j-hope and J. Cole are artists at similar places in terms of their importance and relevance to their respective music scenes, despite the fact that J. Cole is the senior of the two musicians. Both are at a crossroads in their lives: j-hope will be shortly enlisting in the South Korean military as all able-bodied men are required to serve for 18 months while J. Cole has spoken on a number of occasions about the possibility of retiring from music. In fact, in 2021 and 2022, J. Cole participated in a number of professional basketball games; for the Rwanda Patriots and then for the Canadian elite basketball team, Scarborough Shooting Stars. A member of the global phenomenon BTS, j-hope’s second chapter, as an individual performer, is underway despite the forthcoming 18-month hiatus. BTS has collaborated with US rappers before, both as a group and as individuals: in 2017, Namjoon (BTS’s RM) teamed up with Wale for the politically charged, “Change” and in 2018 Nicki Minaj was the featured artist on the remix of BTS’s “Idol”.

The connection between j-hope, BTS, and J. Cole can be traced back to 2013 with the release of “Born Singer”, BTS’s reworking of J.C ole’s “Born Sinner ”, which was released the same year. Then in 2014, BTS’s “Hip Hop Lover/Phile”, a homage to K-pop and US musicians who inspired them, contains the following lyrics in j-hope’s verse: “Hope hope world / Before I made my own world, Cole world”, referencing  J. Cole’s debut studio album Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011).  j-hope’s 2018 mixtape would continue this homage within its title, Hope World. It is no surprise that BTS would find particular inspiration in J. Cole’s conscious rap with its socio-political commentary, for their own brand of critical K-pop/Hip-hop. 

j-hope & J. Cole / on the street MV / Image © BIGHIT MUSIC
j-hope & J. Cole / on the street MV / Image © BIGHIT MUSIC

Musicians in South Korea’s K-pop industry have to be chameleons, due to the importance of concepts to the genre, often oscillating between cute, retro, sexy, supernatural, and school, sometimes even on the same album. As such it becomes hard for idols to determine their own identity, musical and otherwise. j-hope’s recent solo work is part of that self-determination and his inner journey is mapped out on “on the street”. This collaboration with J. Cole acknowledges the centrality played by black culture in K-Pop’s inception and growing popularity, in its self-referentiality to BTS’s early music. The inception of “on the street” can be traced back to 2022 when j-hope met J. Cole during his feature set at Lollapalooza.  In order to offer further context, it is important to acknowledge j-hope’s background as a street dancer pre-BTS. He was a member of Neuron, an underground dance team. Further, since 2014, j-hope has been dropping dance videos on BTS’s main channel, Bangtan TV, under the title of “Hope on The Street”: to date, there are 16 episodes in the series. 

The lo-fi song and accompanying music video which dropped on Friday, 3rd March, lyrically and visually charts j-hope’s musical journey from street dancer to renowned artist, nationally and globally. The video begins with j-hope and a child in a narrow alleyway, the child representing the beginning of j-hope’s journey as well as his status as the very embodiment of hope. While j-hope traverses the streets and the subways, literally at the bottom of the world, J. Cole drops his bars on a rooftop or on top of the world. And in deference to J. Cole’s seniority, the latter has more bars. At the same time, the two musicians mirror each other in terms of their artistic trajectory and their contemplation of the next phase of their life story, whether as a musician or not: J. Cole’s lyrics: “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” echo those of j-hope in “Arson”, the lead single from his debut studio album Jack in the Box (2022): “Now I ask myself … Do I put out the fire, or burn even brighter…”. 

The whistling melody, composed by j-hope, unites the street and the skyscraper, the Korean musician with the US one, and can also be interpreted as an example of translanguaging, a pre-verbal signifier, that can be understood by everyone, encompassing different levels and modes of communication. The simple melody and j-hope’s minimalist lyrics talk about the echoes of self that he leaves everywhere he is, was, and will be in the future, “내 두 발은 선뜻 걸어, anywhere’s/ J in the air” represent not just his legacy but articulate his understanding that without fans, j-hope may not have had the type of success that he has had, both with BTS and now with his solo material. The spelling of his stage name in lowercase is also significant, as it puts the focus on the work rather than the artist (bell hooks, the educator, writer, and cultural critic, spelt her name in lowercase, in order to emphasise her ideas and not her identity). A love letter to his fans, and to the idol’s idol – J. Cole – “hope on the street” is a going away present, made with care and attention, telling his fans not to worry, as his presence remains bright in the spaces already transversed.

j-hope / on the street MV / Image © BIGHIT MUSIC
j-hope / on the street MV / Image © BIGHIT MUSIC

“on the street” is a lo-fi Hip-hop dance song, in which the visual language of dance in the music video functions as a communicative gesture with a story of its own to tell, beyond the scope of this review. While J. Cole shines more than j-hope in this collaboration, his verse contributing energy and vitality to the song, given his dominance in bars, this needs to be understood in terms of deference to the senior by the junior artist. Undoubtedly this will open up new audiences for J. Cole, one of the US’s most talented rappers, who is not as well-known as his contemporaries, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, in the global market-place, for j-hope it will further cement his iconic status as an artist, not just as part of BTS, but as an individual multi-talented musician. 


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Dr Colette Balmain

Featured Image © BIGHIT MUSIC


View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. This is a poor review of the impact that Jermaine Cole has made in the industry. How many platinum albums has he sold with no features? How many platinum records has Kendrick or Drake sold with no features? Jermaine Cole is arguably one of the most influential lyricists in history and does not need a collaboration to be “as well known as Kendrick or Drake”. Really? He not only learned, applied, and shared his gift with building a team under his Dreamville label. If you would like to reach out and learn more about a more accurate representation of Jermaine, please reach out in advance. This article was a disservice to Cole and I believe that J-Hope would agree with these sentiments.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Album Reviews, General, Korean Hip-Hop, Music


, ,