After Making It Big in Korea, Hip-Hop Artist Jessi Is Getting More Popular in the U.S.

After a career full of ups and downs, Korean American rapper Jessica Ho is continuing to make a name for herself.
October 29, 2020
5 mins read

Jessica Ho, stage name Jessi, is a Korean musician who takes inspiration from her American and Korean roots to create her own twist on rap music. The daughter of two Korean immigrants, she was born in New York and raised in New Jersey. At 15, Jessi auditioned for Doremi Media and soon moved to South Korea where she attended Korean Kent Foreign School. While Jessi was there, she met Tiffany and Jessica; they were both members of Girls’ Generation, a Korean girl group from SM Entertainment, and Jessi decided to audition for SM too. She had dreamt of being a hip-hop artist since she was 14, so she seized the opportunity. Eventually, she realized SM didn’t fit her style of music and she left soon after.

Two years later in 2005, Jessi debuted as a solo artist and released her first album, “Get Up.” The next year, she featured on the hip-hop trio Uptown’s album “Testimony.” As Uptown was known to change their members often, they replaced their original vocalist, Yoon Mi-rae, with Jessi and released their second album, “The Rebirth,” in 2009. After that, Jessi took a five-year break from music, explaining that she was having a hard time getting used to Korean culture and was also struggling financially, often finding herself forced to sleep in saunas (24-hour bathhouses). Jessi also said that she was bullied as a new singer so she returned to America.

After her five-year hiatus, Jessi went back to Korea as a member of the trio Lucky J, who then released their digital single “Can You Hear Me” in July 2014 under YMC Entertainment. That following year, Jessi appeared on Season 1 of the show “Unpretty Rapstar” and won second place. Then in January 2019, Jessi decided to leave YMC Entertainment and became the first artist to join Psy’s label, P Nation.

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Jessi and Her Accomplishments

Jessi Ho has recently raised the bar and is becoming the next big thing in show business. After her victory in “Unpretty Rapstar” Season 1, she was cast as a mentor in “Unpretty Rapstar 2,” which premiered in 2015. In 2016, Jessi was also offered a job as a cast member of a Korean reality show titled “Sister’s Slam Dunk,” which highlights six female celebrities. In this show, Jessi, along with actors Ra Mi-ran and Min Hyo-rin, model Hong Jin-kyung and comedian Kim Sook are given a certain amount of money to fulfill a personal objective.

Jessi also made a few guest appearances in various variety shows like “Running Man,” “Ask Us Anything” and “Happy Together.” Then in 2018, Jessi guest-starred on the show “Yo! MTV Raps,” where she was recognized as one of the best rappers in Korea. Recently, Jessi also started her own YouTube Channel, Showterview. In Showterview, Jessi interviews celebrities, some being fellow kyopos (Korean Americans), and comments on what they say. She has a way of helping her interviewees feel at ease to bring out their inner thoughts. She’s become a big hit since her charming and unique charisma leaves viewers wanting more.

The Inspiration Behind Her Music

Although Jessi went to Korea and started her music career at a young age, she is fully equipped as a rising star. She’s passionate about what she does and loves hip-hop. She says that she actually thinks that her childhood in New Jersey took place during hip-hop’s “golden era”:

“For me, it wasn’t about being an Asian or not — I wasn’t looking at color. I was looking at the artistry and the musicians I loved. I fell in love with Biggie, Lauryn HillJay-ZTLCMariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, and then with bands like Nirvana and Green Day, the list goes on and on.” However, after moving to Korea, she explains how she had a hard time starting up her career as one of the only Korean female rappers and was only able to get through it with the love and support of her colleagues and fans.

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It wasn’t until 2015 that Jessi was really recognized for all that she had accomplished. After being named one of the winners in “Unpretty Rapstar,” Jessi’s career skyrocketed. She collaborated with artist Jin Young-park in the song “Who’s Your Mama” and released her single “Gucci” in 2017. In September, she also successfully released her single “Who Dat B.” Jessi truly enjoys keeping her fans happy and loves to express her passion through the multiple genres of Korean music. She’s also hinted at more music. “I have a lot of music you haven’t heard yet. I’m finishing up a few singles and have a lot more coming. Stay tuned.” Jessi’s career is not slowing down anytime soon.

Laura Song, Biola University

Writer Profile

Laura Song

Biola University
Journalism and Integrated Media

Hello, my name is Laura and I am a junior at Biola University. As a child, I enjoyed reading Highlights’ magazines and that is when I became interested in writing. I am passionate about my writing and plan to continue writing after graduating.

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