It’s no secret that AOMG host some of the most exciting hip-hop talents in South Korea. Be it the steadfast mogul Jay Park, the idiosyncratic Loco or super-producer Gray, the kingpins of the underground-cum-mainstream scene have an endless roster of stars.
More recently, though, youth has formed a centrepiece of AOMG‘s further expansion. Most recently, the 23-year-old Lee Hi signed a deal, and before that came the likes of punchnello (23) and DeVita (21). At the apex of these prospects, however, is none other than Woo. Sure, he may not have the gravitas nor genuine star quality of the aformentioned Lee Hi (someone who is a true coup), but his style of music, as well as clear vision for success, makes him a talent worth the countless eyes on him right now.
In terms of beginnings for Won-Jae, they were far from humble. Finishing 3rd on Show Me The Money series 6 and officially debuting with a number 1 single in “We Are,” the then 20-year-old swiftly established himself as a force in the industry, catapulting himself to the upper-rungs of a tough-to-break section of the mainstream with anything but beginner’s luck.
Anxiety followed, a double-single which came after official confirmation that the young upstart had signed an exclusive deal with AOMG. “loop,” its a-side, sees a visceral showing of emotion over string pads, tempered synths and methodical percussion. Woo’s forefronted vocals tell a story of languid discomfort, and the uneasy, skittering chorus shines through as an astute climax of uncomfortable feelings. Yet, whatever was slightly reserved on “loop,” becomes all the more foreboding on “Paranoid.” Distorted, squelching electronic beats and vocal manipulations drive the uncomfortable three minute dissection on the artist’s poor mental health. It’s a ballsy, candid piece of pensiveness, and something which stands out as a track mature beyond the 23-year-old’s years.
After Anxiety scraped the hinges of grassroots, DIY music, 2018 started to see a small return to the limelight for Woo. On the relaxing, comfortable, New Balance commissioned “Balance,” the artist found himself back in the top 40 for the first time in over a year, and his debut EP Af drifted to 37th in the album charts, a feat far from small for a newly beginning rapper. “a fence,” the lead-single, did fail to chart, but gained a sizeable amount of praise for its candid, refined look at mental health, as well as its fuzzy, brass-tinged production.
From there, it was back to the drawing board. Woo‘s condition improved, his artistry grew – see the magnificent “SS,” a breezy, melodic seasonal offering – and the potential so evidently noticeable back from his Show Me The Money days was becoming closer to materialising.
So what next? After proving his worth with introspective brilliance and ultimately finding himself in a much brighter place for it, what could possibly come afterwards? Well, for the 23-year-old, it was all about proving his developed musicality with new, expansive soundscapes, a more mature outlook, and plenty of hit potential.
Thus, BLACK OUT the artist’s first LP, was born. Released at the tail-end of August, the nine-track offering blitzes through a 30-minute runtime and shows the AOMG star at new heights, and with plenty more to show. Offerings like “R.I.P”, a rapid synth-rap look at the materialistic society we find ourselves in, blitz through their lengths, whilst more succinct showings such as “USED TO” choose imagery and metaphor to go alongside the bludgeoning harshness of the overriding lyrical theme of growing from one’s past. Even the jazz-inspired “CANADA” gives a flourish of excellence to proceedings, with its raw soundscapes and echoing rhythm guitars reverberating around headphones endlessly. It is all tightly produced, and cohesive without being conceptually embedded, which is a testament to just how good Woo is.
With time on his side, and a body of work already better than some stalwart contemporaries, there is simply no doubt that Woo may well be the future of Korean hip-hop.