The k-pop career of American-born Jessi has been full of twists and turns. Beginning as a solo dance-pop artist over a decade ago, she then became the vocalist of hip-hop trio Lucky J before gaining massive notoriety as a rapper on the variety show Unpretty Rapstar. But throughout all her transformations, it feels like the soulful r&b of a song like Don’t Make Me Cry (울리지마) is most authentic to her.
The song is refreshingly devoid of trendiness, choosing instead to hearken back to a classic, soulful sound. The instrumental is mostly sparse, offering a steady beat with very little unnecessary ornamentation. When electric guitar makes a surprising appearance about two thirds of the way through, it’s all the more effective because of the simplicity of the instrumental that came before it. Though not incredibly impressive on its own, Don’t Make Me Cry‘s production effectively frames Jessi’s powerful vocals, which are far and away the star of the show.
Unpretty Rapstar was a blessing and a curse for Jessi, providing a highly successful comeback but also painting her into a corner as a rapper who seemed reliant on swag over substance. Don’t Make Me Cry features no rap at all, and is the purest showcase for Jessi’s incredible vocal talent that we’ve heard yet. Her lower register is particularly goosebump-inducing, driving the chorus with an emotionally raw force. The melody itself is a complete throwback, riffing on structures we’ve heard a dozen times before. But for a talent like her’s, this was a move in the right direction. She’s more than capable of pulling off this classic sound to stunning effect.