Listening Party: j-hope and J. Cole Look to Their Roots in ‘on the street’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

A once fan now meeting their idol as a fellow contemporary, BTS’ j-hope joins forces with hip-hop icon J. Cole in ‘on the street’.

Introspective yet forward-looking, ‘on the street’ lays out a platform for both j-hope and J. Cole to reflect on their careers, offering us a glimpse into the various challenges they have faced in the past, as well as their inner thoughts as they ruminate about an uncertain future. 

For j-hope, this track serves as a temporary farewell to the ARMY as he bows out of the spotlight for a period of 18 months. But aside from that, it also acts as a closing paragraph for this chapter of his historic career thus far. BTS has referred to J. Cole as one of their inspirations; in 2013 the septet released ‘Born Singer’, a rendition of his song ‘Born Sinner’—who better to collaborate with at this point?

“It goes back to Lollapalooza last summer. J. Cole is my idol and we met there. Since then, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great it would be if we could make music together. So I reached out to him. I already had a plan in mind to release music around this time, and I began working on it in early November. As much as it took me a while to finish the song, I cherish it so much and it means a lot to me,” j-hope shares with Variety.

After a year filled with success as a solo artist, having released his debut full-length album ‘Jack in the Box’, and performed at Lollapalooza as the first Korean artist to headline the music festival, j-hope is poised to enter a new chapter in his career, one he whole-heartedly welcomes in this latest track. This comes after he was reported to have coordinated the termination of his enlistment postponement and begun the process to apply for mandatory military service—he will be the second member of BTS to enlist following Jin.

‘on the street’ is a collaboration between two leaders of their respective markets that I never thought was possible. Unexpected, but ultimately, it does not disappoint—here are my thoughts on the brand-new single.

Musically. ‘on the street’ places you in your favorite music video cliche; as if you’re on a car ride leading to nowhere, looking out the window deep in thought, acting like the main character you are—the track evokes nostalgia and a sense of peace after all. Through its instrumental, the song does so through a mixture of lo-fi and traditional hip-hop; muted filtered-out guitars, whistles (courtesy of j-hope), and a basic eighth note on the drums, all of which play throughout its runtime. 

(A remark: There’s a minor modification done to this particular drum pattern. Across four beats where two notes hit per beat; high hats hit all eight notes, kick drums hit on the first and the sixth, and the snare every third and seventh). Try counting it to see for yourself!

​​The energy is stagnant and is maintained consistently, but in order to prevent boredom on the listener’s side, these major aspects of the song’s instrumental mentioned earlier are occasionally rotated in and out to keep us on our toes.

But the instrumental here simply acts in support of the true stars of the show; j-hope and J. Cole.

The lead rapper and main dancer of BTS showcases his patented sing-rap style on the track, oftentimes giving a soulful delivery for a short period and quickly easing into a flow without making the transition seem awkward or forced. Showing mastery of the two, he also shows that there is no need to choose between one or the other, vocalizing as he delivers his verse; singing while spitting.

The voice behind the hit track ‘No Role Modelz’, J. Cole steals the show, delivering a lengthy 32-bar verse (that’s roughly 1 minute and 30 seconds of him going solo in a 3 minute and 30 seconds release)—now that’s how you treat a featuring artist, not giving them a mere eight to 12 bars and then calling it a day. 

J. Cole makes every beat count in this already sizeable part. In this reflection of his, him reminiscing about the past, he is honest and filled with conviction as he narrates his story, sharing with us all the lessons he has learned. It’s as if he were preaching as he’d usually do on his other solo releases—it’s his own flavor that he brings into this collaboration.

Lyrically. Again, ‘on the street’ is a reflection of j-hope and J. Cole on their respective journeys so far. It’s always a treat, to encounter a track with lyrics that you don’t simply take at face value, with lyricists utilizing words that aren’t chosen based merely on the number of syllables they contain, but also on what they contribute to the narrative they are trying to convey.

“Every time I walk/Every time I run/Every time I move/As always, for us/Every time I look/Every time I love/Every time I hope/As always, for us”

j-hope is likely speaking directly to the ARMY, attributing every song, performance, and action as dedicated to them, the fans, and the supporters who have been with him and BTS throughout the years.

My two feet walk willingly, anywhere/J in the air/For the path I’m on to become one of hope, I give my all/Even my walk was made of/Your love and your faith/To repay you even from afar, just like a butterfly/Now, just walk lightly, whenever you want/Go on, hopefully, wherever you walk”

Referring to the ARMY once again, but likely also his fellow bandmates; “Even my walk was made of/Your love and your faith,” he credits these people as responsible for shaping who he has become, beyond the various skills he possesses. But outside that, this verse seems to also be a farewell message, with him wishing these people the very best even though they are far apart. 

“All hail the mighty survivor of hell/Plopped down from heaven to sell/Holy water that I scooped from the well/Fought tooth and a nail/Just to prevail amongst the ruthless as I move through the field/Feelin’ worried in a hurry like a two-minute drill/To make a couple mil’ off a lucrative deal/Selling train of thought, name a artist who could derail”

Cole looks to his humble beginnings as a rapper, tracing his roots, and remembering what he had to do to rise to the top.

“Shit, who would I be?/Without the creator of this theater beside me to gently guide me?/Some days, I wonder if I need to pick a different hobby/I’m deep in with this rappin’, it’s all a n**** know/I never didn’t nothin’ better, it’s hard to let it go/But like a father watching his daughter/Walk down the altar with tears in his eyes/You gotta let her grow”

For a talent as great as he is, he shows that even he doubted himself.

“Coldest around, with more quotables than what the quota allows/You see a top ten list, I see a Golden Corral, n****/As the moon jumps over the cow/I contemplate if I should wait to hand over the crown/And stick around for a bit longer, I got a strange type of hunger/The more I eat, the more it gets stronger/The more it gets stronger/I said the more it gets stronger”

More than a decade in the game, J. Cole isn’t getting any younger, but, in an age where young talent sprouts left and right, he looks at the field but sees no one that can come close. He’s been here for a while, but he’s far from done. By the way, a “Golden Corral” is apparently a popular buffet restaurant in the U.S.—now try again and see what he means.

The verdict? It’s an 8/10. Rap has always had a relatively negative reputation in K-Pop, with it often feeling forced into songs, with tracks seemingly being better off without it—it’s a recurring problem that was even present within BTS’ own releases, and that’s despite having some of the best rappers in the industry. It’s a welcomed experience to listen to a track that is solely focused on rap, with nothing present to take away from it. 

It’s also a collaboration that does justice to those a part of it—they brought J. Cole on it, anything less than what we were given would have been a waste. And considering j-hope’s personal situation, it’s the best farewell gift any supporter of his would have wanted. That being said, it does play it safe, its simplicity apparent in comparison to what we know these two artists can do. Ultimately, playing it safe is what brings the track down, but its context, what it means to j-hope, J. Cole, and their fans at this point in time are what bring it back up.


Images and stills courtesy of HYBE LABELS

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