j-hope Serves Up A Personal Rap Opera In ‘Jack In The Box’
In twenty-two minutes, the BTS member takes us through the multi-layered, complex inner workings of his mind.
They call me hope
Do you know why I am hope?
Pandora’s history, that’s my birth
The sincerity of the sacred heart given to man by great gods
The ray of light, Pandora, is left in the box
Put it into a pure-hearted boy
Four years ago, BTS member j-hope released Hope World, a beautiful, transcendent mixtape that introduced his own solo colours to the world and showcased his brand of artistry independently for the first time. It was a technicolor whirl of a record, its often bright sounds contrasting with the window into his life that he gave us: sometimes triumphant and joyful, yet at glimpses almost desperately escapist, driven by the worries of someone who has seen and been through so much to make it in the industry.
In the four years since, BTS’ star has risen to dizzying heights, and those four years seems to have given j-hope not just more depth of experience to comment on, but also the freedom to say exactly what is on his mind more than ever before. When he dropped pre-release track ‘MORE’, listeners got to indulge in a rock-hip-hop song unlike anything he had released previously, where the track’s grungy, emo sound complemented the bold recognition of his past and present within the song’s lyrics.
Self-learning for eleven years
My highlighting’s my art of learning
I crash and fall to make my art
The album’s title track (and the record’s closer) ‘방화 (Arson)’ offers a striking message to listeners, with the visual imagery of fire burning away the past to renew the present being utilized alongside how heat can be deadly and harmful, whilst also representing incandescent passion and success. Aside from being an addictive listen and the perfect title track to represent the album, in many ways ‘방화 (Arson)’ also represents the extent to which j-hope’s lyricism shines throughout the record.
I shower in petrol (Oh)
To set a fire (Oh)
On my feet, on my legs (Oh)
Even hotter, run my way (Oh)
Though his skill as a rapper has long been lauded by ARMY, it seems that in the public eye or to the general listener j-hope’s reputation as a magnetic personality and a fantastic dancer precedes any mention of his rapping or lyrical capabilities. Yet Jack In The Box is a fully-fleshed out representation of his thoughts, worries and hopes, all packaged within a kaleidoscope of well-considered lyrics and messages that leave the listener gasping with not just his unashamed honesty but also how that honesty seems to invite you to consider such thoughts and concepts within yourself.
In that respect, whilst on paper ten tracks totalling twenty-two minutes might seem far too short a run-time, the urgency it gives to the record makes perfect sense. He shuttles you from thought to thought, slow track to upbeat track, hopeful lyrics to lyrics fraught with worry. Musically, there is much to love, with beautiful soundscapes and harmonies — especially with tracks such as ‘= (Equal Sign)’, ‘Future’ and ‘Safety Zone’ — that contrast with the more gritty, hard-hitting songs on the album. A balance between light and dark all the way through.
If Hope World saw j-hope tentatively start to grapple with how his public persona contrasted with his personal thoughts, Jack In The Box is him taking the reins and painting the story of his life with complete candour. This is a record to be appreciated (in order) all the way through for the glory of hearing his thought process as he reflects on his art, life, the world, his public persona, his private one, in a way that makes you appreciate how deeply intertwined all these concepts are in his mind and just how much burden he must feel having to simplify these complex thoughts in a way that he can palatably present as the j-hope. Not as Jung Hoseok, the human that is as messy and real as the rest of us, but as the j-hope who millions look up to.
Thus, Jack In The Box is a stunning record where j-hope breaks out in full glory: still stylish and charismatic as ever, but in a way that lets Jung Hoseok the person exist free with as much validity and complexity as j-hope the beloved, thoughtful artist.
All lyrics are from Genius English Translations.