Listening to Yaeji’s new album feels like entering the camp version of a Super Smash Bros game. Armed with a gigantic sledgehammer casually leaning on her shoulders, Korean American DJ, singer and songwriter is ready to fight – her enemies are past versions of herself, as well as the ongoing injustice suffered by Asian Americans. Yaeji’s fiery new album With a Hammer is an exploration of rage, both on a personal and systemic level. From drum & bass to jazz, music provides the artist with a space to confront her relationship with this complex emotion.
The album’s concern with both the personal and the collective is at once crystalised in its opening track, Submerge FM. This synth-pop, flute-driven tune contends with a fear of the end of times: “Internet said there's nothing we can do to save the future generation.” Anger is not merely a destructive force in Yaeji’s album – it speaks for a need to destroy only to build up again in the future. In Fever, a personal favourite, Yaeji switches between English and Korean to raise awareness on Asian American discrimination. Over a hammering – pun intended – beat, she raps about yellow fever, a term referring to the fetishisation of East and Southeast Asian women. A few tracks later, in Done (Let’s Get It), Yaeji urges her listeners to gain freedom from this type of injustice, singing: “Isn’t it our mission in this life to | break the cycles, make it make you | mend the cycles?”
Every rage-fueled track is balanced by slower, melodic counterparts. In Passed me by, Yaeji confronts anger as a stepping stone towards personal development. She lets herself move through the up-and-down motions of growth – “Today has been a little weak, a little strong” – yet picking herself up with newfound confidence: “I light a little fire | Anything that touches me will evaporate.” Yaeji’s new album is an ode to anger as a propelling agent – capable of driving both people and history towards freedom and evolution.