BTS unleashed Dark&Wild Vol. 1 on August 20, their fourth release and first full-length album. A fusion of American-style R&B and BTS's specific brand of hip hop, Dark&Wild builds on the group’s already solid foundation while still leaving room for future growth.
Dark&Wild opens with the introductory track, “What Am I To You?” Originally released as the teaser for the album, on this track Rap Monster flexes his chops as he raps about innocent love turned bitter and dangerous. We follow his descent, and the instrumental flows beautifully with his rhymes. Rap Monster is a special artist because even if your Korean vocabulary is limited, he is able to convey emotion by the mere flow and use of his voice. As the track turns darker, we hear him spitting vicious lyrics, his voice becoming husky and raw as he seemingly loses his mind to a broken heart. With the last beat, we are breathless and prepared for the rest of the punches BTS is prepared to throw.
The second track and first single, “Danger,” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I had heard complaints that BTS was losing their edge and becoming soft, but I disagree. Instead, BTS is beginning to mature and own their style. “Danger” merges smooth, sexy R&B with a Kpop/dance vibe to highlight BTS's skills. The use of samples and vocal harmonies is similar to American hip hop. But where most Kpop groups can't seem to pull it off with the right swagger, BTS hits the nail on the head. It is a completely different monster than “No” or “We Are Bulletproof Pt2,” but this is for good reason. With the raps perfectly blended into the flow of the song, everything works just right. BTS is emerging into their unique sound and style. And I could not be more excited.
The following two tracks, “Hormone War” and “Hip Hop Lover” are solid showcases of BTS doing what they do best. “Hormone War” is a rousing anthem with a powerful, loud chorus that gives us insight into what it's like to be young, driven by red-hot hormones This is a cheeky song, and risque, especially in terms of Kpop, but much appreciated in a saccharine, sugar-coated industry. It's raw and honest, matched with a feverish, urgent beat.
On “Hip Hop Lover,” Rap Mon, J-Hope, and Jin once again take the reigns to explain what hip hop means to them. You might recall that BTS spent several weeks in L.A in their program, American Hustle Life (which I wrote about here). This is where we can see that the cultural exchange really paid off. The song feels more like American hip hop than it does Kpop, complete with name dropping their elders in a sign of respect (Nas, Jay-Z, Rakim, Eminem, The Chronic). Hip hop has become a way of life, which they express with strong, almost aggressive rythym. This is one of the strongest songs on the album.
“Let Me Know” and “Rain” are the jazzy, old-school hip hop offerings on the album. “Let Me Know” is without a doubt one of my favorite Kpop tracks in a long, long time. While I tend to be a fan of hard-hitting tracks, this particular one highlights true talent within the group. Produced by Suga, “Let Me Know” is a gentle, almost heartbreaking song. In an industry where manufactured feelings seem to be everything, this is a refreshing change. It boats similarities to Drake and Chris Brown, but does not mimic their styles. This is a track I would expect to find on a film soundtrack because of the genuine emotion it invokes. “Rain” is a throwback to classic hip hop. While it is not a stand-out track, it does help to make the album more full and robust.
BTS has a tradition of including cyphers on their albums and Dark&Wild is no exception. Cyphers are unique to hip hop and rap cultures, especially underground rap. This is where a group of rappers build off each other and rhyme in a circular fashion. Where one ends, the other begins without destroying the flow of the rhythm. Unlike their past two cyphers, this one is more cohesive in its aggressive sound and style and features Supreme Boi, a former BTS trainee who is now an underground producer and rapper. Following this is the Interlude, a funky fresh 70's inspired track that prepares us for the rest of the album.
The second half of Dark&Wild is not as cohesive as the first. The songs tend to blend together. “Can You Turn Off Your Phone” and “Blanket Kick” are both very similar songs with melodies and beats that sound almost alike. I would say this is the only downside of Dark&Wild. While they work together well, as one flows seamlessly into the other, they do not provide enough of a contrast to each other. The songs themselves utilize jazz instruments (we hear trumpets, snare drums, blues bass guitar) to create a feeling of a smoky jazz bar. Yes, it works, but it is not necessarily mind-blowing.
Following those tracks, “24/7 Heaven” is the same formula as the previous two. Again, nothing particularly amazing since within the album it fades amongst the rest. As a stand-alone single it would fare much better.
“Look Here” is a track that sounds almost American. It has an island rhythm similar to Pharell's “Come Get it Bae” and Robin Thicke's “Blurred Lines,” sounding a bit too close for comfort. This track is BTS experimenting with sounds that are popular in mainstream music and breaking away from a the traditional sound of kpop. This style could potentially work, once it is made more unique and true to their own style of music.
The last full track on Dark&Wild is “Second Grade,” which follows the theme of school and education carried over since BTS's debut. It is a pity that this song will likely be looked over because it is one of my other favorites. It combines a whimsical, young sound with some darker themes (gunshot sounds) for an interesting juxtaposition. I believe this is BTS's true image and where they are strongest. It represents an innocent facade, but digs into the ugly underside. This is another sound that was extremely popular within American hip hop (Young Money and Lil Wayne are especially known for this style). While it is not necessarily Kpop-friendly, I would love to hear more of this from BTS in the future.
After a whirlwind of an album, Dark&Wild concludes with the outro track, “Does That Make Sense?”, a call out for a loved one to return. It is a soft call out, with sweet and deep harmonies. It does lack the impact of the intro, however, and does not seem to wrap up the album completely. I'm still on the edge of my seat waiting for a track that never follows. What it does present is the immense vocal talents of BTS who have grabbed the hip hop and R&B sound with enthusiasm.
I hesitate to call Dark&Wild a concept album because it's theme (love and the destruction of self through loss, grief, and jealousy) is rather simplistic. The tracks don't exactly work as an album, but as a collection of tracks explaining everything from hormones to love to descent into madness, but not in that order, which detracts from the whole. Dark&Wild is mature and is not trying to impress anyone. Although the second half of the album lacks the same spunk and energy that the first half does, it is still a light-hearted listen. BTS is not out to necessarily conquer the music shows anymore. They are in this for their own game. We can see they are uncompromising and a welcome breath of fresh air. If you are expecting an album of club bangers you will be disappointed, but if you're looking for a new bridge between Kpop and budding true musicians, take a listen. Overall, this album receives a
'L' lives in Ontario, Canada. She is a pop culture and media junkie and has helped organize kpop parties and events across Ontario. Her biases are BTS, Block B, M.I.B and Infinite.