The past year has left many in a reflective state of mind; some, perhaps, questioning their own mortality for the first time. That certainly seems to have been true for 박혜진 Park Hye Jin, whose long-awaited debut album muses on the parts of life she truly values. Like many, she spent much of this period alone, without family and a lack of physical intimacy. The LA-based, producer, rapper and singer’s 2020 ‘How Can I’ EP chronicled the highs and lows of life on the road; the 15 tracks that form ‘Before I Die’ are set within a world that’s come to a screeching halt
This period – which follows collaborations with Blood Orange, Clams Casino and Nosaj Thing – means that her club-ready sound is a touch more contemplative. She fuses house, techno, trap and flits between rapping in both English and Korean, her lyrical delivery is deadpan and nonchalant, offering an unfiltered stream of consciousness.
The heart-aching pleas of ‘I Need You’ and the mournful atmosphere of the title track – where she emotively sing-raps about missing her loved ones – reveal a previously unshared intimacy and vulnerability in her writing; it feels like we’re thumbing through the pages of a tear-stained diary. The sorrow is occasionally replaced with pent-up frustration and longing with lurid moments: the insistent ‘Can I Get Your Number’ and forthright ‘Sex With Me (DEFG)’ indulge those fantasies, but it’s done with a more subtlety on on grooving highlight ‘Let’s Sing Let’s Dance’.
That extroverted nature has to battle with the inner thoughts plaguing Hye Jin. She gets lost in the fug of her own thoughts on the hazy interlude-length ‘Me Trust Me’, and the purposefully repetitive ‘Where Are You Think’ spiral meanderingly. ‘Never Die’, meanwhile, finds Hye Jin pondering her existence over a disparate soundscape of rumbling techno thumps, stirring piano keys and light cymbal taps. Even through the spritely ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’, a heads-down pummeler primed for dark warehouses, and trap-heavy closer ‘i jus wanna be happy’ ends the album on an optimistic note, a mournfulness persists.
By balancing these moments of soft introspection with tougher uninhibited hedonism – often in the same track – 박혜진 Park Hye Jin has crafted an affecting multi-layered debut that, rather than reaching a conclusion of fulfilment, manages to find happiness in just being alive.
- Release date: September 10
- Record label: Ninja Tune