Here – in ranking order – are our picks from the two genres, featuring the likes of RM, Bibi, pH-1, Bang Yongguk and j-hope
15. Mr. Hollywood, SMMT
South Korean DJ SMMT stepped under the spotlight with his debut EP as a producer, Mr. Hollywood. Blending retro hip-hop, R&B, garage and house, SMMT fuses his musical inspirations from the past and present competently. Traces of his artistic fusion are felt across the record, especially in places where he gives a refreshing spin to Eighties and Nineties soul music. Featuring a star-studded roster of nearly 10 collaborative artists including Jay B, Big Naughty, Sik-K Loco and Mirani to name a few, SMMT manages to rustle up a compelling soundscape for various moods. Right off the bat, we are wrapped in the inescapable trance of romance with “RnB 4 Sk8ers.” The theme slips into the consequent, chill R&B-jazz track “Knock Knock,” right before our auditory senses transport us to the interiors of a club with the soaring banger “Hell Of A Night.” Dreamy, sensual tracks “Dream To Dream” and “I’ll Be Fine” bring us back to the feel-good space of R&B with the hype anthem “Block + prob-lem-atic” concluding the EP on a high. As the chief producer taking charge of the composition and arrangements of the album, SMMT handles his debut project with the utmost care, handpicking the right artists to breathe life into his compositions. Though just six tracks long, Mr. Hollywood leaves your sonic tastebuds satiated and your soul hyped; just the kind of vibes you need to ring in 2023. – DD
14. Love is Drug, Owell Mood
On Love is Drug, singer-songwriter Owell Mood experiments with blues, indie rock, funk, alternative and synth-pop to create a record full of longing and love. With its Eighties pop influences and hazy vocal performances, Love is Drug manages to paint the picture of its title, pushing forth an eerie yet gorgeous dissonance that only heartbreak is capable of inciting. The record opens with the drowsy indie-influenced “Lullaby” before slipping into a hypnotic state with the soft rock-tinted “Oh Woman.” He ups the sonic mood with the disco-funk lead single “Vanishing Cats” but the lyricism remains desperate and sets the tone for the nine-track record as he sings, “Promised you forever/ Like you used to do/ But whatever/ Now we leaving each other/ Like we never met/ We never.” “Escape From U” is the hidden gem on Love is Drug, as Owell melds together shimmery Eighties synth and layered, breathy vocals to hit a dreamy alt-R&B plane similar to The Neighbourhood or Chase Atlantic. The angsty “Distorted” is another highlight, serving up a delicious dose of grungy guitar which signals the record’s shift into a rock-based phase with its follow-up “Rest In Pain.” Owell finally ends Love is Drug on a bittersweet note, jumping back into dark indie with the piano and synth-led closers “Umbrella” and “Goodbye Demon,” pondering on catharsis and the process of moving on from grief. There’s a lot of detail packed into every moment and many little things Owell Mood manages to convey simply via his vocal inflections, making it an album that’s impossible to move on from. – RC
13. Love, Def.
Brewing sultry melodies under his indie moniker, Jay B a.k.a Def. never misses the mark when putting forward an alternative R&B record. On his January 2022 EP Love, Def. tastefully explores the magic of romance with the right amount of sensuality. Def. opens the EP with “Again” featuring Leon, an ardent declaration of love wrapped within a smooth lo-fi arrangement, and concludes it with the lead single “Sunsets With You,” which narrates the story of a couple entranced by their beautiful bond. Flirting with indie-pop, sensual R&B grooves and warm jazz melodies on the EP, Def accentuates the vibe of each genre through varied vocal performances. On some tracks, he takes control of your senses with soft whispers as if he were conveying a hushed secret, while on others, he tints your cheeks red with his crooning, honeyed vocals. The vocal orchestration running throughout the EP allows listeners to absorb the fervor with which Def. pens his stories regardless of whether they’re fluent in Korean. What elevates the listening experience further is the fluidity with which the tracks progress. There are moments on the EP where one may find themselves floating across a pink sky of romance bursting with tranquility and glee, leaving you wanting someone with whom you can soak in a glorious sunset by the beach. Though Love was Def.’s official EP, the singer-songwriter succeeds in preserving the allure of the days when he nonchalantly released his mixtapes on SoundCloud. – DD
12. But For Now Leave Me Alone, pH-1
pH-1’s sophomore LP But For Now Leave Me Alone is the rapper’s most cohesive and sonically varied record till date. It’s overwhelming in the best way possible as the rapper flips through the anthology of his life, delineating his brush with failed relationship attempts, battling his inner demons, stardom’s double-edged sword and more. Bolstering an impressive roster of collaborators and producers, But For Now Leave Me Alone is an emotional rollercoaster that grows on you instantaneously, leaving indelible traces on your soul. The rapper does an incredible job of slowly ushering in his listeners from the glamorous celebration of stardom to pensive territories concerning romance. It’s a near-perfect introduction to the famed rapper pH-1 and Park Junwon, the man behind the spotlight. From lo-fi to house, hip-hop and R&B, pH-1 weaves saccharine harmonies within chill rap flows, making the record extremely engaging and easy to listen to. Despite some of his revelations stemming from heartbreak, self-deprecation and imposter syndrome, pH-1’s performance exudes vulnerability without a lingering sense of sadness. He acknowledges and processes these innate emotions on his own terms without giving them the power to trample his strength. But For Now Leave Me Alone is undoubtedly an unfeigned reflection of pH-1’s life, yet listeners may find themselves resonating with the uncertainties that keep the rapper awake at night. – DD
11. Epik High Is Here 下, Part 2, Epik High
One of the many areas Epik High excels at is ably interpreting the complexities of existence for those inept at processing the human emotional spectrum. It’s an invaluable asset cultivated through nearly two decades of reflections and writings put together on poignant records. Epik High Is Here 下, Part 2 is one such record where members Mithra Jin, Tablo and DJ Tukutz hold a mirror to themselves. Delicately curated with the utmost attention diverted to its lyricism, the record is the trio’s earnest attempt at taking a hard look at themselves and courageously sharing their reflections with the world. A continuation of their 2021 record Epik High Is Here下, Part 1, the record is deeply introspective without sounding too preachy. Cruising through themes of self-hatred, perseverance, decline of art in the modern age and yearning for a family to hearty reminisces of their humble beginnings; the 12-track LP offers you 40 minutes of intense emotional reckoning, helping you make peace with convoluted situations life has to offer. Similar to its album design, Epik High Is Here 下, Part 2 will soak you in warm hues of hope, wiping away any traces of darkness within you. – DD
10. S:inema, Saay
In an age of streaming where the majority are battling with dwindling attention spans, Saay brings forward an ambitious one-hour record spanning 21 songs (including interludes). Rich in sultry melodies and electro-pop sounds, Saay’s sophomore LP S:inema is a gripping sonic transcript that accentuates the singer’s strongest suits. Staying true to its name, S:inema constructs an hour-long cinematic experience with Saay’s unmatched artistic magnetism pulling listeners into her electrifying sonic universe. Thanks to its sonic diversity and lush vocal performances, there is never a dull moment on this extensive LP, making it loop-worthy. The record’s ability to seamlessly switch from hauntingly dark motifs to sensual moments underlines the singer’s versatility as an artist, whilst keeping the storyline running across the LP compelling. Saay primarily expresses herself through a retro soundscape soaked in Nineties R&B with disco and jazz influences. The train of nostalgia eventually makes pit stops at electro-pop, hip-hop, funk and gospel, making S:inema a sonic voyage that’s one for the books. Through her unrestrained performance, Saay exudes confidence and seductiveness track after track, dialing up the drama on the record. This is an album from 2022 you cannot afford to miss out on. – DD
9. Evergray, Jiwoo
Jiwoo has been quietly but consistently delivering excellence since his debut with the powerful jazz-influenced Maison in 2019, and Evergray is no exception. He’s a master of lush, dark R&B and unleashes a whole new world of it with his third EP. Produced by 37° N 126° E with all songs written by Jiwoo, Evergray jumps into an undercurrent of obsessive, desperate love which Jiwoo navigates with haunting acoustic guitars and rich synth that complement his delicate, breathy vocals. The English EP opens with the title track – its absolute crowning glory – and Jiwoo’s vocals meld with the synth and breezy background ad-libs to outline a story of inescapable love. In the lyrics of “Evergray,” the singer-songwriter tells his lover that they are forever tied to him, no matter how much they attempt to deny it: “Until you let yourself out/ What’s left unsaid will surround/ In evergray, we’re found/ And to me, my love, you’re bound.” It’s unbelievably elegant but builds a sense of foreboding, which is the true brilliance of the track. “Wake” offers another highlight moment thanks to the echoing reverb of “Nobody gone have what I do with you/ Nobody gone have me but you,” which loops almost like a mantra or hymn. Evergray is the most tranquil record on this list and plays out somewhat like a half-forgotten dream – you know it was beautiful, but after it’s done, you’re left with hazy wisps of images that slip through your fingers, leaving you desperate for another listen. – RC
8. 926, Huh
On his searing debut album 926, rapper and songwriter Huh embraces the night and all its complexities. The title itself is a play on the ordinary nine-to-five working day, but Huh flips it to mean 9 pm to 6 am, symbolizing the hours of the day an artist comes to life and begins their process of creation. The lead single “DDKD” blends grinding bass and delicate plucks of guitar to highlight Huh’s rapid flow as he breaks down his journey as an artist, paying tribute to prominent Korean rap act (and his label’s founders) Dynamicduo – while also bringing them in for a quick feature on the track along with fellow rapper JUSTHIS – and worshiping the endless grind that leads to success. Huh declares, “My heart is racing again/ Like the first time I listened to Dynamicduo/ I can’t go back to when the rain leaked/ Through the basement/ When I was a kid I believed there was nothing/ That could not be done with two legs/ It’s like déjà vu/ I knew I was going to take it all anyway.” “Django” and “Phantom” are similarly trap-led beacons of drive and determination, while the mid-point of the record “Thumbs Up” rolls into territories of heartbreak with pop-trap and lighter vocals with collaborators PARA9ON and Thama. You see a newer side of Huh at this juncture as he highlights his own vocal capabilities – they reemerge on the exceptional closer “9 to 6,” a heart-wrenching trap ballad with one of the most powerful guitar solos we’ve heard this entire year as he spirals into a vindictive space, telling his ex, “I hate your new fucking love song,” and “You shine the most when you’re crying.” It’s a dark record, drenched in heady trap and intricate wailing guitars that surround the rapper’s angst-fueled verses about life, death, love, loss and victory. It’s easy to get submerged in 926’s shadowy depths and forget that the world exists – and honestly, that is the true beauty of Huh’s artistry. – RC
7. 2, Bang Yongguk
Bang Yongguk has never been afraid to lead with raw emotion and 2 offers a whole new spectrum for audiences to fall into. After the grief, fear and anxiety of his 2019 debut LP BANGYONGGUK, the rapper and producer returned to unleash the ‘monster’ within, embracing tenacity, anger, lust, and drive as the key emotions that build the soundscape of 2. The six-track EP simmers with vicious bass and trap, anthemic rock, unsettling synth and sleek blues that highlight Bang’s sexy baritone vocals. 2 opens with the rock-trap number “G.M.T” which Bang uses to reintroduce himself as he snarls, “Formal, sexy, deep, next level hmm/ Guess who’s back, I’m afraid/ Call [me a] devil hmm/ If I want it, I go get it/ If I want it, I go get it/ Other songs are shaking, shaking/ Shout out to the world, burn it, burn it/ For fast kids, my voice is slow.” He has no hesitation in embracing his darkness and you hear his confidence in every note of the scorching electric guitar solo that preludes his whisper of, “I’m back.” The dark, alternative hip-hop track “Up” comes next and also serves as the lead single of 2, doing a phenomenal job of hammering in Bang Yongguk’s penchant for startling lyricism by pairing unnervingly dark imagery of sex and lust with haunting, grimy trap. The Nineties R&B-inspired “Screwed Up” slips in next to break some of the tension on the record, using female backing vocals and a swaying rhythm as Bang touches upon regret for the first and last time on 2, and we get to hear more of his husky vocals. The playful piano-led trap “Shut Up” comes next, followed by the vicious bass and trap-heavy “Off” and the anthemic closer, “Race.” Each track is extremely different from the last and outlines a different aspect of Bang’s artistry to showcase his versatility as a producer, but more than anything else, 2 is a symbol of Bang’s victory over his own demons. He’s signaling that he’s ready to jump head-first into the throes of the industry and carve out a space for the ‘monster’ he’s proud he’s become. – RC
6. American Gothic, DeVita
DeVita’s American Gothic cruises through various planes of contemporary R&B to give us a story that’s full of drama and danger. The Korean-American singer-songwriter explores love, betrayal and self-confidence, with seven tracks outlining a journey that moves from heartbreak, revenge to finally catharsis. American Gothic unveils a more mature side to DeVita as she brings in surges of orchestral strings, neo soul, rock, and alt-R&B to showcase a larger range of her skills as a songwriter and composer. The opener “Eat Your Heart Out Buddy Kane!” establishes the EP’s core themes of love, death and Americana pop culture fueled by 1999’s American Beauty. Written and co-composed by DeVita, the lead single “Bonnie & Clyde” is a slow, sultry R&B number that highlights her soaring vocals. Piano and sweeping string sections add to the drama of the song that describes a dangerous relationship, because while the instrumentals and DeVita’s tone are playful and dreamy, the lyrics unveil a darkness lurking beneath: “Cause I’m trying to walk away/ Baby but danger, it never felt this good before/ Boy you’ll be the death of me/ And the way that we ride is dangerous/ But you holding me down/ Right hand to the gun/ Don’t care what I’ve become.” The playful and seductive “Cheese in the Trap” sees hip-hop megastar Jay Park step in for a collab and DeVita experiment with rap to match his signature style to create a glorious back-and-forth of dark romance. DeVita chooses stripped-down arrangements and instrumentals for the large part on ballads like “Pine” and “Superstar“ to showcase her effortlessly fluid vocals and push the listener’s attention to the subtleties in the production and lyricism. American Gothic is as eerie as it is decadent and there’s something new to discover on each listen. – RC
5. BIGONEISTHENAME, BIGONE
BIGONE bet on the power of nostalgia for his debut LP and the payoff was tremendous. The South Korean singer-songwriter transformed his entire brand by changing gears from hip-hop to pop-punk and making the shift to a full-time rockstar with BIGONEISTHENAME. The entire record builds its bones on pop-punk, alt rock and touches of grunge reminiscent of the late Nineties and early 2000s – in other words, it’s perfect for those of us who grew up listening to Blink-182, Avril Lavigne, Green Day or Sum 41. There’s heartbreak, rebellion, lamentation and celebration and you get a taste of what’s to come as soon as the album opener “Happy Birthday (Intro)” serves up a gritty slap of grunge as BIGONE delivers a sarcastic take on the birthday song. The lead single “Star” featuring singer-songwriter Goopy serves as the main anthem to the themes of BIGONEISTHENAME and ignites the rush of hope we feel when our favorite artists assure us they’re there for us: “Singing of love while dreaming/ That melody that shook my heart/ I guess I want to be your star/ Cuz I feel and dream and love/ I’ll be your star… Even if darkness covers you/ I’m gonna be a star.” From there the record flits through various chapters of BIGONE’s outlook on life as he looks back on his youth (“Lonely Boy 2K22”), first love (“Password 486”), life changes and unavoidable transitions (“Still The Same”) and regret (“Te Amo”). The pre-release single “Windy Day” is one of BIGONE’s strongest moments of songwriting. Inspired by a breeze that brushed past him while he was out for a walk, the track laments a past relationship but finds strength in accepting things as they are, saying, “I don’t have enough time alone/ But the moments I miss, they’re enough/ I try not to think of them anymore/ But this night would be better the other way.” BIGONE brings in producer, singer-songwriter and longtime friend Jay B on “Windy Day” and his smoother R&B tone blends beautifully with BIGONE’s raspy vocals. Overall, there’s a freshness to BIGONEISTHENAME courtesy of its vibrant branches of pop-punk, and a balance that shines through BIGONE’s lyricism as he finds his true self through this sonic journey. – RC
4. Nangman, Big Naughty
“Do you believe in romance?” Nineteen-year-old rapper Big Naughty’s June 2022 LP Nangman opens with this provocative question. It is a felicitous starting point for a record that details the young rapper’s perspective on one of the most complex emotions known to humans – love.
Digressing from his dynamic raps, Big Naughty exhibits artistic growth on Nangman with fleshed-out storytelling narrated through soothing vocal performances. Immersed in an intoxicating mix of sultry R&B and lush jazz influences, the LP opens with “Do You Believe In Love,” a poem penned by the rapper and recited by South Korea’s renowned voice actor, Kim Kihyun. Thereafter, we are immediately transported to the luxe interiors and ambiance of a jazz lounge with the album’s lead single “Romance Symphony.” The rapper relies on the allure of dreamy synth on “Lovey Dovey” featuring Meenoi and mellow piano arrangement on “Poker,” featuring Dvwn to amplify the amorous atmosphere, while the indie feel-good numbers “Vancouver” and “Beyond Love” featuring 10 cm initiate the giddy sensation of never escaping the presence of your lover. Big Naughty brings out his big guns on “Actor” featuring rapper pH-1, who effortlessly elevates the track with his stellar rap delivery. After adding a touch of sophistication and class on the record with “Bridal Chorus” featuring Dbo, the rapper stuns listeners in the best way possible with “Hachiko” featuring Sion, Yescoba and Dayoung Ahn. The evocative and pensive R&B ballad accentuates the desolating realization of a lover’s permanent departure from one’s life. And last but certainly not the least, “Period” gives an upbeat spin to a moment of epiphany where one realizes the relationship has run its course.
Nangman is one of those rare records of romance that values the intricacies of love and heartbreak, pushing you to the edge of your seat. We know the tale; it’s one as old as time, where two souls meet to eventually drift apart. Yet, the dizzying confessions of love during this period are meticulously detailed through passionate storytelling that seamlessly flows from one lush composition to another. It is this sonic fluidity that makes Nangman an unforgettable listening experience. – DD
3. Indigo, RM
Framed as an archive of his twenties, Indigo traverses through the musings of a deeply empathetic and introspective artist. Wielding the power of his pen, RM redefines the essence of his stage name (Real Me), giving listeners a deeper understanding of his relationship with the notion of identity, stardom, loneliness, love, heartbreak and more. As an artist, RM has always valued genuine storytelling that strives to make sense of the world and the relationships we forge during our limited time in our mortal forms. While Mono (2018) and his 2015 self-titled mixtape were reflective of this ethos, Indigo is the refined manifestation of the perspectives he’s meditated on over the past decade.
The lush 10-track sonic experience details pages from his journals with an impressive roster of collaborative artists and producers helping him bring his writings to life. Indigo’s greatest strength lies in its linear storytelling, which begins with RM denouncing trendsetters on the Nineties-inspired hip-hop and R&B track “Yun” feat. Erykah Badu. This is the listener’s first impression of an unfiltered and unrestrained RM as he raps about creating art free from the pressures of modern-day capitalism. The upbeat hip-hop production on the follow-up track “Still Life” featuring Anderson.Paak mirrors RM’s contentment with living life on his terms, free from the regrets of the past or apprehensions about the future. RM and Epik High’s Tablo thrash out finding a way to live a more authentic version of yourself in the age of algorithms on the pop number “All Day.” In the fourth track “Forg_tful,” we are ushered into the soothing sounds of acoustic guitar loops. “Why can’t I remember?” RM sings in his low-register, raspy voice. On “Closer,” “Change Pt. 2” and “Lonely,” he lets his guard down and narrates a three-part tale of seductive love confession, wilting romance and his eventual battle with loneliness. While these are deeply personal experiences, RM manages to hit the sweet spot between intimacy and shared relatability, making the intermediate section of the album a rousing sonic experience. The rapper rounds up the album with the disco-inspired “Hectic,” the soft-rock lead single “Wildflower and the guitar ballad “No.2,” touching upon themes of stress and stardom with the introspection that he’s celebrated for.
The care with which RM weaves his soul into Indigo right from the choice of collaborative artists to sonic motifs will either comfort you with some much-needed closure with your twenty-year-old self or the clarity required to blissfully sail through it: “No looking back/ You will protect yourself now,” the rapper sings on the last verse of “No.2,” motivating listeners to look forward to the future as opposed to dwelling in the past. Perhaps the greatest advice anyone could ever convey with their art. – DD
2. Lowlife Princess: Noir, Bibi
How is revenge best served? Just ask Bibi.
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter breathes enviable confidence into her highly anticipated debut album Lowlife Princess: Noir with a chilling seductiveness that only she can harness. Bold, unapologetic and beautifully curated, Lowlife Princess: Noir is a roaring collection of stories of empowerment and rebellion as told by the album’s protagonist, inspired by Lee Geumja from Park Chanwoo’s 2005 thriller Lady Vengeance.
Ill sentiments of abandonment and heartbreak drive her thirst for vengeance on the record whilst simultaneously empowering her with the fierce edge required to reclaim her power. The production mimics the record’s lyrical ferocity, offering an invigorating mix of sounds from dark pop (“Jotto”), futuristic EDM (“Blade”), pop-rock (“City Love”), Latin-inspired beats (“Bibi Vengeance”) and alternative R&B (“Animal Farm”) to name a few. Bibi doesn’t shy away from exploring the horizons of her vocal abilities, offering a blend of supple low-register and searing raspy vocals, both of which effectively embody the mood of each track. Despite the unpitying and ruthless character Bibi has constructed to help her navigate through a lawless world, there are moments of vulnerability exhibited – like that on “Loverholic’s Hangover” where Bibi alongside featuring artist Sam Kim ponders over the demise of a love affair – which make Bibi’s interpretation of Lee Geumja hauntingly evocative and relatable. Traces of these are further found on the R&B number “Wet Nightmare” and the mellow piano-led ballad “Sweet Sorrow of Mother” where yearning and loneliness haunt the singer’s days. The contrast between the character’s ruthlessness and gullibility with matters concerning love not only adds depth and dimension to her character but highlights the maturity with which Bibi handles her artistry. Storytelling is her greatest strength and thankfully, she doesn’t shy away from flaunting it throughout the record.
Everyone wishes to emerge stronger from a major setback in their life. But sadly, life does not always offer you second chances to mend your past. It does, however, course-corrects itself by introducing you to artists like Bibi, who are capable of putting forth a record so irresistibly ferocious that you can almost taste the piquant flavors of rebellion and revenge through it. – DD
1. Jack In The Box, j-hope
While j-hope has previously discussed wanting to unleash a darker side of himself, seeing and hearing it for ourselves in 2022 was a glorious shock to the system. On his solo debut LP, the rapper, producer and BTS member – usually known for his upbeat and sunnier takes on life – gives audiences a candid outline of his biggest fears, the pressures of fame, and his doubts about the future. He cracks open the shiny facade of pop stardom and finds salvation in the gritty honesty of hip-hop, diving fearlessly into its sub-genres like boom bap, alternative, nu metal and prog to cement himself as one of the most important artists in the game. The lead single “More” had listeners shaking when it first dropped on July 1st; the power-packed track is a blend of old-school Nineties boom bap and grunge rock, leading with hip-hop on the verses as j-hope outlines his thirst for artistic growth, rapping, “Keep my passion, I gotta go/ I’m still (not enough)/ Self-learning for eleven years/ My highlighting’s my art of learning/ Endless studying I crash and fall to make my art/ Still make it move from where I stand/ Make it mine, make it right/ Somebody’s favorite song again/ That’s half my life, the reason for living, the joy of life/ Motivated to carry on.” The chorus harbors the biggest shock factor of all as producer Brasstacks slams in a shot of grunge to highlight j-hope’s raspy vocals, twisting “More” from a hip-hop track into the territory of nu metal to give audiences a taste of what Jack In The Box would bring to the table.
The 10-track record’s release on July 15th was everything j-hope had promised and more, kicking off with a female voice narrating the tale of Pandora’s Box in the “Intro” – the foundation of j-hope’s persona as a musician, the last hope in a world of chaos, and the core theme of Jack In The Box. From there, he takes a dip into new wave on “Pandora’s Box,” embracing his stage name wholly and the consequences that come with being ‘everyone’s hope.’ The LP is more than an outline of j-hope’s personality however, and sees the rapper step into an observational role as he ponders the insanity of humanity – especially on the thrumming “Stop” and buoyant “= (Equal Sign).” On the latter, he banks on the positivity that’s always surrounded him as he dips into his breezy vocal skills to ask, “Why is being different a sin?/ Beyond age/ Beyond gender/ Across the borders/ Maybe it’s like homework for everyone/ Awaken them that it is just a difference/ Not something to discriminate against/ Starting with myself.”
j-hope also discusses the journey of having faith in himself and his unwavering love for music, themes especially prominent on the unsung hero of the record, “Safety Zone,” and the incendiary second single “Arson”; “Safety Zone” steps away from old-school hip-hop into strands of contemporary R&B to give j-hope a moment to breathe and search for his safe space. The backing vocals by Bajan singer-songwriter Jaicko Lawrence are especially stunning and add to the bliss of j-hope’s calm contemplation. “Arson” closes Jack In The Box with determination and aggression, swerving into gritty Nineties electronica and hip-hop blends. The instrumentals are heavy with thrumming bass with a focus on percussion as dark synth runs all through like a siren in the background. j-hope toasts his success and looks forward to the future, declaring, “If anyone asks me/ Right, I lit the flame/ Now I ask myself, choose what/ Do I put out the fire, or burn even brighter?” It’s a signal that this is just the beginning of the rapper and producer’s global dominance as a soloist and he can’t wait to blaze a brand new trail to send the world reeling again. – RC