Apart from his credentials as the drummer for influential alt-rock bands like Kapatid and Kjwan, Chinese-Filipino artist J-Hoon is known primarily in the hip hop circles as a globe-trotting rapper-producer with extensive credits under his name. He has worked with some of the most promising and talented music acts in the region, including enigmatic soul/alt-R&B artist ((( O ))) (formerly known as June Marieezy), Singapore-based beatmaker fauxe and rising Seoul-based producer chillingcat—to name a few.
A decade after his acclaimed solo debut album was released, J-Hoon returns with NOODLES II, his soulful, lo-fi follow-up to NOODLES, where he documents his stories and observations about life in modern Hong Kong. Now based in a city that has its own shares of cultural and societal shifts, J-Hoon wrote and produced a love letter to the place that he now calls home, reimagining it with an esoteric blueprint and a more sonically adventurous take. The result is a confessional work that shows some of his most inspired songwriting and production to date, a record that doubles as a grown-man reflection that is not afraid to be human and feel human.
J-Hoon’s sophomore album features the carrier single “Lei Ho Leng,” which candidly expresses his opinion about Hong Kong’s penchant for unrealistic beauty standards. He’s also delivered some incredible production work on tracks like “Paradise” and “Modern Li Bai,” reinforcing a more low-key approach while incorporating organic instrumentation and jazzy arrangements.
“This time around, I moved on to Ableton and MPD from Akai,” shares the Hong Kong-based hip hop head. “The approach is very different from my debut, as I’m more inclined to embrace less complex structures, and more of that classic hip hop format. Also, I am playing real keys in some songs on this album, so that’s new. The overall vibe is reminiscent of the kind of analog and lo-fi hip hop that I grew up with. But instead of making something more polished, I’ve tried to retain that raw, carefree attitude in this album.”
HipHopDX Asia recently talked to J-Hoon about the creative process behind his sophomore album, NOODLES II, working with different rappers and producers from the Asian region, and his knack for making songs that brim with free-spirited energy and era-defying playfulness.
It’s been more than a decade since the release of your debut album, NOODLES. How has life been going for the past 10 years? How did you manage to get by on a creative level while living in Hong Kong and navigating the challenges of the pandemic?
Life has been different ever since I returned to Hong Kong. If I were to compare life in the Philippines: [there are] fewer night outs, parties, and events, but definitely more traveling and seeing the world from a grounded perspective.
It’s truly a blessing to see new cultures, people, and food, which is what I really love about this hip hop thing because it also enabled me to travel to new places, experience new vibes, and make new friends along the way.
The pandemic has been tough on a lot of things and really affected my energy. I am just human, but in a way, it gave me some inspiration and an emotional state that propelled me to write some new songs. I wrote a song called “Runaway” over an [Singaporean beatmaker] FZPZ beat, and it’s about the uncertainty of living in a world completely engulfed by the pandemic. It’s been tough, but the positive side of this whole fiasco has also bred some ideas into creativity.
Conceptually and lyrically speaking, what sets NOODLES II apart from your previous releases? What are the themes that you’ve explored and tackled in this new album?
The previous releases were mostly my efforts in producing and doing live sets with my own beats, which you can find mostly on my Soundcloud and Bandcamp. NOODLES II is a body of work that showcases my rap and vocals. After doing shows and tours in different parts of the world during the past decade, I kind of pursued a different direction of performing using my voice, be it rapping or singing. It is safe to say that I have found the joy of connecting and having fun with crowds in real-time through words in the form of freestyle, or a more collected way of writing things down. The instant connection and vibe are pretty addicting.
Lyrically, I’d say it’s more on the conscious side of songwriting. The language is slightly different this time, with more songs penned in Cantonese, my mother tongue. After performing in China, it definitely brought me back to my other roots as a Chinese-Filipino exploring his roots in different parts of the world, including Hong Kong, China, and the Philippines.
What inspired you to write the songs for the album?
Just living life day to day in my home city, Hong Kong, and picking up different images and news. Looking at how the city changed and how war and politics played an integral role in shaping my worldview, I was inspired to pull it all together and express myself through this body of work.
I came up with a song called “Tonight” when Hong Kong was torn apart, and I was having my bowl of pork chop noodles near Polytechnic University, which was turned into a war base, and I inhaled some tear gas and coughed like a mother. The owner closed the store, and we all had to run without paying our bills! I will never forget that night. All the sauces in my music really stem from personal experiences.
How is your artistic process as the producer of the album? Are you conscious of coming up with songs that are tied together cohesively in terms of transition, arrangement, and overall sound? Or is the approach more in a free-spirited direction?
Owing to my initial footsteps as a hip hop producer/beatmaker, I still find a lot of joy playing around with Ableton and my Akai pads. So I would come up with topics and hooks, and after writing these verses and stories as an emcee, I switched back to producing, toying around with drums, chords, synths, and the sonic side of things.
Shoutout to Jimmy Muna, my homie and sound engineer from LA. I’ve learned a lot from him in terms of sound, and I would run all my songs through him.
To tell you the truth, over the years, I came up with at least 50 to 60 drafts, and sometimes I just had fun making the beat without finishing them or thinking about releasing them. It’s my way of meditating—coming up with a beat and allowing it to blossom into something. Sometimes, I would skip dinner and stay up until morning, messing up with the knobs and tinkering with new sounds.
I can’t wait to share them with different audiences in Asia. The approach is very natural and free spirited, but I have definitely touched on some new sonic landscapes like trap, electronic and house beats, which will appear in my next efforts after NOODLES II.
How are you as a collaborator? What made you decide to work with rappers, artists, and producers from different parts of Asia?
To be honest, it’s quite random. Sometimes, I would finish the song the next day, but I procrastinate for a few more days. There were some songs that took me years to respond back to the artist. I am sorry, I am just human. With NOODLES II, I am paying back all my dues and beats that I got from different people. I have three albums in the pipeline, and I am touching them up and fine-tuning as we speak.
Coming from being a drummer in two pretty famous bands back in Manila, the mindset was really just playing for your bands and nothing more. With the hip hop train medium, it is quite the opposite, and through this art form, I got to meet so many new friends and artists. A collaboration is like a solidification of that encounter, that show, that trip, and that friendship. Hip hop definitely brought me to more places in the world, helped me meet new friends, and enabled me to learn new cultural things—that’s really the core of it.
Will there be live performances to promote NOODLES II? Is there anything that we should look forward to in the coming weeks/months?
Yes, I will be doing a few shows in China (Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Guangzhou), the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. It’s been an awfully long few years, and I can’t wait to visit the homies, chop it up over a few beers, chicken rice, beef noodles, and Pad Thai, and share the vibe. Dates are in the works, so stay tuned!
Stream NOODLES II via Spotify below: