When BTS‘s RM began his rap career, he had an idea of what a rapper should be. Now, eleven years after joining Big Hit Music, RM is sharing how his identity as a rapper has evolved.
Rolling Stone interviewer Brian Hiatt asked RM about the conflict between being a rapper and being an idol, something he struggled with in the past.
When BTS first started, there was this conflict in some people’s minds and in your own between the idea of being a rapper or being an idol, which we’d call a pop star. This is obviously something you’ve addressed in song. Maybe you can explain a little about that conflict and why it seemed so important at the time?
— Brian Hiatt, Rolling Stone
RM began not as a rapper or an idol, but as an aspiring writer. His love of poetry and prose led him to rap, and as a rookie rapper he dealt with the notion of being “a pure artist or a pure rapper.” Since BTS was originally intended to be a rap group, not an idol group, RM had to “reorganize” his identity.
When I was young, I wanted to be a writer of prose and poetry, and then I found rap. And a lot of what I wanted to do went into the music. And, yes, there was this idea of being a pure artist or a pure rapper. So in the beginning, it is true that when we were debuting as a pop act, there were times when I had to sort of reorganize my identity and then reflect on what my identity is.
“And at the beginning, we didn’t see positive results,” RM said. “We didn’t have a lot of fans. We didn’t have great results. There were some times when we were mocked.”
For RM, music is a way to express himself, whether he’s creating rap or pop. This ultimately helped his conflicted identity to “settle.”
So it is true that it took some time for that identity to develop and settle itself. But, you know, whether it’s rap or pop music, or whatever it is, it is another method for me to show my mind and express my voice, and having that resonate with people. So a lot of that conflict resolved itself.
Since BTS’s debut, the music world has changed and so have artist labels such as “rapper” and “idol.” According to RM, “those boundaries have become less and less meaningful,” and they don’t hold him back.
And I think things today are very different from what they were like in 2013, because even though there’s still a lot of discussion about what is pure, what is authentic, what is sincere, what’s an artist, what’s a pop musician, those boundaries have become less and less meaningful. As long as I can show what I’ve written, it’s valid as the continuation of my dream and what I always wanted to do.
RM also revealed how other artists changed his idea of what was artistically possible as a rapper. He looked to Drake, a rapper who both sings and raps in his songs.
I started with Nas, Eminem, the golden age of hip-hop. And the turning point was Drake, in 2009, when he released Thank You Later. That album was kind of shocking for me because it was kind of a freaky thing that a rapper actually sang. So after that a lot of rappers began to sing, deciding to put the melodies into their songs across the genres, between raps and melody. So, yeah, that was the moment.
For more from RM’s Rolling Stone interview, read about how he feels about BTS being their own genre, and his memories of BTS’s HYYH era below: