Article. Kang Ilkwon (Music Critic)
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC

Respect is one of the most iconic key elements of hip hop culture. Amid the fierce competition and rap battles, hip hop artists have always emphasized respect and admiration—sometimes toward one another, and sometimes toward the culture. Today, respect represents a campaign of sorts, and there are many ways to express it, be it through lyrics, interviews, social media, production and so forth. Respect paid through musical homage sounds particularly good when backed by a well-made song—and especially when you don’t see it coming. Just like in j-hope’s album.

Jack In The Box shows how much artistic consideration and passion j-hope has, and the catchiest track off the album is “What if….” The song shows the affection and respect he has for hip hop, not only showing the creative collage of sounds that goes into sampling but also using a remarkable sample to begin with. Who could have seen “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard coming? To fully appreciate how impressive “What If…” is, you first need to be aware of the background of the song it samples.


Ol’ Dirty Bastard was a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, the most innovative group in hip hop history. He boasted an incomparable rap style not to be found anywhere else. Tragically, he died in 2004 to an overdose at the young age of 35. “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” a track off his 1995 solo debut, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, is a classic that the world of hip hop fans still talks about to this day.

The song was produced by RZA, head of the Wu-Tang Clan. The song starts with a strangely moody beat made from a piano loop and lo-fi drums, then builds on top of that with a mix of singing and rapping, finally placing the focus on the captivating vibrations of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s unique style of rap. The whole song is ominous. j-hope’s track “What if…” inherits the principle pieces and mood of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” The song is led by the tense and foreboding piano loop while j-hope’s rapid, low-pitched rapping makes the song feel almost intimidating. And then there’s all the variations.


The variation in the chorus is definitely the high point. The pitch of the piano drops and the melody changes in an instant as the chorus comes in, and the loop that had borrowed its source song’s musical texture changes to become melodic. A new kind of sound breaks into the track right after to create yet another melodic twist, bringing the first part of the song to an end. The wild twist from 1990s East New York hip hop to something more electronic is absolutely thrilling.

Everyone—from fans, the media and the artists themselves—agree that the 1990s were the pinnacle of hip hop. While the genre may have found greater commercial success and status starting from the 2010s, there’s no doubt that the 1990s were a time when new styles for every element of hip hop—from the production style and rapping to the lyrics—were created, artists were in competition and the genre even became popular in the mainstream. j-hope takes a hip hop masterpiece representative of its era and pays an impressive tribute to it through his own reinterpretation in “What if….” What a great song.

Something similar can be said about “MORE,” a single released before the album came out. A blunted boom bap sound borrowed from the early and mid-1990s brings in the first verse and a riff off the electric guitar leads the rap rock chorus. j-hope begins by rapping with a short, bold groove but turns to shouting, putting his artistic ambition on display for all to witness. With its lively, drum-centric beat, the track comes closer to old-school hip hop than any other track off the album.

As soon as I finished listening to “What if…,” I took out my Ol’ Dirty Bastard CD for the first time in a long while. It felt wrong not to go back and listen to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” again. And after listening to his song, I played “What if…” again. Much like the way hip hop makes good use of loops, these two songs by their respective artists formed a loop in my head. I hope you’ll fall for this loop-the-loop(?) for yourself. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.