‘Hope World’: A Kaleidoscope of Wonder
How j-hope’s debut mixtape is an odyssey of gratitude, peace and aspiration that dives deep into who he was before making waves with BTS today
On March 2nd 2018, BTS’ rapper and main dancer j-hope dropped his diverse, self-produced debut mixtape titled Hope World. The seven tracks of the album take the listener through an adventurous journey, one that feels like watching a vibrant movie. What audiences always find enthralling about BTS is their ability to incorporate social commentary ingeniously into their music. While their mixtapes do provide a deep and enticing narrative, they are a more personal revelation of the artists behind the seven-member global phenomenon.
As opposed to RM’s melancholic mono (2018,) which is a warm blanket after a day out in the rain, and Agust D’s eponymous debut in 2016 and its follow-up D-2 in 2020, which both served as mirrors of truth, j-hope’s Hope World plays out like a childhood dream fulfilled— a bright and exciting celebration of the self with a dash of some serious swag.
Hope World is an odyssey of gratitude, peace, aspiration and friendship that dives deep into the non-celebrity Jung Hoseok’s identity, looking back at who he was as a dancer before becoming the rapper and producer making waves with BTS today. The album, which was dubbed as ‘The Hixtape’ by fans before its arrival, made j-hope the highest-charting Korean soloist in the Billboard 200 chart history with under a day’s account of sales. It also ranked Number One in 63 countries upon release, making it the most for a Korean solo artist at the time. But what was it about the record that made it an instant hit? As a designer, I realized that Hope World is a collection of songs that together build a whole new universe of visual and sonic magic. Here is my attempt at breaking down this universe, as best as I can through j-hope’s lyricism, production, literary references and music videos.
“Hope World,” the title track, is the introduction to our protagonist Jung Hoseok and his alter ego j-hope. A burst of bubbles leading us into this groovy, Seventies funk track with a playful vibe is an implication of what’s to come. A particularly powerful moment is when he says, “I run 20,000 leagues under the sea,” referencing the science fiction novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. The book tells the story of a biologist, Pierre Aronnax who is on a mission to hunt down an underwater monster causing mayhem across oceans. We then find out that the technologically advanced submarine the Nautilus was the ‘monster’ under the sea everyone so feared. Here we meet the man behind the Nautilus, Captain Nemo. In Hope World, j-hope compares himself to the enigmatic Nemo, his fans to Aronnax, and his ‘world’ to Nautilus–a discovery that will shake the foundation of what we think we know. The high pitched chorus is a lively intro that makes the listener eagerly listen for what’s to come next.
In “P.O.P (Piece of Peace) pt. 1,” j-hope’s rap illustrates the world as a war zone, filled with blood and sweat, where our screaming voices are unheard—the thematic elements a sharp contrast to the soft pop instrumentals. He wants to be our hero; not a savior, unable to solve our problems for us, but a positive guiding force that helps us be resilient to our hardships. The peace j-hope represents is that of content with oneself, not the bigger picture of worldly scales. The first two songs on the mixtape bring out Jung Hoseok’s personality, parts of which we haven’t seen before. In his own words, he wanted to show an unseen side of himself to ARMY. His mission as an artist is to evoke a feeling of joy in the world through his art. A message that comes through, easily in this song. The song has an upbeat arrangement juxtaposed to an emotional chorus with the refrain, “if I” being almost breathed out as a sigh of relief, giving a feeling of warmth.
With “Daydream” we have now formally entered the new world created by j-hope. It is the world of the nonconformist, and the rapper walks us through two sides of this imaginative land: one of the idol j-hope, and the other the more elusive non-celebrity, Jung Hoseok. To me, this song seems like a tragedy presented in the form of a fairy tale. The Nineties hip-hop-meets- house beat and colorful music video make it seem like a peppy and charming track to non-native listeners, while the meaning behind it is rather solemn. As an idol, j-hope knows his responsibilities and the many limitations to life, whereas dreamer Hoseok has the freedom to live insouciantly, drink, party and become vulnerable as he pleases. In contrast to Captain Nemo in “Hope World,” he embodies Alice (Alice in Wonderland) and Harry Potter in “Daydream,” both children who turn into accidental heroes in their respective stories. In the music video, he is afloat in space on a bed like that of a canvas, where he receives a message from someone named ‘Arthur’ which says ‘Don’t panic.’ The Arthur in reference is from another prominent science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The message of ‘don’t panic’ while floating in space is how j-hope shows us that he is trying to sit back and enjoy the ride of stardom and not let the negatives overwhelm him. During a livestream session explaining the album, the rapper said that if the first two songs were a representation of him, this song is more like his shadow.
We are halfway through the record and it is time to learn about the past. “Baseline” is an ode to j-hope’s street dancing days. He raps his appreciation of the form of art that is closest to him. “Rap that’s shaped through the rhythm of my body”— j-hope not only uses his words to pay homage to his humble beginnings but also uses hip-hop and trap to bring his love for old school dance culture to life. It is short-lived at only one minute, 30 seconds and keeps the listener wanting more. j-hope and BTS have managed to transform their zeal for music into their life’s work and the rapper conveys his gratitude through the lyrics of this song. “Baseline” harmoniously links the perkiness of “Daydream” and the aggression of “Hangsang,” serving as the perfect interlude that molds the approaching tone of the next few songs.
With “Hangsang,” which translates to ‘always,’ j-hope explores the particulars of celebrity with Big Hit Entertainment producer and rapper Supreme Boi. “BTS rock bottom, yeah that’s my team,” he spits on a vicious trap beat, referencing all the hardships and prejudice the septet has faced in the early days of their debut. The duo iterates that belief and tenacity can help you reach your goals, just as BTS have. With his team, he brags about his achievements, enjoying the position that they have reached after so many years of grind. This long track is repetitive to emphasize j-hope’s love and respect for his six members. With them in tow, he is walking paths he never imagined he would and flying high. “Hol’ up, man, now you guys are the crow-tits,” Supreme Boi declares, calling BTS trendsetters, and their cynics as the crow tits who are now trying hard to be like them. “With my fans, gratitude/ With my team, always,” j-hope raps, making it clear that he will always stand with his brothers. They are each other’s backbones. BTS has said multiple times that their fans gave them wings to fly.
In “Airplane,” j-hope talks about his dreams of wanting to fly as a young boy in Gwangju, looking up at the clear blue skies and wishing to be up there, but to me, it’s like a metaphoric love letter to fans that helped realize this lavish and distant dream. The music video sees j-hope with extravagant cars and on rooftops rapping and grooving freely along with a black and white frame with flashing lights, confessing his appreciation for the material things that come with fame. j-hope seamlessly addresses haters with the lyrics, “Somebody curses me/ Their jealousy will make them lonely/ I’m not worried, I’m just happy/ I feel my success in my airplane.” He has flown above all the hate and into the clouds, where his dream world exists. j-hope is implying that there is harmony between the fantasy world of Jung Hoseok and the arduous idol life of j-hope, and sacrificing the safety the former offered was the best decision he could have made for himself. This track is a big contrast to its predecessor, with its slow and whimsical dream pop and trap, almost hypnotizing the listener into a peaceful state. In this instance, we have become more perceptive of j-hope’s story from a boy with big dreams, to a pillar of inspiration.
“Blue Side (Outro)” was written three years before the release of Hope World but is the most fitting outro to the mixtape. Blue, in the eyes of most, is the color that symbolises dread and sadness; however j-hope’s “Blue Side” dives into a sonic scape that is serene and innocent. The sample sound of wind chimes makes this song an immediate stress buster and it’s reminiscent of lying on a beach and listening to the ocean waves on a beautiful spring day. The rapper confides his desire to embrace the listener in his blue dream. Even though the mixtape ends here, the peace is somehow beyond reach as the track feels too short; a minute and 30 seconds of escape just isn’t enough and had us all wishing for an extended version (a wish that j-hope would grant three years later.)
The Hope World cover art is an amalgamation of all the songs presented in the mixtape. At first glance the colorful cover comes across as a child’s enthusiastic doodling, but there are Easter eggs to some serious topics in this mixtape hidden throughout. In my perception, the green puzzle pieces represent the rapper’s childish innocence, while the blue water represents the immersion into peace felt on tracks like “Blue Side” and “P.O.P.” The colors clash with each other, representing his quirky and unique personality, but it all flows in a way that’s similar to how he rhymes his words and flirts with the rhythm. An airplane flies over the purple globe towards an orange moon. The airplane is perhaps j-hope himself; he is in the clouds above his world taking us to new places. Over the years BTS’ steady success has been a topic of inquisitiveness for many; what they fail to observe is the sincerity with which the group indulges in their craft. j-hope has the ability to channel his dynamic spirit into his music effortlessly.
In their speech at the United Nations Group of Friends of Solidarity for Global Health Security in 2020, j-hope stated, “Our lives are unpredictable; we don’t know all the answers. I knew where I wanted to go, but not how to get there. All I did to get there was trust ourselves, do my best and love what I do.” I found myself thinking back to the message he wanted to convey through his mixtape while listening to this speech. While asked about how he got rid of his stress in the livestream where he spoke about this mixtape, j-hope answered, “Seeing good things and feeling good things, which are healing.” These words mirrored my thoughts about what Hope World means to me and the rest of ARMY. Even with all the underlying darkness, complexity and deep nuances, it is an album that brings healing from within and helps us have faith in our own decisions about our future. j-hope’s confidence and trust in himself is what won listeners’ hearts and catapulted Hope World to the top of the charts in 2018. It’s a record to come back to whenever you need assurance and with it j-hope accomplished his mission to become a piece of our peace.
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Ru Bhat is a writer, creative curator and co-founder of a newly launched fashion and lifestyle label.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Rolling Stone Collectors Edition: The Ultimate Guide To BTS in November 2020.