Yaeji’s debut mixtape ‘WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던’ builds upon her already singular vision
If you were to lay out all of the major milestones in Yaeji’s career up to this point, you would find that WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던, the musician’s debut mixtape, would have been a foregone conclusion. Throughout the four years since she’s been active, she’s accomplished an impressive amount: releasing two highly acclaimed EPs (2017’s Yaeji EP, 2018’s EP2), playing a few legendary Boiler Room shows, landing a high profile collaboration with Asian musical hype-brand 88Rising, working with the likes of major pop stars Charli XCX and Robyn, and becoming a familiar name within the realm of both underground electronic and pop music scenes. And yet somehow, Yaeji (Kathy Yaeji Lee)’s WHAT WE DREW is the project that trumps them all.
Developing a signature sound that is paradoxically minimalistic yet overflowing with an haute couture attitude (those underground electronic performances á la Boiler Room have really helped her here), Yaeji’s music has slowly evolved to form an exciting mesh of sleek style and mainstream appeal. Her songs are usually accented by her spacey, echoing beats that underline each track but give way for an amorphous form, allowing the musician to liberally shape the course of a song with ease as she’s performing it. Wispy ideas, rather than definitive song structures are defining characteristics in many of Yaeji’s works. Beautifully matched with Yaeji’s placid mumble and dual Korean/English lyrics, many of her songs have a disorienting effect–most of the tracks seem to be obfuscated behind curious intrigue. The first song that she released under the GODMODE label back in 2016, “New York 93,” acts like an ironclad thesis statement for everything that she has released since then. But even after all of these years, those defining characteristics remain steadfast.
Therefore, it makes sense that WHAT WE DREW, Yaeji’s first feature-length mixtape continues that trend with remarkable consistency. Clouds of murky haze blend in with that same smattering of familiar rumblings, giving the whole project a soft ASMR-effect that hangs over the majority of the album. The opening slew of songs, “MY IMAGINATION 상상,” “WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던,” and “IN PLACE 그 자리 그대로” sets the stage for these elaborate musical sketches by creating an off-the-cuff sandbox environment that ebb and flow freely. Moments of spontaneous inspiration are occasionally whisked in, like a brief fifteen-second sample of a voice memo of her father humming at the beginning of “WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던,” or the throat-clearing sound-check that forms the backbone of “WHEN I GROW UP.” In other contexts, these kinds of inclusions would feel intrusive. But in a project as wispy and free-flowing as WHAT WE DREW, it’s just another foggy texture in Yaeji’s world. The same could be said about the detailing in “THESE DAYS 요즘,” where squirming horns can be found peripherally buried in the mix.
But while the majority of the beginning and end of WHAT WE DREW thrives in its ability to transport you into Yaeji’s curious headspace, the most defining moments of the mixtape are in its more structured moments. With the flip of a switch, WHAT WE DREW switches pace the second the dusky beats hit on “MONEY CAN’T BUY.” Flexing hip-hop bravado production, Yaeji and her collaborators ranging from underground rap artists (Nappy Nina, Lil Fayo, trenchcoat, Sweet Pea, G.L.A.M) to Japanese DJs (YonYon) turn the middle of the album into a riot, if only briefly before returning to her clouded nebula. This switch-up showcases the malleability of Yaeji’s expansive vision, mainstream viability included. “MONEY CAN’T BUY,” “FREE INTERLUDE,” and “SPELL 주문,” with all of their freestyling swagger, works especially well in their own little place in Yaeji’s world. Even on songs devoid of any collaborators like the soft self-care banger “WAKING UP DOWN,” Yaeji is able to hold down the fort just as well on her own.
So even though WHAT WE DREW is a digital sandbox for Yaeji to experiment with new sounds, it seems that she’s already refined her heady production despite labeling the project as a mixtape. Building upon years of consistent DJ work, WHAT WE DREW is a deviant mix of strong factors that make Yaeji one of those artists with a distinct, singular vision. One can only imagine what a self-declared debut project will bring.
Yaeji’s WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던 is out now via XL Recordings.
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!