Review: Joohoney Unleashes the Beast On ‘Psyche’
The South Korean rapper’s new mixtape is exactly what a sophomore record should be: a personal, raw perspective that offers a look into the layers that build the identity of the artist
★ ★ ★ ½
Monsta X member Joohoney’s sophomore solo mixtape Psyche plays out rather like a journal of the rapper’s innermost emotions, traumas and frustrations. It stays true to its title to offer a deep dive into his mind, the erratic progression on certain tracks mimic the fleeting movement of thoughts. It’s an analysis of the human condition through Joohoney’s point of view and offers punchy trap, soaring alternative hip-hop ballads and elegant synth blends, a great follow-up to his 2018 jazzy debut mixtape DWTD (Do What They Do). Released on October 10th, Psyche comprises a total of seven tracks written, composed and arranged by Joohoney. He brings in two major collaborators, former 4TEN member and rapper TEM on “Wing Suit” and iconic vocalist Boa Kim (of now-disbanded girl group Spica) on “Dark & Cloudy.”
Possibly the most vicious track on the mixtape, “Ambition” serves not only as an intro to the record but also one to Joohoney’s style as an artist. It oscillates through various genres within three short minutes–starting with heavy gunfire, bass and percussion as the rapper warms up his fiery flow. It pauses halfway through to segue seamlessly onto a trap-EDM mix littered with stuttering beats that boost the pattern of his flow which begins to speed up. The final verse flips completely to a neo-soul vibe before melting into artillery-laced 808. The progression of the track is breathtaking, as is the speed and aggression through which Joohoney delivers each verse, gathering momentum each time he completes one part. The shifts in pace remind me a little of the style Jay-Z explored on his 2001 record The Blueprint or 2013’s “Suit & Tie” with Justin Timberlake.
The title track “Pysche” comes up next and falls slightly short compared to the anthemic power of “Intro: Ambition,” but still carries forward the commanding aura he establishes on the record with its introduction that demands the world listen to him. Heavy bass, synth and trap build the bones of this track and what’s fascinating is how he uses the speed of his rapping to seesaw the speed of the entire track–it’s a little like the music follows the direction his flow takes and not the other way around. He throws in yet another sharp turn when the track segues into neo-soul yet again, this time layered with a section of brass–it’s possible he’s unable to let go of the elegance he delivered previously on DWTD and to be honest, Psyche is richer for it (bonus points if you catch the reference he makes to DWTD in the lyrics!) It’s also the most emotional section of the track; while most of the song celebrates self-confidence, this part is a moment of reality and self-doubt: “I’ve been trying constantly/No matter what you say, I closed my ears/They said it wasn’t and they tied me up and locked me up/I closed my eyes saying that I would rather get better from a deep sleep.” Jumping back into trap is a bit jarring but it accomplishes the mission of what the track is trying to convey–the fleeting thoughts and complex emotions of the mind.
Instrumentally, things get deeper and mellower on “DIA,” slipping into alt-R&B territory with layered guitar and a slower trap beat. Joohoney doesn’t change his pace however and seems to barrel through the track slightly, but the emotional impact is driven in better with the aggression that at first seems misplaced. It’s the shortest track on the record at two minutes and 37 seconds, and on the whole acts as a bridge for Joohoney to slip into vocals on the lead single, “Smoky”, a rock-tinged ballad about starting anew. It’s a surprising pick for lead single, but the track followed the pre-release of “Intro: Ambition” and the pair contrast with each other beautifully to present two sides of Joohoney to the audience before they hear the entire mixtape. “Smoky” also provides the raw emotional connect many were expecting from the rapper’s sophomore offering; The lyrics are heartbreaking and explore loneliness, self-doubt and a want to return to one’s childhood when things were more innocent and less complicated: “I don’t know who I am/No one knows who I am/I don’t even know if my smile is happy/I don’t know if I’m sad now.” The track’s progression is hopeful however, as Joohoney vows to rise above all his challenges and the hate thrown at him to become a better person even if the future is hazy, “Nobody can stop me now/Nobody can hold me down/They’re gonna try to bring me down/My future smoky, smoky.” The choir of children singing along on the final verse breaks the angst-ridden intimacy in the track however, coming across less hopeful and more cheesy. An acoustic version of this song with just Joohoney and a guitar would be the stuff of dreams–here’s to hoping we see it in the near future.
“Dark & Cloudy” is elegant and highly complex, dancing between wavy synth and funk. Joohoney brings in vocalist Boa Kim (of Spica) and allows the audience to hear the full range of his vocal skill which compliments Kim’s breathy, buttery tone on several levels. The synth breakdowns are delicious on this and almost veer into future bass territory before being pulled back into soul by jazzy strains of piano. It’s more bluesy than you’d expect and it fits into the record thanks the moments of soul Joohoney injected into “Ambition” and “Psyche.” Lyrically it’s a confrontation of the past, with the rapper discussing various struggles he’s had to face during his career: “Confronting a biased company, containing the truth, chasing the passion/Done/I’ve been chasing so much I’ve reached the bottom of my passion/I feel like I can’t get up even though I want to get up/Those people can never feel who I am.”
“King” pretty much delivers on its title and dives back into the confident, intimidating delivery Joohoney is known for. The rolling trap beat stays low-key, keeping the focus on the poetry of the lyricism but is otherwise unremarkable and blends a bit too much into the rolling trap on “Wing Suit,” the mixtape’s final track. Rapper TEM is absolutely the star on this song and her confidence is off the charts as she strides in with an English verse to count the blessings in her life–especially her baby daughter Olive (who also makes a tiny feature.) “Wing Suit” ends the mixtape on positive note as Joohoney declares he is no longer alone: “I got fam, we remain here and here/I got fam we’re still alive here/I got fam, our wings rise up above/They fly and become a wing dragon and breathe fire.”
Psyche is exactly what a sophomore record should be: a personal, raw perspective that offers a look into the layers that build the identity of the artist, while also doing a brilliant job of showing off his growth as a producer. Joohoney has mastered how to use the rhythmic progression of a track to take an audience on multiple journeys in the sphere of just a few minutes. It does get a little too trap-heavy at moments and is repetitive in its thematic elements, but the vulnerability in the lyricism makes for some stand-out moments of emotional catharsis.