As we entered 2020, there was the typical anticipation for what each of us might do differently the moment the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31. Looking back now a year and a half later, no matter how we all spent those long moments in our homes, time itself doesn’t stop in any way that we can control, nor does it reflect on itself by the days and hours that have passed, it just keeps ticking forward.
In that same way, looking at who was still playing on local stages and grinding out the hours to prominence — from Jah-Monte Ogbon to Deniro Farrar, Autumn Rainwater to Phaze Gawd, Joe Sig to Nige Hood — some in the Charlotte hip-hop class of 2019 have moved onto various places, leaving their foundational legacies for others to be inspired by, while some continue to make a strong showing in the city in 2021.
One thing that hasn’t stopped is the influx of new artists whose names have begun to ring bells on the local scene — names like Farrahgamo and Jaah SLT. The Charlotte hip-hop scene continues to grow and evolve, and one of the newest faces to demand recognition this year with his third album release, Cold Nights and Dark Tunnels, goes by the name of Yung YuNo.
Cold Nights and Dark Tunnels, as YuNo explains it, is translated in two ways. “Cold nights” refers to the process of chasing dreams, which require the long days and nights of practice and discipline. Instead of using “long”, however, YuNo went with “cold” to reference those that have left him during the journey and the relationships that didn’t work out. Already absorbed in the loneliness that comes with chasing one’s dreams, the term “dark tunnels” takes on a deeper meaning.
“Dark tunnels comes from the quote ‘there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.’ When pursuing our dreams for the majority of the time we feel like the tunnel just keeps getting darker and darker, leaving us wondering when we’ll see the light. Lots of people give up because they think they’ll never get to the end of the tunnel and see the light,” he told Queen City Nerve.
Rather than paint a depressing mural, as might be seen at the surface, YuNo uses the album title to express that anyone can play it safe, staying inside and never striving to accomplish something they really want, but to really want it, taking that harsh journey toward the light at the end of the tunnel is crucial.
The title offers cryptic advice while laying out how his own journey has changed the way he sees the world, ultimately laying the groundwork for the emotionally honest and passion-filled new body of work.
Yung YuNo gains a hardened perspective
The inspirations behind all of YuNo’s music — the ambition, the struggle, the work ethic — are all rooted in his early life and the harrowing journey his family went through together to even get to the present day.
Born and raised in a Kenyan refugee camp, his parents escaped from the civil wars that flared up again in Somalia in 2004.
Now 22 years old, YuNo doesn’t remember much about his life before coming to America, having boarded a plane at the age of 5, but the issues that threatened his family overseas were constantly retold to him and his siblings in order to remind them where they came from, fusing the messages around the importance of hard work and what it means to come from nothing.
“You definitely see things from a different view when you come from where I come from and been through what I’ve been through,” he said. “My life has never been easy. So I’ve learned at a young age that I have to really hustle and anything I want in life I have to work hard for it and I can’t be dependent on anybody else. I’ve learned to embrace the struggle and hard times because I know it’s almost behind me now.”
The only freestyle track on the album, “Underdog” underlines so much of his past while setting the stage for moving forward. While he might be relatively new to music, beginning with the first tracks he put out back in 2019, YuNo knows more about himself as a person than most do at his age.
Taking the lessons that his family constantly imparted on him, along with his own struggles trying to break in as a musician in an oversaturated industry, Cold Nights & Dark Tunnels serves as a milestone and point of pivot toward a world full of stages, beginning with our local venues in the Queen City.
Cold Nights and Dark Tunnels
Kicking the album off, “First Off” is a hype track that seeks to draw listeners into how the artist sees his struggles and temptations, yet pushes forward through them toward his goals. “So High” complements that pursuit with feel-good moments YuNo connects into his craft, while also advising in the hook to, “Enjoy right now, ‘cause time will pass you by,” as a reminder to the audience, or himself, that relaxation is also essential to the process.
Taken as a whole, the album, which dropped on June 4, has a little bit of everything. “On Fire”, “Run And Go,” and “Locked in a Safe” push up the energy in the room and dial into YuNo’s ambition.
“War” and “Who Want Smoke” brings the fight to the forefront as YuNo takes swipes at his detractors, ready and hungry for the battles ahead with open aggression.
The stand-outs on the album, however, are those that are most universally relatable, especially after coming through a year that had negative effects on all of us.
“Percocets And Molly” explores the pitfalls that come with a constant grind, with YuNo describing how his undying work ethic relates to his struggle to avoid the substances that could alleviate him from the stress, even if temporarily. The track pairs well with the song that ended up being the album’s first video single, “Song For Depression”, the closest look listeners get to the artist’s darkest moments.
Describing his inpiration for the track, YuNo explained that it wasn’t a particular moment that brought the words to the surface, but multiple occurrences over time.
“Although my depression isn’t severe, from time to time I’ll slip into a phase for a couple weeks to a couple months,” he said. “I went through a really dark point in my life when I was 18. It was just so much. I didn’t like to talk to anybody about it so I always just sat with the pain until it passed away, but music was my drug.”
“Music helped me a lot when I was going through depression; it honestly saved me,” he continued. “This song was a result of me really going through it. I had to vent and I never talked to anybody about my pain or depression, but when I started writing songs about it, the words were just spilling out. Afterwards, since I didn’t have a studio at home, I would record it with my voice memos or on a cheap microphone with GarageBand, where I would save the songs on there just for me to listen to for myself. I’m never one to shy away from who I really am, I put my life and truth in my songs, whether it’s a breakup, success, romance, whatever I’m going through I put it in my music.”
“Song for Depression” displays Yung YuNo in a way that feels completely relatable when one finds themself at the ends of sanity. In putting the parts of the track together, YuNo also made a connection with the overarching theme of the album.
“I got out of my own head and realized that hip-hop is about you and your life experiences and struggles,” he said. “You release the songs and if it relates to the people then even better. Also you don’t hear a lot of Black men, especially in music, taking about mental health, which is a very real and serious thing. So I figured let’s be a voice for not just my people but for everyone in this world going through depression or any mental-health problems. If I can save even one life from this song than I’ve done my job.”
As the Charlotte hip-hop artists before him start to move onto their next career phases, up-and-coming creatives like Yung YuNo aim to keep the hype up while imparting potentially life-saving wisdom, joining the next line of potential Queen City greats. And just like that, the Charlotte scene goes forth to its next evolution.
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