With each new delivery, NCT 127 keep on displaying a propensity for diverse design explanations and bold sound, recognizing their music in the K-pop domain. An illustration of this came as their 2018 single “Simon Says” where the gathering mixed one of the most mind-blowing ideas of K-pop with shocking modern hip-hop.The group’s 2020 hit “Kick It” and the polarizing 2021 release “Sticker” came next in line. Over the years, the group has heavily experimented with synth, industrial hip-hop and R&B, curating some of the most dynamic singles that have gone on to get masses from different demographics talking.
The group’s unwavering confidence in their sound has resulted in a cohesive discography, reflective of their unique sonic style. This approach often prepares listeners for the sound and style they could expect from an group release. However, when “Ay-Yo” hit streaming platforms on January 30th, it housed several surprises that caught us off guard: a classic NCT 127 hallmark.
Ay-Yobrands itself as theirpackaged album and their first release of 2023. A culmination of the 12 tracks featured on their September 2022 LP 2Baddies and three new tracks (“Ay-Yo, “Skyscraper” and “DJ”), the album was released two days after the group wrapped up their nine-city North and South America tour.
The lead singles of their repackaged albums have always been notable additions to their discography; think the industrial hip-hop “Simon Says,” dizzying electro number “Punch,” the harmony-rich “Favorite” and now “Ay-Yo.” The group has always served the masses a blend of unorthodox instrumentals with prodigious vocal performances.
Contrary to their previous releases “Sticker” and “2Baddies,” “Ay-Yo” primarily boasts a muted production with rich melodies, brewing a chill hip-hop soundscape; a space where their vocalists thrive. With a rich bassline, occasional piano sound and the unmistakable siren blaring at the beginning of the track, “Ay-Yo” includes an interesting instrumental section that will definitely grow on listeners with time. This is further cemented by poised vocal performances and rapper Mark weaving in threads of confidence with his fierce rap flows, especially with the hook “Ballin’ big time and I say “Ay-Yo!” The track is also a heavy throwback to their past releases “Punch” and the fan favorite “Limitless,” traces of which can be felt in the intriguing chorus.
“Ay-Yo” has several merits, notably the bridge that deserves to be expanded and packaged into a full-blown track! Vocalists Doyoung and Jungwoo have done an outstanding job of employing their vocals to support the rich, sultry R&B instrumental that echoes here. The progression from the bridge to the second verse is equally glorious thanks to Taeyong, Johnny and Mark’s gritty yet chill rap performances. In fact, this whole section houses everything NCT 127 stands for – an addictive mesh of genres with sublime vocal and rap potential.
Lyrically, the song highlights their ambitions and fearless attitude: “Haters, lay low/ I be enjoying/ So who gon’ beat me?/ Ay-Yo! In the end, I make my way.” It’s a theme we last saw the group explore in their 2022 single “2Baddies.” With additional lyrics such as “Just say it out loud, “Ay-Yo!” and “Ballin’ big time and I say “Ay-Yo,” it was relatively easy for the song to sound chanty. Thankfully, the songwriters and producers have done an admirable job of maintaining the pop quotient of the track without making it sound too gimmicky.
There isn’t a strong storyline or theme binding the music video together. Yet the choreography, set elements and bold fashion statements – especially Taeyong’s nod to Second Generation idol TVXQ Changmin’s iconic gravity-defying hairstyle – effortlessly overshadow the weak thematic link. The choreography is clean and smooth, effectively embodying NCT 127’s assertive yet chill attitude. It’s a great accompanying visual, without drawing any attention away from the track.