Woo Won Jae is the 23 year old rapper from Gyeongju, South Korea, who first rose to fame after he participated in Show Me The Money 6 and placed 3rd. Woo subsequently signed to AOMG and has never looked back since. From his numerous charting singles, including the PAK single “We Are” to his stellar debut EP AF, Woo has become one of the most respected young hip hop figures in the Korean music scene.
“Used To” picks up exactly where AF left off. The track has a jazz injected sound-scape and lyricism that reflects on his burdened past, juxtaposed by his bright future. “Used To” features CIFIKA, but the MV is absent of both her presence and vocals. Instead, the MV starts with what appears to be a family portrait with Woo appearing as the black sheep of the family (literally being the only person wearing black). On closer inspection, though, you notice it is not, in fact, Woo’s biological family.
A keen eye can immediately spot both Sogumm and Code Kunst (artists also signed to AOMG) in this mock-family portrait as the MV transitions from a still black and white shot to a colourful present-day image. The full cast list can be found at the end of the MV. Other noticeable names include Kim Oki and Mokyo, both artists Woo has collaborated with before. This transition also fits with the aforementioned subject matter of the track: Woo looking back at his past and everything he did for himself and his family to achieve his present-day success.
Ye I used to,
Uh ye I made it for myself, for my fam
Rooftop, part-time job at a convenience store,
You can’t understand,
The reason I walked 4 hours on the Yeonnam Railroad
Ye I used to,
As is the norm for a Woo track, lyricism holds the most important place in the composition of Woo’s music. The verses continue to string along the struggles of Woo’s life before he made it as a hip hop artist. The MV remains caught in a living family portrait, with most of his supposed family staring straight ahead while Woo delivers each line attached to a complimentary hand gesture. Interestingly, there’s only one family member who actively moves, that is a male in the front row shaking his head, hinting at perhaps a disapproving relative or some other reason (a tremor or just bobbing to the track).
It is only in the second chorus, where Woo’s face begins to swell as the camera completes its slow zoom towards his face. This could signify the pain that Woo refers to in his verses finally making its way to the surface. The more interesting thought, however, occurs as Woo suddenly pushes the camera’s view downwards, forcing a visual transition.
This transition jarringly sees Woo wearing a mask made out of a teddy bear. This is presumably to hide his now completely swollen face. This new look for Woo might be a persona he is taking on for his newest record. His attempt to create a persona is similar to that of The Weeknd‘s persona on After Hours or the IGOR persona Tyler, The Creator took on for his most recent album. Adopting new persona is a well-known trend (think David Bowie or Eminem) that is currently making a renaissance in the hip hop sphere, allowing an artist to somewhat separate themselves from their art.
The snippet of sound that accompanies this final section of the MV is also not featured on the single version of this track (instead, containing the aforementioned CIFIKA feature). This implies that there is a new body of work on the way from Woo. Sonically, the transition features a woozy guitar loop alongside a steady drumbeat. The difference in sound between the two sections of the MV is nuanced but apparent.
The guitar loop itself is reminiscent of Woo’s previous single “Too Much” which came out in May. This echo from a previous track indicates that these singles are being tied together by a specific body of sound, as was seen with AF.
The outro section of this MV is most likely an interlude or a portion of another track found on Woo’s yet to be announced record. Interestingly, the Art Director for the MV, Hwang HyunJin, titled the second section of this piece “Fever”, hinting at its possible track name. Then again, this may just be a stylistic detour Woo has decided to take for his comeback single.
Whatever the case may be, it is a surprising moment and is gorgeously executed. One of the shots sees a masked Woo in a field surrounded by bees. This image brings another comparison to Tyler, The Creator and his Flower Boy album cover art. Musical influences flow naturally through both this MV’s visuals and also its lyrical content. Woo name drops AOMG, Brian Eno, and Bjork by the MV’s close, spinning a lovely tapestry of influence meeting creation.
Overall, the single shows Woo in brilliant form and hints at a brilliant record just over the horizon. Until then, we have this single and “Too Much” to devour, not to mention his features this year on SAAY‘s “Winter” and Code Kunst’s “Flower”! Woo Won Jae has continued to stake his claim as Korea’s most introspective lyricist and his success story remains a great example for others struggling to survive in this life.