Review: HAON’s ‘Travel: Noah’ is a Hip-Hop Debut Done Right
H1GHR Music’s youngest recruit dodges the trap/mumble-rap bullet for a Latin-jazz inspired take on hip-hop
South Korean hip-hop label H1GHR Music Records’ youngest recruit Kim Haon, better known as just HAON, makes an impressive debut with his first EP Travel: Noah. The 18-year old winner of High School Rapper 2 takes a surprisingly mature route with Latin-jazz inspired beats and lyrics about hard work, ego, the psyche, young love and finding his space in the world. The EP, which dropped on September 5th, uses its title to hint at the journey it will take it’s listeners on; ‘Noah’ is after all simply ‘Haon’ spelled backwards.
The title track starts things off strong; producer GroovyRoom adds Flamenco guitar that brightens up HAON’s deeper timbre, while verses from collaborators (label CEO and hip-hop artist) Jay Park and R&B singer Hoody add a considerable amount of variation and star-power. Park does pull focus a bit during his verse, but ends up taking on the role of a big brother to HAON, guiding him into the hip-hop space in South Korea and predicting a bright career for the younger rapper: “HAON, let’s show these kids how to hustle/We’re more than 12 years apart but we’re all young here/No worries, your future is bright, when you come of age, I’ll get you a drink.”
The next track “Love! Dance!” was Haon’s debut single and made waves when it first came out back in June; most listeners were surprised by how retro it turned out—there was a possibility for Haon to go trap-heavy like most new rappers on the scene, but with prominent Korean producer BOYCOLD at the reins, “Love! Dance!” took the disco/funk route instead. It’s a bright, dreamy song about being young and having fun, the vibe at times reminiscent of American rock band MGMT’s general neo-psychedelia.
“Whachuwant” is a pleasant hit of old school, the insertion of detailed adlibs and flute making a playful throwback to Sixties bossa nova. HAON takes his flow up a notch on the verses but the instrumentals linger on easy listening. It carries forward the retro vibe “Love! Dance!” brought in and makes a smooth transition to the feast of sultry slow jazz on “Good Night” courtesy BOYCOLD. HAON and rapper B-Free slip into a smooth, rolling flow with a loop of saxophone and piano as the backdrop. The lyrics on “Good Night” get a little more intense, outlining the need to succeed in the industry: “Gotta show the world what I’m made of,” and “Like Frank Sinatra I did it my way.”
“Nylon” lifts the somewhat somber mood at this point and manages to cement itself as the highlight of Travel: Noah. HAON’s labelmate pH-1 shines on this track, adding his own brand of chill, breathy vocals on the hook. Lyrically “Nylon” is an anthem of encouragement about keeping on the grind and is heartwarming in its honesty and delicate guitar work. “Oooool” gets a little real, tackling the woes of growing up and responsibility and HAON gets a chance to show off his prowess for wordplay, onomatopoeia and rhythm. He keeps the music simple with wavy synths and piano to highlight on his flow. The rookie artist finally wraps up his seven-track debut with the ironically titled “Intro,” which makes for a quirky summation of the rapper we have discovered through the EP: playful and bouncy but with lyrics that surprise many with their self-affirming nature.
Despite this lyrical maturity, Travel: Noah is young, fresh, fun and packed with talent–much like HAON himself–and manages to accurately balance the (somewhat naive) hopes, dreams and ambitions of a teenager. HAON makes it clear he is in no hurry to grow up and is wholly himself as he dodges the trap/mumble rap bullet so many new hip-hop artists fall prey to across the world. With the grating overuse of the word ‘shawty’ the only possible deal-breaker on Travel: Noah, it’s clear H1GHR Music and Jay Park know exactly what they’re doing with their diverse roster of artists.
Key tracks: “Noah” feat. Jay Park and Hoody, “Love! Dance!” and “Nylon” feat. pH-1
Listen to ‘Travel: Noah’ below: