Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

BTS’s j-hope steps out as an artist on Jack in the Box

"Jack in the Box"

Release date: 15 July 2022
J Hope jack in the box art
22 July 2022, 20:19 Written by Ana Clara Ribeiro
When a member of an active supergroup ventures on a solo project, it’s most likely because they want a chance to tell an extended version of their story.

The obscure vision of Jack in the Box manifests in its production choices as well. The album is musically informed by '90s horror rap (RZA is an impressive yet plausible presence in the credits; the New York rapper and producer was a founding member of hip hop horrorcore pioneers Gravediggaz), be it through its chord progressions and basslines, or the macabre breathing sounds in the instrumental track “Music Box: Reflection”. But there’s also rap rock (“MORE”), and jazz rap, in its old school style of Large Professor and Digable Planets (“Stop”), but also in its neo R&B resembling branch (“Safety Zone”).

Yet, Jack in the Box is not entirely detachable from the music j-hope made thus far. The background tracks in the instrumentals of “Pandora’s Box”, “MORE” and “= (Equal Sign)” resemble the production of j-hope’s tracks like “Daydream” and P.O.P.” (2018). Not even BTS is a topic of avoidance here. The group is mentioned in the lyrics of “Pandora’s Box”, and is subtextually present in “What If” through a sample of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, a track referenced in BTS’s first single, “No More Dream”. In that sense, “What If” comes full circle.

j-hope experiments with his rap flow in moments like the first verse of “Safety Zone”, and sings smoothly in “= (Equal Sign)”. But he doesn’t abandon the rapping techniques that would become his distinct marks from BTS’s other rappers (RM and SUGA): his unique, high-pitched shoutouts, and his flow and rhyme schemes that emulate turntablism's vinyl scratching. Jack in the Box also brings Pdogg and Supreme Boi (producers who helped build the BTS’s musical foundation), and other songwriters and producers with whom j-hope collaborated before — such as Brasstracks, who worked on what is one of j-hope’s best moments in BTS, “Dis-ease” (2020).

The positivity that was so characteristic of j-hope is not at all absent from Jack in the Box. In “Stop”, he raps about holding on to the belief that “there are no bad people in the world”; in “= (Equal Sign)”, he sings for equality; in “Future”, he says to walk into the future with hopeful steps. If it wasn’t clear before, Jack in the Box leaves no clues that hope is not a fake element in j-hope's brand, it's just that it doesn't always come effortlessly.

Jack in the Box is a new height in j-hope’s artistry. If anything, the album and its tracks are too short. It flows smoothly, and the storyline is cohesive, but when it ends, it feels like a cue to something else. Hypothetically analysing for the sake of understanding his creative vision, “Future” could very well have been the last track in the album, given its contrasting optimistic message and sound. But instead, it is followed by “Arson”. With such a bold theme, it’s interesting that “Arson” doesn’t have an explosive instrumental nor reaches an apex. It’s sonically linear and its lyrics are preparatory rather than climactic. The ending beats of “Arson” would make a perfect transition for another track, yet there is none. With lyrics like "Let's burn" and "Do I put out the fire or let it burn even brighter?", “Arson” closes Jack in the Box by suggesting that this experience is not really about the explosion or the ashes. It’s about those first seconds of witnessing the fire and deciding what you’re gonna do.

It feels like Jack in the Box was purposefully built on unresolvedness. When j-hope sings “I want some more”, it’s as if the outcome of the “more” he wants is not necessarily this album only. Perhaps Jack in the Box is more about the sensation of the purge than the purification itself.

And commercially-wise, Jack in the Box shows j-hope’s courage. Many were the safer routes he could have taken with this release. j-hope, the songwriter, can do commercial pop and hip hop (his “DNA” demo version in BTS’s PROOF shows that he is an apt composer). Yet the safest thing in Jack in the Box might actually be just the title of its 8th track. And it’s worth praising that j-hope didn’t go for a merely performative, try-hard “bad boy” approach either. His way of stepping outside the box is not a 180-degree surprise to anyone who’s gotten to know j-hope and BTS beyond the sugary, manufactured way they’re seen by many. However, it’s indeed a more visceral endeavour with less mass-appealing sonority. Whether the music on Jack in the Box suits your taste or not, it’s hard to dismiss this album as an artistic statement rather than just chapter 1/7 of BTS proving they can also make money in ways beyond official group releases.

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