, make it rain”. This is her unique brand of weird deep-house hip-hop all over – out there, but good.
If that’s not a description of everything Yaeji, nee Kathy Yaeji Lee, puts out, it’s certainly a description of EP2. I first came across her watching a Boiler Room set she did in New York and fell in love with the big, reverberating basslines coupled with musicality, and the healthy sense of playfulness that she seemed to bring to her music. She got her start in college radio while studying at Carnegie Mellon, and formed her own grassroots community of musicians in Brooklyn through a weekly curry night where musicians play their new work and support each other. The wide-ranging influences these experiences brought were evident in that set, and Yaeji’s origins and interests in DJ’ing, mixing and her superior ability to build a musical landscape, are all in full force on EP2.
There’s ‘feelings change’, a melancholy, dance music ballad, as well as a cover of Drake’s ‘passionfruit’, filtered and remixed to create a lo-fi take on one of this year’s biggest songs, with Yaeji’s vocals overlaid almost as if they were there all along (full disclosure: I have forgotten what the original sounds like). ‘drink i’m sippin’ on’ has all the hallmarks of a pre-drinks banger, carefully produced with whispery vocals and a reverberating bassline. As an EP, each song stands out without being gimmicky.
For so many musicians/DJs/producers/etc., there’s a real competition to be unique and stand out especially given the hyper-saturation of new content that the internet and streaming services can bring about. In contrast, Yaeji admitted in an interview with Pitchfork about EP2 that she initially chose to sing in Korean because “I didn’t want people to understand what I was singing about”. While this may sound counter-intuitive, it shows that Yaeji doesn’t want to create music for other people to simply consume. Despite its club friendliness and her DJ-ing background, much of Yaeji’s work resonates on an emotional level. In that same interview, she says that much of the material for her music comes from “a little notebook that I take notes in on the subway during my commutes” – her songs are personal, and emotionally-driven. That kind of influence is so clear on EP2, making it feel like a very reflective conversation with a friend.
There’s lots of exciting things about Yaeji – her impeccable ability as a producer for a start. But what’s most pleasing is that the experimental bent of her productions doesn’t mask their genuine value as pieces of music, nor make them less enjoyable. EP2 is no exception.