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  • Cy White

Wonstein: ZOO

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Well, this was a deeply musical album that I was not expecting.

Wonstein's ZOO has a great deal of tenderness to go along with the bravado. Wonstein has a bit of Nucksal in him in terms of delivery. Though he's not as impactful with his flow (his primary style is the ever-popular but increasingly uninteresting sing-song style of rap that most have adopted because of Drake's influence).

That being said, ZOO is incredibly composed, produced within an inch of its life. The lone (listed) feature is perfectly placed. I mean, c'mon, Verbal Jint features on a song called "GOAT," perhaps the most apropos placement on the album. But Wonstein doesn't wither behind the legendary addition, most certainly holding his own.

Despite the style of his delivery, he's incredibly clever with his musical setups. There are several credited arrangers on the album, and they all do a masterful job of working in perfect concert with Wonstein. The music isn't overpowering, but it doesn't take a backseat to the rapper. It's the perfect marriage of music and artist. Construction, attention to how every element relates to each other is an important aspect of how an album makes an impression on me. After all, I'm a Libra. Balance is kind of a big deal for me.

These moments of tenderness are not isolated to a few songs. It's a feeling that pervades the album. Though the title suggests a confined sort of chaotic, we get something emotionally mature, musically exceptional and skillfully crafted. Tracks like "Night Walker" and "Life is a ZOOoo.." make astonishing use of harmony, syncopation even elements of vocalization to add texture and depth to what could very easily just be trope-riddled sing-rap with no nuance.

What's even more interesting is Wonstein's use of subtlety. The album for all its lush soundscapes and layering is very understated. Rapper and producer both showing remarkable restraint in order to deliver some truly beautiful music. "Beautiful." Not often a word I use when describing rap albums, particularly from South Korea. ZOO has subverted all expectation to become one of the more surprising and unironically gorgeous albums (period) to come out of South Korea in the past couple years. He even throws in some folk-pop in the end there with track "It's You."

I will most definitely keep an eye on Wonstein. Hip hop in Korea needs more artists like him.

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