Read our guest writer Cy’s album review of Dominican-based Korean American artist Yohan Jung‘s new EP Cherry Poppin’.
Last year was one hell of a year for music. In fact, I made it a mission to explore as much of it as possible and came up with over 100 albums under my belt. Debut and indie artists in particular had a banner year in 2017. Toward the end of the year, artists were releasing music hot and heavy, some of it truly spectacular. One such artist was Korean-Dominican artist Yohan Jung. His debut EP, aptly titled Cherry Poppin’, is really a gut-check. It’s perhaps not the most polished hip-hop album. But what it lacks in sophistication it more than makes up for in Yohan’s open candor and his desire to keep his work free of frills or exposition.
Cherry Poppin’ opens up with an extended journal entry. “Time Capsule (Note to Self)” is the most stream-of-conscious track on the album, and it sets the listener up for what is quickly recognizable as an artist opening himself up to an audience of strangers without any real fear of judgment. It’s certainly gutsy to begin an album with what amounts to an unplanned conversation with himself. J. Cole did as much to end 2014’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Just as when I first heard Cole’s liner notes, I was a bit choked up with Jung’s sincerity, with just how honest and open with himself and his listeners he is.
From the conversational opening notes, Jung uses the next several minutes to reminisce about his own upbringing, thus introducing himself to all those discovering him for the first time. In “Take You Back” Jung manages to infuse his Dominican heritage, including bits of Spanish, without it coming off trite. From the opening tracks, Jung makes it easy to relate to him. He brings listeners to his level, down from their pedestal of omniscient criticism to the streets of his old neighborhood, meeting the people who molded him into the man and artist he is now. He allows himself to be honest, meaning he doesn’t hide behind a persona or an image of what it means to be “hip-hop” or hardcore. He is who he is.
Thus we come to “Business Talk.” Though he doesn’t shy away from any vulnerability, he certainly doesn’t want listeners to mistake it for some sort of preconceived weakness. “Business Talk” harbors a grittiness that one can feel deep in her guts. There’s no posturing, no pretense. Just 100 percent realness. It’s short and sweet. To the point. There’s nothing extra here, nothing over-the-top. He makes his point. Then keeps it moving, and implores his listeners to do the same “if [they] ain’t ’bout the business.”
Jung continues in that same vein with “Shut It Down.” We get more of the utter grimminess of the previous track. But one wouldn’t begrudge him taking a few moments to bolster his own ego. What‘s impressive is just how straight to the point he is. He epitomizes the old adage of “waste not, want not.”
With track “Jump,” Jung steps into a habit that always sort of rankles. I get a bit wary when rappers start in on how they’re so much different than everybody else, then begin to name drop. It’s a slight pet-peeve of mine. Let your flow and lyricism speak for themselves. The only thing you can accomplish by dropping names (which has the adverse effect of insinuating you put yourself in that same league, whether you intend to or not) is letting listeners down when the comparisons don’t pay off. Ninety-five percent of the time they don’t, especially if you drop the names of veritable legends. However, as the song continues, Yohan does get back to the business of delivering his grimy brand of lyricism and flow. Though the need to bolster his name with those who’ve influenced him still niggles a bit, it doesn’t take away from what we actually have here: a very talented, very passionate rapper who keeps himself honest.
Then… “Relax Your Mind” happens. Jung closes the album on something as poignant as the album’s opener. The first notable aspect: composition to the heavens and back! The title is certainly apt, harkening to something out of Jjang-you’s repertoire (more-so from his work with ILLAP than WAVISABIROOM) and Odd Future’s catalogue musically, if we stretch a bit. After a few tracks where he insists on his credibility, it’s no surprise he’d need a second to bring things back down to earth. The need to feed into oftentimes toxic masculinity with songs that expound upon his testicular fortitude is no doubt exhausting. With “Relax Your Mind,” Jung takes a breath and a moment to reflect on the pain he’s gone through, loved ones lost, love lost. It’s a tasteful and equally poignant end to an album that really is one of the purest ways to debut that I’ve heard in a long time: pulling no punches, just simple, naked, raw honesty.
Composition-wise, Cherry Poppin’ is as simple and straightforward as Jung himself. It’s grimy when he is, melodic when he takes a turn for the more introspective. Though not all the album’s music is awe-inspiring, there’s nothing lackadaisical about it. A track like “Business Talk” could’ve coasted on the crunchy bass and simple beat, but the details in the music, using a muffled filter for the opening seconds, for instance, is what makes it all the more impressive. Never mind the fact that “Relax Your Mind” is really a stunning piece of music. I’m 100 percent behind artists who’ve implemented the latest trend of lo-fi R&B and beatmaking to give their work broader and more spatial (and spacial) dimension.
Cherry Poppin’ is surprising, not only in terms of artist, but in just how pure the piece is. When I say “pure,” I absolutely mean it. Yohan Jung proves himself quite a unique rapper. His honesty, his raw delivery is a breath of fresh air. It strays a bit from the norm of artists who use posturing and the stereotypes of hip-hop to feign a toughness they don’t have. I’d liken him to more of a G2 in both lyrical weight and execution: all honest emotions and delivery that’s more from the gut than from a practiced or affected flow.
Yohan Jung’s is a passion that overflows from the very first second of the album, which appropriately is him sending himself a message about his insecurities, his triumphs, and the things he should always be thankful for. In that way Cherry Poppin’ sets Jung up as an artist to look out for.
About a year ago I decided to do something only my imagination fantasized about. Thanks to my dad. Reminding me life is short and I should do what my heart beats for. Everyday I ask myself if this is worth it…if people will judge or talk behind my back because of the content I will put up. But I wake up thinking about this everyday.. this makes me feel free. I work to eat and pay bills so I can do this. And I'm learning to appreciate people more from this. Thankful for the fam, homies, the team, and others who've stuck through. God knows how far this'll go. with the time I got here, music is life. EP in the near future..ya tú sabe
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About the Writer: Cy is a digital journalist and blog writer specializing in reviews of music and film across a broad range of genres. Wherever there’s electricity, food and a good Wi-fi connection is where she makes her home. Find her on Twitter (@mindlesscy) and Instagram (@mindless_cy).