Photo Courtesy of Micaiah Carter, Illustrations by Liana Chaplain
Preview by Seth Israel
In a recent instagram post, user @kraejiyaeji posted a series of photos with the caption that reads: “CHOOSE YOUR YAEJI 👾: sleepy yaeji 😴, fish yaeji 🐠, post-it yaeji ✏️, banchan yaeji 🌶, dj yaeji 🎛, toilet yaeji 💩, party yaeji 🗯.” I’d argue that there are more—a lot more “yaejis:” “producer yaeji,” “vocalist yaeji,” “rapper yaeji,” “visual artist yaeji,” “superstar yaeji,” etc, etc, etc. It really doesn’t end. Yaeji is a polymath in every sense of the word: she seems equally as comfortable performing in front of sold out crowds around the world as she does hosting a Boiler Room DJ event where visitors could simultaneously eat curry and dance to house music. Taking a large role in designing her own visuals and hand-printing her own merch, Yaeji is a DIY expert. She recently opened her own personal studio, where she and her friends can hang out, make music, or do whatever they please. She designed the posters that outline her forthcoming world tour, where, among Providence, RI, she’ll be hitting the rest of North America, Europe, the UK, as well as her first tour throughout Asia. She was recently featured in SSENSE, rocking fit after fit. Is there anything Yaeji can’t do?
Regardless of whether you’ve never heard one of her songs or you know her entire discography like the back of your hand, Yaeji’s music and energy is guaranteed to get you moving on the green. Her music can’t be dropped into a single category. Drawing elements from house, hip-hop, rap, and R&B, Yaeji’s sound is the summation of its parts—a lot like Yaeji herself. Born in Queens, NY as Kathy Yaeji Lee to her South Korea parents, Yaeji repatriated to South Korea, where she learned English and Korean in high school. Returning to the US, Yaeji found a home at Carnegie Mellon University, spending time at the university’s radio station where she began to curate her refined taste for electronic music.
Finding her way back to New York via her current residence in Brooklyn, Yaeji injected herself into the NY music scene, jumping out with her self-titled EP yaeji in 2017, an uncommonly well-crafted debut project featuring hits from front to back that began to define her unique sonic presence, a blend of cool, subdued vocals layered over punchy, head-bouncing house beats. You’ll quickly find that with experiences in Korea and America, Yaeji can slip between English and Korean as easily as she can build a beat behind a mixing board. At 19 minutes, yaeji is an easy listen. Each track is as strong as the next: “Noonside” features bubbly synth stabs and exclusively Korean lyrics; “New York 93” is a stripped-down, spaced-out track, as Yaeji drops down to a whisper and relies on minimal percussion and synth plucks to make for a fire track; “Feel It Out” goes into house-mode, with a thumping kick-drum as Yaeji bounces between Korean and English, channeling her rap delivery; with a higher tempo and infectious beat, “Guap” is a crowd-pleaser; and the EP rounds out with “Full of It,” possibly the strongest feature on the album. Looping a single lyric, “Distant like ignorance / resistance, full of it,” it’s a mesmerizing track that blends Yaeji’s subdued coolness and palpable energy present in all of her work.
Later in 2017, Yaeji came back with another five-track EP, sensibly titled EP2. With her sophomore project, Yaeji took more risks, building on her already-impressive aptitude for crafting hits, as the EP features two standout tracks, “drink i’m sippin on” and “raingurl,” both of which have gained Yaeji international acclaim. “raingurl” features her ability to build her presence over the course of a track, an ability she has both on the production side as well as when she’s in DJ mode. At the snap of her fingers, Yaeji brings the track from a pulsating club-shaker back down to level one. The music video is an overload of the senses (in a good way). The NY-native bounces around what looks like an abandoned warehouse-factory-building through artificial fog and a rainbow of lights coming from every direction. At the hook (“Make it rain girl make it rain”), Yaeji is dancing with an umbrella overhead, surrounded by a mob of individuals dressed in white and feeling the music, much like the crowds at her shows (minus the all white attire). The visual component of “drink i’m sippin on” is reflective of the track’s relatively bold essence as Yaeji gets back to her roots, rapping and biking through Koreatown in NYC, surrounded by her friends in grungy, graffiti-streaked alleyways. EP2 is capped off by Yaeji’s rendition of Drake’s “Passionfruit.” The remix is perfectly Yaeji, equal parts luscious vocal melodies and contagious beats. While it’s her take on Drake’s song, it really feels like Yaeji, something that’s tough to do when covering another artist.
After two EPs, a slew of singles, and a number of music videos, Yaeji came back in 2018 with “One More,” one of her most dynamic productions to date. The post about all the “yaejis”? Those are stills from the music video for “One More,” where you can find Yaeji on the toilet, chilling in bed, mixing a song, and dancing in the club. The track? A Yaeji instant-classic. With all of this incredible work under her belt, Yaeji has established herself as one of the leading producers, DJs, and performers in the world. For similar music, see Peggy Gou, SASSY 009, or Channel Tres, to name a few. It’s hard to say exactly what Yaeji’s set on Brown University’s main green will look like until the time comes, but expect singing, rapping, insane DJ skills, tons of energy, getting really sweaty, and of course, the one and only Yaeji.