Jack in the Box is a nostalgic, joyous riff on classic hip hop sounds, and a blueprint for how to go solo with swagger.
Hot off the announcement of BTS going on hiatus, member J-Hope arrives with Jack in the Box, a concept hip-hop album, and his first full-length solo record. The album plays liberally with different genres, ranging from grunge to ‘90s hip-hop, and provides a deeper, more meticulous look at the sounds that helped shape the artist he is today. The result is a refreshingly cohesive articulation of nostalgia, growing up, and the emotional weight of being fixed at the center of idol culture.
Jack in the Box opens with a spoken word intro about the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box, which serves as a winking introduction, or even an origin story, to J-Hope as an artist (his name taken from the item found in said box). Following this opening, and despite being part of one of the world’s biggest bands, J-hope’s lyrical work on the album is focused on aiming higher and achieving more. With millions of tickets sold and a fanbase whose devotion is the subject of dozens of stale jokes, it’s easy to regard J-Hope, and by extension every member of BTS, as having “made it” in the traditional sense. But maintaining control over one’s artistry in the contemporary music landscape is a concern that plagues nearly every musician, and rising through the band-heavy world of K-pop presumably only exacerbates such preoccupations for individual members, a likelihood that tracks across Jack in the Box.
But it’s also thanks to J-Hope’s massive success with BTS that you can feel joy radiating from each track, his social and artistic currency affording the freedom to indulge classic hip-hop with respect and love, bolstered by the record’s huge, crooning vocal arrangements. It reflects a pivot from the very modern pop sounds he has heretofore been associated with, but the result is a stunning display that expands on the particular sonic textures he has brought to BTS, an album that’s almost impossible not to groove to across its duration. Admittedly, this shift also comes with a few instances of sonic repetition, and not every track within the scope of the whole album, but it’s still hard to regard it as anything but a first-time-out triumph.
Less clear at present is exactly how long BTS will remain split, and what the solo careers of each member will look like in the interim. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely the other members will all be able to rise to the level of J-Hope’s solo work, Jack in the Box providing a clear and thrilling blueprint for his future prospects, which arguably kicked off with his major headlining performance at this year’s Lollapalooza. With a never-ending stream of fans ready to support his every move, his career is primed for further success, and while most artists might be happy to rest on the laurels of that level of mass adulation, what J-Hope makes clear on Jack in the Box is that he will keep pushing for bigger and better.
Published as part of Album Round — July 2022 | Part 2.