(Bold is the interviewer’s words)
Rap Monster’s ‘Real’ Story
When I think of Rapmon, the first thing I think of is when other people would say ‘he’s a genius!’ during your trainee days. Since everyone said that, I just assumed it was so, but on the other hand, I had thoughts of resistance like ‘What? Just what is so amazing?’.
What do you mean genius… The fact that people look at me like that is like.. It’s probably because I give off the feeling of a philosopher in a small room. I have a lot of thoughts for my age. How the world is, what kind of person I am, what kind of relationship I have with the world… Because I wanted to know things like this, I read Nietzsche, and looked up and read things like Carnegie psychology… Since a young child is having thoughts like that, and it gets expressed through music… that’s why they think I’m a genius.
Since you’re a 21-year old investigating the existential root and relationship of the world and one’s self-conscience, it seems a bit new. There are many things in the world to be enjoyed simply, and the more simple it is, there’s the aspect of life being easier and more fun, so just why do you have such complicated thoughts?
It’s kind of like a Middle School 2nd Year syndrome [explanation] (laughter). But the 2nd year syndrome isn’t only a bad thing. I started writing poetry since my 2nd year of elementary school. Since then, I think I was obsessed with despair and loneliness, and the relationship between my self-conscience and the world. Among the poems I wrote then, there was a poem where I compared myself with a fallen leaf, but I feel enjoyment out of dividing myself and the world, looking into that, and thinking about it. A feeling that feels like I’m living, it feels like I’m doing something. Ah! There are times where I feel like a genius. Times when I think ‘Oh, how did I write this?’. Even after I write it, there are times I get assurance in it being ‘wow!’ quality, and when I show that to people, I sometimes get the same feedback. Although it can be viewed as narcissism, ‘it seems like I have the ability to catch what really touches people’, is the thought I get. But times like that are very short, and most of the time, it’s a repetition of frustration and pain.
Please explain further on your times of failure and pain. People like listening to others’ times of frustration and pain, especially one of a genius (laughter).
Frustration was like, something that came to me hundreds of times a day. I’m currently working on the next Bangtan album, but I worked on my mixtape for awhile. However, the styles between those two are completely different. So I would get stuck at each word and each lyric, then become frustration… For a short story as an example, I only had to make a few words from last night at 9 to this morning, but I just kept doing other things till 2:30 AM. I went online to a community and looked at posts, looked at useless comics, and saw the news… And while doing that, I turned my computer back on at 7 AM and started making it. Once I write it like that and get the thought of, ‘Huh? I like this. I have confidence in this’, then I feel very happy and enjoyable, but that kind of moment doesn’t come easily. That’s why it’s hard. I think like, ‘ah, I know how to do this much, but I can’t even do this’… I wonder if this is the ‘pain of creation’ that people talk about. However, I have to win through it. I need to win through it.
Why are you releasing a mixtape? When I see the path that BTS has walked on during the last few years, I feel like you guys have been fighting the prejudiced thought that ‘Idols are doing hip-hop? Do you guys know hip-hop?’, but is that part of it?
That also is a part of it. When I see GD or Zico hyungnim, they’re very good at doing music, but there are people that still don’t acknowledge them for the sole reason that they are idols. First off, I’m releasing a mixtape because I have confidence, but if there are those who won’t acknowledge that it’s hip-hop even when I’m doing all this, then there’s nothing more I can do… I have a thought like that.
It sounds a bit like a solemn determination.
Yes, I’m solemnly determined. My heart’s determined, the songs on my mixtape are determined… (laughter). I personally want to establish myself using this. It would be me personally making a starting point. It’s like a kind of thesis on what kind of person I am that I personally organized. In one word, it’s like I finished the first unit.
Is working on Bangtan’s album much different from Rapmon’s personal music?
It’s different. The music that Bangtan aims for is ‘youth’. Bangtan’s music is where we concentrate on the thoughts and worries that people in their late 10′s and early 20′s would have and speak for them. However, my music is just myself. My music is something that just shows the inner darkness, worries, greed, hideosity, etc that I have. Everything of myself that’s inside of me.. Erm.. It’s very two-faced, lonely, being lonely, wanting to be lonely, and hurting because of being lonely, but that I don’t dislike loneliness just because of that… It has my inner self of wandering around. Also… I think that any person is two-faced, where they can be a devil and an angel… And I think that the person who has both sides to the extreme is me. I don’t want to try and hide that, and wish to show it very well to people through music.
You recently released a collaboration song with Warren G… But I had the thought that thoe who are more interested in Rapmon than in Bangtan would really enjoy that song. How was it like working with Warren G?
There are two things that Warren G told me that I will never be able to forget. The first is, hip-hop is open to any one. Despite what your race is or where you’re from, hip-hop is a type of music that is always ready to give you space for anyone who enjoys hip-hop. So, don’t restrain yourself behind any type of prejudiced thought, and the other one was you’re doing well, so no matter what others say, believe in yourself and do what you want. Although it’s something that anyone says, I think it touched me even more because he was the one to say it to me. He has a habit of saying, “It’s so good.” But I think that it became a sort of spell. Someting like Hakuna Matata. ‘It’s so good’, when I think of that phrase lately, my hearts becomes at rest a bit more.
I heard that you fell for hip-hop at the age of 14 and basically lived at a Hongdae hip-hop performance arena, which led you to where you are at today.
That’s right. During the days where I went to see performances in Hongdae, Supreme Team was really popular. It was before coming out to the world… At that time, it wasn’t like now where illionaire took over everything, but Jiggy Fellaz, Big Deal, Soul Company, Verbal Jint… various musicians all had their own styles like the Black Turtle, White Tiger, Vermilion Bird [explanation], and everyone looked like they were fighting each other, so they were all so cool. Before this, Epik High really gave me a lot of influence. In Korea, Epik High and Garion, in overseas, Nas and Eminem. Those 4 teams set the path of ‘what kind of music I need to do in the future’ for me.
Is there a similarity between those 4 teams?
Although all four have different inclinations, all their lyrics were just so real that I couldn’t help but have the thought that I want to do music like these people too. I thought that they were people who speak of real stories in an even more real way than the actual real story.
I’m curious about the first set of lyrics you wrote. What kind of story it was about, and what kind of real story you talked about.
Although I don’t remember the title… It was on September in 2007. I made a song through an amateur producer’s beat on Jungle Radio (’Daum’ hip-hop community), but I think it was really influenced by Eminem at the time. “Put away the unhappiness mixed with bluffs, and knock down dominoes, I plan to go out like this.” It was something like that. It doesn’t even make sense. Why would you knock down dominoes? Mixing bluffs… (laughter) It was when I was 14, but I think what I wanted to say in conclusion is the same as what it is now.
Although hip-hop is a genre of music, it seems like a type of religion and philosophy. Just what is hip-hop? Just what is it that guys seem to go crazy over it?
Defining hip-hop is the same as trying to define love. If there are 6 billion people in the world, then there are 6 billion definitions of love, and like that, each definition of hip-hop is different for each person. Of course, it’s possible to give a dictionary definition. In 1970, there was a person called DJ Herc in South Bronx. At a party that he was hosting, he set breaks on a beat and during that break, someone would be rapping, someone would be dancing, and someone else would be doing graffiti… That’s how hip-hop was born, and they call that the 4 elements of hip-hop, but dictionary definitions like these is something anyone knows, but to explain that spirit… In one word, it’s something that can’t be explained. It’s a way that expresses me as well as being a meaning for freedom and rebelling. Because it’s something where people play and have fun with, it can have messages of peace and love placed in it. If you compare it to a Pokemon, it’s like a Ditto. Personally, hip-hop to me is the world. The world that I’m living in… It’s difficult, right? To be honest, it’s still hard for me too.
Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about hip-hop, but there are many aspects of hip-hop culture or clothing that I’m unable to understand easily. The hanging gold necklaces, gun fires, images like that… I also don’t really understand the term ‘swag’ that is used often.
The culture of shooting guns and doing drugs is not the actual self of hip-hop. It’s just become a by-product that appeared around hip-hop music, it’s not the actual self of hip-hop. Although there’s a certain image that pops up clearly when you think of hip-hop fashion, that’s also becoming something that’s more broad. Look at A$AP Rocky or Kanye West. They don’t wear pants that drag around any more. To understand ‘swag’, you need to understand what kind of meaning ‘making it on your own’ has in hip-hop. Making it on your own is a very cool and important concept in hip-hop. I’ll use Jay-Z as an example. Jay-Z was a drug dealer. He’s someone that sold drugs on the rooftop of a very large stadium called Barclays Center, but he succeeded and bought that building. After buying that building, he dressed up in hip-hop and then went up to the rooftop and looked down at that building. Then they took a picture of that and posted it. After seeing that, everyone died. Kya… Just how cool is that? Jay-Z had a song a long time ago that was called ‘99 Problems’, but he raps “I’m someone with a lot of problems, but I don’t have any problems with women? [actual lyrics]”, yet he ended up marrying Beyonce later. Isn’t that amazing? Starting off as a drug dealer, becoming the best wealthy person, and marrying the most amazing woman in the world. I think that gives dreams and hopes to men. Showing that off and revealing it to the world is called ‘swag’. Even when they show it off very openly, you can’t hate or dislike it. Because they started from the bottom and made it on their own.
Going back to fashion, the fans’ complaints towards Rapmon’s fashion is quite notorious… (laughter)
Because I’m really into gothic looks, I only wear monotone colors, but there are fans who dislike it and say that I look like a monk or a magician. I saw a Rick Owens show a few years ago, but it was really cool. I watched it, mesmerized, wondering, ‘what are those black clothes?’. However, gothic look clothing needs not only money, but a lot of courage as well. Just how bad could it be that I would be called a monk. However, I really like this. I think that I’m able to express all the worries and the loneliness that I have through my clothes styling. I feel like I haven’t even dipped 10% into it, but I plan to go to the end.
You have been garnering a lot of interest as a sexy-brained man, but I heard that Rapmon’s ideal type is also a ‘sexy-brained woman’. What kind of woman is a ‘sexy-brained woman’ to Rap Monster?
First off, they have to have their own thoughts and be subjective. Not for something that’s wrong in morals, but they need to be subjective with their own thoughts in order to express that without any discomfort. And while they speak during that process, things like that touch me. In one word, it’s when I feel that I’m able to learn something from this person, I want to know about this person even more, if I talk with this person, I feel like my mind will become richer. Someone who gives off feelings like those is a sexy person. I also like someone who understands loneliness. I hope it would be someone who can respond with ‘Ah, I think I know what you mean’ instead of ‘Why are you always lonely?’ when I speak of loneliness.
Ultimately, what does Rap Monster want to tell the world through hip-hop, or is there something you want to say to yourself?
I just want to say that I’m like this right now, I’m this kind of person and I’ve lived like this, but I’m having these kinds of thoughts right now. And in the future, I’ll be like this… People want to have assurance towards their existence to no end. I think the reason I do music is that while speaking of my stories through music, I’m able to confirm the reason to my existence. I don’t want to be a petty person,but someone who remains in history. Because it’s a life that you only get one chance with, I want to influence people endlessly, give hopes, and become someone who can become a dream. Until then, I plan to continue on forth. Because that will become something that confirms the worth to my existence to the world and something that can personally confirm myself as to who I am.
TRANS CR. YASUIS @ TUMBLR (@ryuveiys) | SCANS CR. NAVER ; TAKE OUT WITH FULL CREDITS, DO NOT EDIT CREDITS.