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Sunday, February 5, 2023

‘Sunshine’ J-Hope mesmerises in dark solo ‘Jack in The Box’ (Review)

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 For someone who always fits perfectly into the rhythm of “as bright as Sun…”, BTS rapper Jung Hoseok with his first solo album just ripped off the bandage.

Delving deep into darkness, J-Hope peeled apart his “U r my Hope… I’m ur Hope” public persona to reveal dimensions that have always existed but never brought to the surface like this as in ‘Jack In The Box’.

The album searches for answers to his questions. The murky hip-hop brings out the anxieties and agonies of Hoseok who actually exists behind the sunshine laughter of J-Hope.

This persona grapples with success, humanity (or lack of it), passion and finally self-destruction.

The slowed-down soulful R&B of ‘Safety Zone’ says “my life is becoming my enemy, it’s getting lonesome” as the rapper hunts for a secure spot to rest and reload.

What strikes you next is: “I like animals better than people these days…Where is the ray of light for relief in the dark?… Where’s my safe zone? Left, right, go straight?” It seems even an eternity later success can haunt you and be something of a burden.

You begin to wonder how much of this did he have to put under wrap to always fit into the charismatic and the phenomenal dancer who always appears to be a bundle of joy on camera, on stage or on variety shows.

As he rips through the diaphragm of his two persona, he ponders “I ask myself 100 times / Am I really like that?” in the track ‘What If…’ and tries to surmise had he lacked “hope, dreams, passion and vision”, before moving on to that which defines success — “money”, “house” “car”, what it could have been: what it would be like.

‘STOP’ cuts like a knife, as J-Hope’s Jack examines the worst of humanity: “The acts of humans who are even worse than animals disgust me / In harsher words, even I doubt whether they’re really humans”. The eternal optimist then creeps in and shines a light ending the shadows as he says: “stop, stop, stop, stop / Calm down, down, down”.

Thus the album revolves around the Greek myth of Pandora’s box. Pandora’s curiosity had led her to set free all the evils in the world, with only hope remaining behind. So does J-Hope who lets all his inhibitions out with his album as faith stays by his side.

“We were born through the law of cause and effect / Despite that, our will can change anything / We’re the makers / Because a small start is a big leap / Because there are no bad people in the world,” he says.

He is JHope once more as he asks the world to treat each other with kindness in =(Equal Sign). The shortest track in the album but it vends way too soon with its message of love, in keeping with the chequered dark and light mood of the 22-minute album with 10 tracks.

‘Jack In The Box’ is a treat from end to end — it flows with the mood in its entirety, you cannot get it whole if you pick and choose.

It starts with an English ‘Intro’ as a female voice explains the box from mythology, and ends with: “Hope gave people the will to carry on living beyond the pain and strife.”

Then there is that which haunts the eye of the cyclonic soul ‘Music Box : Reflection’ — ominous instrumental combining an eerie melody, bass drones and a scratchy beat with heavy breathing. It is the perfect interlude to the Story, as Hoseok shifts lanes from the album’s first part which is message-heavy metaphorical to the second more introspective one.

From ‘MORE’ which has heavy guitar to ‘Pandora’s Box’s unsettling piano between the beats, to the ‘Future’ that lightens one’s mood with echoes of a school choir, J-Hope has the perfect stage set for you to enjoy “ARSON”.

It is the most striking one. The rapper’s voice is his main instrument — his rumbling baritone like an engine warms up to roar into the distance “Let’s burn, burn, burn, burn, burn” opens and in seconds “it’s done, done, done, done.”

With a pervading siren-like sound ringing in the background, the track goes from smooth to menacing to urgent choppy. It is addictive and makes you keeping it hearing on the loop.

‘Jack In The Box’ J-Hope has thrown out a thriller. From MORE’s ” Soak up the music/ Eenie, meenie, miney, moe (Meenie, miney, moe)” to ARSON’s “With my label, with my fellas/To burn together, all day…/ Arsonist was fun…”, he is still “keep my passion, I gotta go I’m still (Not enough)” as he projects his formidable unstoppable Jack on us.

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