Everyone loves a good story and j-hope tells a compelling one.
Right from the announcement of his solo album, Jack In The Box—the first offering of BTS’ “chapter 2” which has each member focusing on their individual pursuits, it was clear we were in for a ride. Long gone were the bright colours and whimsical melodies of his 2018 mixtape, Hope World as we’re met with dark hues we had yet to see from the multitalented act.
Since the start of his music career, j-hope has been BTS' and their fans’ bundle of sunshine and light, known for his charming personality and infectious joy. It’s a role he’s played very well. But Jack In The Box peels back the curtain to reveal the multi-layered emotions and inner shadows of the singer-rapper, bringing audiences through the scenic and cohesive journey of who he really is and who he wants to be.
STEPPING OUT OF THE BOX
The album begins with a distorted retelling of the Greek mythology of Pandora’s Box, starting from when Pandora finds the very last item in the forsaken box: hope. The narrative continues with the fittingly titled ‘Pandora’s Box’ where j-hope takes us back to the beginning, reintroducing himself as he sets the rails for the enthralling journey that’s about to come.
The first half of the album goes on to detail the world that lies within the box and j-hope’s desire to venture beyond. You hear it in the record’s pre-release track ‘MORE’, serving as the rapper’s candid declaration of his goals and aspirations which have come to be much bigger than what he's already accomplished with BTS. Encased in old-school hip-hop produced by brasstracks, the song explodes in a fury of guitars and an echoing chorus of, “I want more” as he strays away from the path that’s expected of him, both sonically and thematically.
But that doesn't come without fear as told in 'STOP'. Considerably one of the most brilliantly vivid tracks of the album, it documents the intricate layers of human nature beginning with the initial pitfalls and judgement one might before j-hope takes a step back to reassess everything and come to the conclusion that "There are no bad people in the world."
This beautifully transitions into the seemingly lighthearted but meaningful '= (Equal Sign)' that talks about embracing differences, promoting inclusivity, and treating everyone with kindness. It's that glimmer of the familiar hope you'd expect from the multihyphenate, reminding everyone that as much as this dark and brooding persona is a part of j-hope, the bright and happy persona we've known for over nine years is as real as it can be. In fact, that ray of light shines through across the album, like in the underlying melody of 'Music Box: Reflection'. the groove of 'Safety Zone', and the optimism in 'Future'.
INTO THE DARKNESS
As we approach the second half of the album, we're welcomed to the landscape outside of the box that, similar to most experiences in daily life, is never what we envision it to be. It grapples with the moments of anxiety, doubt, and self-destruction you face right before you find your footing and sense of peace. You hear it perfectly depicted in the album's interlude, 'Music Box: Reflection' that's a harrowing take on the classic music box tune.
The latter portion of Jack In The Box begins with the heavy and hard-hitting 'What if...' where we hear j-hope torn between his public persona and who he knows himself to be. It's a conflict we've heard time and time again but it takes new life in Jack In The Box as Ol Dirty Bastard’s 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya'-sampled track acts as a conversation between j-hope and himself. He wonders what life would be like if everything, from something intrinsic like passion and heart to material things like cars and money, got taken away from him.
"I ask j-hope: 'if you were me, can you keep on doing those things you said?'"
In the mellow R&B track 'Safety Zone', the same notion takes a more introspective turn as j-hope seeks comfort, confessing what a difficult journey it's been. For the last nine years, the rapper has spent most of his life chasing a dream only to work even harder to keep it. He talks about how he has "dedicated [his] entire twenties living up to this immeasurable life" and how the very life he's wished for has now become his own enemy.
It's at this point we see j-hope at his most vulnerable, embedding every emotion and experience he's had in and out of the box into every lyric. It's also here you see the rapper's storytelling reach new heights, illustrating every rough road and detour he's had to take to get to this point.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
Approaching the end of Jack In The Box, there's a shift in the tone, going from despair and exhaustion to optimism and energy as we reach the light at the end of the tunnel. It's moments like these where we're brought back to the beginning of the story, laid out by the tale of Pandora's Box, that even amidst all evil, there's hope.
'Future' takes us to the familiar grounds of Hope World, in more ways than one. Sonically, it's light-hearted with the addition of chimes and a choir—a signature of the rapper's music—while lyrically, it reminds us (and maybe even j-hope himself) to keep "betting on courage, faith, and hope" because you'll never know where it'll take you.
In j-hope's case, it's taken him to sold-out arenas all over the world, to the biggest stages the music world has ever seen, and to a community of fans that show unwavering support, in addition to a band of brothers that always has his back.
You see j-hope's aspirations fully take form in ‘Arson’, the rapper’s lead track and the very last song of the record. Unapologetic and brazen, it picks up much like his own beginnings—minimal and murky before progressing into an explosive arrangement of sounds and layers.
Jack In The Box is the story of j-hope. From the naive kid he recounted in 'Future' to the successful artist with glory and fortune he questions in 'What If...", the album takes us through the twists and turns in the journey he's had so far in a package so cohesive and well-thought-out.
From the visuals masterfully crafted by Lee Suho to the merch conceptualised by j-hope himself, he had everything down to the beat and melody, and has painted a beautiful picture of his growth, both as a person and an artist. There's a set of expectations that's hard to challenge when you've been on the same path for nearly a decade but j-hope took a stark departure from it all. The result is a concise yet impactful record of what lies beyond what meets the mere eye.
The entire album eventually ends with the echoing question, "Do I put out the fire, or burn even brighter?" We never get an answer, leaving us waiting for what j-hope has in line next; and if there's anything we've learned from Jack In The Box, we'll never know what to expect.
Get j-hope's Jack In The Box here.
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