Jessica Ho, better known as Jessi, was born in New York, USA on December 17, 1988, then raised in New Jersey, before moving to South Korea when she was fifteen years old. In 2005, she debuted as a solo artist before briefly hooking up with a hip-hop group known as Uptown in 2006 for their album, Testimony, as they replaced their lead singer, Yoon Mi-rae. While attending the Korea Kent Foreign School, she met Tiffany Young and Jessica Jung, both of whom became members of Girls’ Generation.
For Jessi, although she passed the audition held by S.M. Entertainment, she opted not to sign up with them. The style of music S.M. Entertainment catered to was a general K-pop style while Jessi’s preference was heavy hip-hop and rap. Unfortunately for Jessi, the taste of success hadn’t been realized yet while Young and Jung of Girls’ Generation found themselves instantly hitting iconic status as soon as the group debuted. The struggle was severe enough where she sometimes slept in saunas as she didn’t have enough money to afford a place to stay. In 2009, after Jessi released her second single album, The Rebirth, she returned to the USA to take a break from the entertainment industry.
When she returned in 2014, she signed up with YMC Entertainment as a solo artist and as a member of the hip-hop trio, Lucky J. She, along with rapper J’Kyun and vocalist J-Yo, debuted their first single, “Can You Hear Me.” She was with this group until they disbanded in 2016 before moving on as a solo artist again. In 2015, Jessi collaborated with J.Y. Park for the hit single, Who’s Your Mama?” which became one of the biggest hits in K-Pop history. Shortly afterward, Jessi released her first rap single, “Ssenunni,” before teaming up with the hip-hop duo, Mighty Mouth, to perform on stage in Los Angeles, California. For Jessi, this was her first concert performance in the United States.
In October 2018, Jessi’s contract with YMC Entertainment came to an end. As of January 2019, she signed up with Psy’s P Nation as his first member of his talent roster. Her first single from his label, “Who Dat B,” was released on September 23, 2019 before collaborating with another P Nation recruit, Jay Park. Together, they recorded and released the rap single, “Drip.”
In addition to the mainstream popularity Jessi has received as a K-Pop artist, she has starred on a number of Korean variety programs, including the filming of Refund Sisters that led up to the 2020 recording and release of their hit single, “Don’t Touch Me,” along with the music video that accompanied it. Also in 2020, starting on June 4, Jessi’s Showterview began a run on SBS’s Mobidic YouTube channel. That year also saw her release additional music, including the hits “Nunu Nana” and “Numb.” Also in 2020, she reunited with Yoo Jae-suk of Uptown fame for the tvN variety show, Sixth Sense, as part of the main cast.
The Refund Sisters was a sequel supergroup project, picking up where SSAK3 left off. It was June 2020 when Lee Hyori made a joke about the creation of a girl crush group featuring herself, Jessi, Uhm, Jung-hwa and Hwasa. The joke became reality when it was shared with Yoo Jae-suk, the main entertainer of Hangout with Yoo, a program all four ladies have made appearances on as guests. This project was highly supported by the public once they learned about it, which resulted in the official formation of Refund Sisters as of August 2020. Like the SSAK3 project before them, proceeds made from the promotions revolving around Refund Sisters has been donated to charitable organizations and their causes. As a group, they only released one single, “Don’t Touch Me,” which was released on October 10, 2020. The music video came out eighteen days later.
Top 10 Jessi Songs
#10 – Shivers (featuring Ed Sheeran and Sunmi)
Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” was originally released on September 10, 2021 as a single from his fifth studio album, =. On the official singles charts belonging to Ireland and the UK, “Shivers” kicked out his previous number one hit, “Bad Habits” out of its number one spot. It was also a chart-topping hit in Austria, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. On the US Billboard Hot 100 it was a number four hit. A couple months later, a remix featured Jessi and Sunmi was released. Regarded as a sexy single that sends “Shivers” up and down spines, it was a dance number that was already a favorite before Jessi and Sunmi added their K-Pop influence into it.
#9 – Who Dat Be
On the World Digital Song Sales chart, “Who Dat Be” peaked at number eight after it was released in 2019. On the K-Pop Hot 100 it was a number sixty-eight hit. As a rap artist, Jessi proudly demonstrated the fact she was born and raised as an American first, heavily influenced by the music scene that dominated the nation during the final decade of the twentieth century. “Who Dat Be” started off with an instrumental that suggested it may be an opera number before Jessi’s rapping vocals served as a reminder who she is and how this song was going to play out. As she stated in the lyrics, “Who Dat Be” to keep it real.
#8 – Drip (featuring Jay Park)
In 2019, “Drip” became a number sixteen hit on the World Songs chart. Together, as new recruits of P Nation, Jessi and Jay Park put forth a heavy-hitting hip-hop number that saw Jessi rap her way through this song, along with Park as he installed the solid K-Pop influence, fusing with Jessi’s American slang in this highly suggestive song about a subject matter that gave the South Korean entertainment regulations cause to limit its exposure to ensure it was kept away from the younger audience.
#7 – Cold Blooded
In 2021, “Cold Blooded” served as a collaborative track, featuring Mnet’s dance crew competitors from its show, Street Woman Fighter. So far, it is Jessi’s newest single and has already become a major fan favorite. On the World Digital Song Sales chart it peaked at number twelve. On South Korea’s Gaon Music chart it climbed up to number thirty and is a number twenty-two hit on the K-Pop Hot 100. The heavy hip-hop influence worked its way through the the song’s theme. Jessi’s artistry as a singer, rapper, and dance artist was beautifully played out in “Cold Blooded” as a chilly number that was heavy with the pops and icy with the lyrics.
#6 – Down
Released during the summer of 2018, “Down” was a single that became so controversial in South Korea due to the music video Jessi released that it did not earn a chart appearance anywhere. The footage of Jessi twerking while sporting a bikini was too risque as a Korean fashion standard. Jessi’s upbringing as an American was not only an obvious in the music video but in the song’s heavy hip-hop, mixed with rap, style. “Down” was one of Jessi’s best songs as a lyrical artist that didn’t resort heavily into a rap style she’s otherwise best known for. The tropical mix of the music, along with her determination to not let her love interest down, was a uniquely fresh single that’s festive enough to listen to as well as a good Valentine’s Day number.
#5 – Gucci
In 2017, Jessi released the single, “Gucci,” which came from her mini-album, Un2verse. It was the first single she released to appear on the World Digital Song Sales chart where it peaked as high as number nine. On the Gaon Music chart it was a number ninety-nine hit. While Jessi’s music may not have been as popular in South Korea with that nation’s music charts, her global popularity outside the nation was a different matter, as was “Gucci.”
Although her bloodline says she’s South Korean, she grew up as an American. Singles like “Gucci” was styled in a manner only Jessi could pull off as she continued to establish her own identity, continually setting herself apart from the rest of the K-Pop crowd. Just like the iconic fashion brand, Jessi’s rap-style love affair was an influential favorite, especially among dance clubs that share an addition for heavy-hitting, thump-style music.
#4 – Who’s Your Mama? (featuring J.Y. Park)
“Who’s Your Mama?” was a collaborated single performed by the team-up of Jessi and JYP. It topped all nine of the major music charts in South Korea as soon as it was released in April 2015, including the Goan Music Chart. On the World Digital Song Sales chart, it was a number twelve hit. At the very start of the song, there was already a suggestion “Who’s Your Mama?” was going to be a heavy-hitting dance number. It did not disappoint. Jessi as a rapping guest vocalist in this song beautifully contrasted from Park’s smoother style, as did the classical musical installment at the bridge of this ridiculously addictive song.
#3 – What Type of X
On March 17, 2021, Jessi released “What Type of X,” which was a heavy-hitting dance-pop song that saw her express what type of “beast” she was. The influence of hip-hop and rap was prominent in the single with the record-scratching bit that illustrated a sample of Jessi’s favorite style of music. On the World Digital Song Sales chart, “What Type of X” was Jessi’s highest charted song as it peaked at number five. On Korea’s Gaon Music chart it was a number thirty-eight hit and on the K-Pop Hot 100 it peaked at number thirty. It also made an impression in New Zealand as the single peaked at number forty on that nation’s chart.
#2 – Don’t Touch Me (as Refund Sisters)
Lee Hyori, Uhm, Jung-hwa, Hwasa, and Jessi teamed up as Refund Sisters to record and release “Don’t Touch Me,” a single that first became available to the audience in October 2020. The single was a big hit for the ladies that has since resulted in the hope among fans the Refund Sisters will get together and put out at least a few more hit singles as a supergroup, just like their predecessor did, SSAK3. “Don’t Touch Me” started off with an attention-grabbing siren before the ladies took turns belting out a verse as if sounding an alarm these female protagonists meant business. You can look and you can stare, but they make it clear they are not to be touched. On the Gaon Singles chart it peaked at number one and remained there for two weeks.
#1 – Nunu Nana
Released during the fall of 2020, “Nunu Nana” was a single released from her EP of the same title. On the Gaon Music chart and the K-Pop Hot 100, it peaked as high as number two, becoming Jessi’s first top ten hit in her home nation. “Nunu Nana” became her first hit on Singapore’s official singles chart as it peaked at number seventeen. It was also a number seventeen hit on the World Digital Song Sales chart. As a musical artist, Jessi is at her best when she lets her lyrical talent burst forward as her vocal performance has always stood apart from the rest of the K-Pop ladies.
Whether she came across as a thug-like rap star or as a softer-styled singer, Jessi’s ability to go from one extreme to another within song and pull it off is rare. “Nunu Nana” has so far become that one song most fans seem to be in agreement is her best so far.
Feature Photo: 티비텐, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Jessi Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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