= (Equal Sign)
Music Box : Reflection
Just one month after BTS, arguably the biggest group on the planet, announced a break, j-hope, the charismatic dancer/rapper/singer known for his cheeky personality, released his debut solo LP—becoming the first member of BTS to do so. (No surprise there—back in 2019, he was the first to drop a solo single, the effervescent “Chicken Noodle Soup” with Becky G.)
Jack in the Box is a complicated triumph: lyrically world-heavy, an eclectic mix of hip-hop, pop, raucous guitar rock detours, and, most importantly, optimism. There’s the bombastic Y2K hip-hop of “Pandora’s Box” (the first bar he drops on the release is “They call me hope/Do you know why I am hope?/Pandora’s history, that’s my birth.” It’s a savvy metaphor. Once the world’s evils have been released, all that is left is hope, j-hope). “= (Equal Sign)” recalls a smooth Justin Timberlake/Neptunes-esque falsetto—as impressive as his fiery flow on the closer “Arson” or “Safety Zone.” There are no features here—an interesting choice in the rap space, no doubt an intentional declaration of autonomy: Here is j-hope, your hope, my hope, in 2022.