Since striking out on his own, B.I’s work can be categorised as a self-reflective diary of the singer slowly piecing himself back together and testing his own strengths and weaknesses. On his first few releases after resurfacing in public light, he was repentant, hesitant, still dipping his toes into the water and perhaps forging his relationship with his art anew.
- READ MORE: Rolling Loud Thailand 2023 review: first Asian edition of hip-hop’s biggest festival turns up the heat
This is why ‘Cosmos’ – and by extension, its second half ‘To Die For’ – stands as a pivotal release in B.I’s career. For much of his infant years as a soloist, B.I had – by obligation and by choice, to some degree – isolated himself on a proverbial island, but ‘Cosmos’ marked the first time gave himself a chance again.
Exploring the complexities of love, resistance and youth, the album studied how the three fed into each other, with freedom being the common denominator. Hot-blooded youth spurred on the pursuit of love, which gave him the power to “dream about eternity”, and resist expectations and personal anxieties. Over the course of ‘Cosmos’ and the releases that followed, B.I tapped back into the free-spirited man he always was. And here we are now, coming full circle with ‘To Die For’. As he brings his exploration of love to completion, he’s more confident, intentional and purposeful than ever.
On opening track ‘TO DIE’, B.I reinforces this newfound belief into indestructible armour: “CPR changes to breathing / Look at the replicas while you’re out of your mind / Don’t you dare judge me”. Horns blaze over a powerful beat throughout ‘Michelangelo’ as he documents his own renaissance through quick-fire rap. ‘Wave’, backed with the sound of emergency sirens constantly inducing urgency, only makes his proud proclamations stronger. “The trend these days ain’t cool / Same clothes, same expression / They’re all the same like a song / In fear of change… How much does the Earth cost?’ he asks, before turning the track on its head with a distorted EDM-laden, vertigo-inducing chorus.
That question unlocks something primal inside him, only described as a yearning to be free. Despite the cutting words of his songs, B.I’s resistance is neither unfounded nor rooted in the traditional motivations of going against the flow just for the sake of it. Having spent the better part of the past few years unwittingly defending himself, B.I’s resistance stems from preserving the basic human need of being and expressing himself freely, with love being one of the conduits that allows him to do so.
The optimism of his goal reflects in the inherently buoyant sounds of the more pop-leaning tracks on the album. Songs such as ‘Island of Misfit Toys’ and ‘Die For Love’ embrace the struggles, but always keep their eyes on the light beyond. The latter’s paradoxical nature is amplified by its club-inspired sound, laden with mechanical twinkling and looping vocal effects that give the song a decidedly poignant feel.
Even when he takes on a cheekier, more sardonic tone as on ‘Beautiful Life’, he keeps it welcoming and warm. “Since living is like hell / Can I take a rest and lean on? / They say two is better than one / Let’s share each other’s mess,” goes the song as B.I smoothly melds rap verses over guitar riffs. At times, he does struggle with wondering whether his endeavour will fulfil a bigger purpose. As the tempo slows down on ‘Cloud Thought,’ he wonders why he’s following his dream or making money. Just like clouds in the sky, however, that thought dissipates fairly quickly.
While he reaffirms it multiple times on the album, two tracks stand testament to this fearless version of B.I. On ‘Dare to Love’ – where the playful, laid-back rap belies his K-pop idol days – he embraces falling in love “fearlessly”, even if it goes nowhere. Further down, the bare yet atmospheric sound of ‘Truth’ magnifies the intensity by manifolds.
Against a soaring arrangement and through half-sung words, B.I probably comes closest to what he meant by bringing his exploration of love to completion. “You are close to eternity / Your meaning is the complete truth,” he says. By putting his faith into what he believes to be the truth for himself, he finally liberates himself. Rising above the anxieties around falling in love, the expectations of youth and even the need to constantly defend himself.
- Release date: June 1, 2023
- Record label: 131 Label