Audiences who have come across Rap Monster before are likely aware of his preoccupation with being “real.” Maintaining authenticity in an assembly-line style music industry is a problem plaguing many, if not all, idol rappers, and Rap Monster has revealed his own doubts over his contradictory identity as both a hip hop artist and leader of BTS.
His recently released mixtape RM is a musical reflection of this confusion. With a cover displaying his face divided, RM presents Rap Monster as a two-faced artist and individual.
In the same vein, the mixtape itself is divided in musical identity. The songs of RM are split as either self-reflective narratives or rap showcase. Both “Awakening” and “Do You” subscribe to the former and are the songs most representative of the mixtape and its message. “Awakening,” with its cacophony of artificial instrumentals, creates an urgency emphasized by Rap Monster’s impassioned rapping. The song is a sort of desperate declaration, revealing both determination to thrive with the title of ‘idol-rapper’ and a flash of fear for future challenges in the same breath. “Awakening” is very clearly a track where the message takes precedence, and the lyrics are delivered literally and plainly.
“Do You” sends a similar message as “Awakening” of owning one’s individuality, but does it better. Rather than having the song deliver lyrics in straight lines of long breaths, Rap Monster samples a track — Major Lazer‘s “Aerosol Can” — with background sound effects and overlap of lines to make “Do You” the more memorable track.
The up tempo metronome and drums set a beat that fits the confident, somewhat cheeky attitude of the verses and manufactured sound effects. Rap Monster’s delivery is more expressive and entertaining to the audience, mixing half shouts with singsongy lines and literal spitting sounds. While “Awakening” is a bold, brave personal statement to the world, “Do You” encompasses the defiant state of mind that follows the catharsis.
While these tracks are representative of the mixtape’s message, the mixtape is actually introduced with “Voice,” a bare bones track featuring a calming piano melody that contrasts beautifully with the controlled crescendos of Rap Monster’s verses. Lyrically, the song sets the stage for the mixtape as the lines descend into retrospective:
Yeah, even as 7 years passed, with a mic worth 50,000 won
still making my mixtape by myself in one corner of my room
some say I’m fake, okay, I admit it, my dark past
I can justify it, but I won’t, so that kind of problem won’t happen again
The following four songs, however, adopt a more unapologetic attitude as the sound shifts into harder-hitting rap territory. “Monster,” “Throw Away,” “Joke” and “God Rap” are all rap songs simply for rap’s sake, with “Joke” as the flashiest among the four. Set to Run the Jewel‘s “Oh My Darling,” Rap Monster’s verses take on a ramble-like quality as he forgoes oxygen to rap without pauses through the entirety of the track. The effect is an impressive and almost overwhelming delivery, a fitting representation of his skills.
Honorary mention goes to “Monster,” as Rap Monster rides the beats of J.Cole’s “Grown Simba” with an ease that suits the song’s bravado. “Throw Away” and “God Rap” serve their functions as songs displaying rap skill, but are not nearly as memorable as the other two tracks. As the last of the four rap centered songs, “God Rap” fades into the first three tracks as it fails to bring anything new to the tracklist.
“Rush” injects some much needed mellowness after four hardcore tracks. The song is a chilled-out, car ride with the windows rolled down, and Krizz Kaliko‘s feature is the clear spotlight of the song. Rap Monster’s echoey additions of “서둘러 (hurry)” interspersed throughout Krizz Kaliko’s sung verses make for a catchy chorus.
“Life” is a return to the more muted introspection found in “Voice,” as the mixtape comes down from the high of the middle tracks. “Life” is set to the J.Dilla song of the same name, though the sampled piano instrumental is actually a Miles Davis melody. The song is a somber narrative in unsober circumstances, as the light piano tune plays against the darker lyrics:
were we born to die, were we born to live
are we living to die, or are we dying to live
the nametag with my name on it, is that my life?
Loneliness is a theme frequently found in Rap Monster’s lyrics, and his mentions of the subject in “Life” segue easily into “Drift.” Rapping takes a backseat as the slow tempo song is sung by Rap Monster, and something about the addition of his modest vocals gives the track a more honest edge. “Drifting” is easily one of the most emotional songs of the mixtape, as the lyrics are stripped down to the most simplistic of confessions. “Drifting” describes stopping at a standstill in life, feeling paralyzed by emptiness and encumbering expectations for happiness. The repetitive chorus of “lost in life, lost in you,” laid over a sparse backing track, is made all the more haunting by Rap Monster’s melancholic tone.
RM ends on an uplifting note, however, with “I Believe.” The upbeat song serves as an ending anthem for the mixtape, and it’s a breath of fresh air following two heavier tracks. Rap Monster ropes his members in for the final portion of the song, and the resounding chorus of “Where ever I am, I will protect myself, I believe” is a defiant resolution in the face of doubt. “I Believe” does not directly resolve the heavy thoughts or worries presented in earlier tracks but instead reaffirms a desire to continue moving forward regardless.
Lyrically, RM takes listeners on a roller coaster narrative of confidence and uncertainty that comes with self-discovery. While the songs speak of Rap Monster’s evolution as an artist, they also relate to the general experience of clinging to certain ideologies or categories in the desperate search for identity. RM illustrates what happens when confidence replaces the safe confinement of labels.
The mixtape is equal parts show and tell, and Rap Monster succeeds in telling a story through a variety of styles. “Throw Away” is intense rapping against an aggressive drum and bass track, while “Voice” is beautifully understated beneath an acoustic instrumental. Exploration is always a gamble, but the risks taken by Rap Monster certainly pay off in the form of a very solid solo effort, earning RM a 5/5 rating.