Woo Won-Jae is the dark prince of Korean hip-hop
The AOMG-signed South Korean rapper breaks all the rules on his debut album 'BLACK OUT'.
23-year-old South Korean rapper Woo Won-Jae sprung to fame in 2017 after appearing on the popular hip-hop competition show Show Me The Money, resulting in a record deal with Jay Park’s AOMG. Now one of the most respected young hip-hop artists on the scene, Woo is the quintessential Gen Z rapper: he embraces his struggles, faces his demons and remains hopeful for the future.
Having spoken publicly about his struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, Woo’s lyrics are just as honest and open as he is – from not being afraid to get dark when expressing his feelings, to revealing details of a romantic relationship. While these topics might not cause a stir by other countries’ standards, when it comes to the South Korean entertainment industry, they’re very taboo. His fans, however, have proved time and time again that they find this out-of-the-ordinary attitude refreshing, raw and relatable, motivating Woo to push forward.
In August 2020, the rapper released his long-awaited debut album BLACK OUT – his signature darkness running through its entirety, but showing obvious growth from his previous work. Produced by KHYO, the record has a long list of impressive collaborators – including Tiger JK, Qim Isle, So!YoON! and CIFIKA – and cements Woo as a true innovator.
Deep in album promotion mode, Woo spoke to i-D about the creation of his new project and being part of the AOMG family.
What can you tell us about the aesthetic of your new music videos?
“USED TO” music video is the video that director Suho Lee and I worked on together. He applied various CG effects such as changing face and entangling insects. People are very interested in the mask I wore towards the end of the music video (“FEVER”) — the mask was made by HYEIN SEO, a Korean brand. As a collective, Director Suho Lee, Hyein Seo and I enjoyed making the music video as if we were playing with toys.
How much involvement do you have in the creative process of the visuals?
I’m not sure how much I was involved exactly by measurement, but I bothered them a lot with my ideas for sure.
Do you ever struggle with mainstream vs non-mainstream expectations when you’re creating your music?
My thoughts on the mainstream and non-mainstream have recently changed. If mainstream was to be defined as receiving a lot of attention and non-mainstream was to be defined as receiving less attention, I’d like to stick with the mainstream. However, I believe with such binary thinking of classifying my creative process as ‘mainstream’ or ‘non-mainstream’, or ‘pop’ or ‘subculture’, is a limitation on how I and people create things. I want to create what I want to, and of course compliments are always welcome.
What is your favourite emoji to use?
You belong to the well-loved label AOMG, whose artists are known to be close. If you guys are a family, which artist represents each family member to you?
Your fans love you very much, and we don’t blame them. Many of them said they felt intoxicated when listening to your voice – calling it South Korean hip-hop ASMR. How do you feel about that?
That’s nice, doesn’t it mean it’s good? I don’t know if my voice is that good, but it feels nice people say they like my voice.
You have grown so much since the show _Show Me The Money_**. If you could meet your younger self during that phase, what would you say to him?**
I wouldn’t say a thing. I don’t want to meet him in the first place and even if I meet him, I won’t say anything. Nothing will be changed by saying something.