RM, whose full name is Kim Nam-joon, is the leader and main rapper of the hugely popular K-pop group BTS. Though his musical talent was evident from a young age, the journey that led him to become RM and join BTS was an unexpected one filled with twists and turns. Let’s take a look at the key events and people that helped RM discover his love of music and who ultimately led him to find his place in BTS.
RM was born Kim Nam-joon on September 12, 1994 in Ilsan, South Korea. From a young age, he showed a deep interest in literature and poetry. As a preschooler, RM could often be found reading books meant for students several years older than him. His talent for language arts was recognized by teachers, who suggested he take up writing in the future.
Music also captivated young Nam-joon. He started listening to Epik High in primary school and was drawn to the way their lyrics told stories and conveyed emotion. Nam-joon began writing his own lyrics and raps, finding the creative outlet fulfilling.
In 2007, RM convinced his mother to pay for six months of rap lessons from an underground hip hop crew called Zene the Zilla. The lessons fueled Nam-joon’s passion for rapping and helped him build fundamental skills. Zene the Zilla gave RM his first opportunity to perform on stage at just 13 years old.
Discovering Hip Hop Culture
As a teenager, RM grew increasingly immersed in hip hop culture. He looked up to famous Korean rappers like Epik High’s Tablo and Garion. Their socially-conscious lyrics and technical flow inspired RM to keep honing his own rapping abilities.
RM also found inspiration through hip hop clothing and aesthetics. He recalls initially wearing basketball shorts and polo shirts to be stylish, but felt it wasn’t authentic to the hip hop music he loved. After discovering brands like Supreme and Stussy, RM began incorporating streetwear and edgy fashion into his look.
Breakdancing became another outlet for RM to engage with hip hop culture. He joined a b-boy crew called Neuron in his hometown of Ilsan, where he spent countless hours practicing his breaking skills.
Early Music Releases
By high school, RM was recording tracks and releasing them online under the name Runch Randa. His songs like “Runch Randa” and “Poppin'” showcased RM’s skills as a rapper and caught people’s attention.
In 2010, RM released his first official single “Nunmul” (Tears) under the name Rap Monster. The melancholic track delves into dark themes like depression and loneliness. He began entering rap contests both locally and nationally.
RM’s music also started getting recognized on Korean hip hop forums like Hiphopplaya. More opportunities began coming his way, including featuring on tracks by established underground artists.
Joining a Hip Hop Crew
An important breakthrough came in RM’s music career when he joined the hip hop crew Daenamhyup in 2011. Daenamhyup consisted of around 50 members who were dancers, producers, rappers and choreographers.
Being part of a crew gave RM a community where he could hone his performance skills and collaborate creatively. It also led to more exposure, as Daenamhyup held concerts and events around South Korea.
During his time with Daenamhyup, RM released several songs and mixtapes showcasing his socially-conscious lyrics and wordplay. Tracks like “Too Much” and “Joke” tackled issues like materialism and education pressure.
In 2012 and 2013, RM put increasing focus on his solo work outside of Daenamhyup. He released the mixtape RM, which hit #48 on the Gaon Album Chart, an impressive feat for an underground release.
The mixtape’s single “Awakening” particularly resonated, with lyrics about RM’s journey of discovering his self-identity and purpose. This theme of finding one’s voice would continue being a hallmark of RM’s music.
RM’s profile continued to grow through appearances on Korean rap competition shows. He achieved a top 16 finish on Mnet’s “Show Me the Money” in 2012 and made it to the quarterfinals of “Hip Hop Playa 99% Challenge” in 2013.
Joining Big Hit Entertainment
2013 marked a major turning point when RM signed with Big Hit Entertainment. CEO Bang Si-hyuk had been impressed after seeing RM rap and invited him to join Big Hit as the first rapper in their new idol group.
RM debated whether to join an idol group, as he had previously seen K-pop as too commercialized. But he ultimately accepted after being assured he would have creative input at Big Hit. This promise convinced RM he could maintain his artistic authenticity.
In 2014, RM made his official idol debut as part of BTS alongside members Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook. RM stands for “Rap Monster,” though he later changed his stage name to RM for broader appeal.
Artistic Growth in BTS
BTS’s early concepts focused heavily on hip hop, giving RM a chance to showcase his rapping skills. Over time, BTS’s music evolved to incorporate a wide range of genres.
RM contributed to writing lyrics for many of BTS’s songs. His poetic lyrics integrated social commentary and explored complex themes of mental health, self-acceptance, and reaching one’s dreams.
As BTS’s popularity exploded globally, RM handled english interviews and speeches. His eloquence and humility made him a respected ambassador helping lead the K-pop movement worldwide.
Within BTS, RM emerged as a leader. Though hesitant about the responsibility initially, he grew into the role and became a mentor for the other members.
In addition to his work with BTS, RM continued honing his craft through solo mixtapes and collaborations.
In 2015, he released the introspective mixtape RM, exploring ideas of duality and his personal growth since his debut.
RM’s collaboration “Change” with rap icon Wale in 2017 was his first Top 40 hit on the US Billboard charts and demonstrated his ability to hold his own with US rappers.
In 2018, Mono became RM’s most critically-acclaimed mixtape, charting at #1 in the US World Albums chart. Its meditative lyrics on fame, artistry and emotional healing showcased RM’s musical and personal growth.
Impact and Legacy
While RM did not set out to become an idol, joining BTS allowed him to impact millions of fans worldwide with his music and message.
RM’s lyricism and charisma have been instrumental to BTS’s global success. As a role model, he empowers fans to believe in themselves and pursue their passions.
By staying true to his roots as a socially-conscious rapper, RM bridges authentic hip hop with the reach of K-pop. His art encourages fans to think critically about society.
RM also gives a voice to the Korean hip hop scene internationally. He often collaborates with Korean rappers and invites them to perform on BTS stages.
Even with massive success, RM remains committed to artistic growth, releasing thought-provoking music and using his platform for good. His creative journey continues inspiring old and new fans.
RM’s musical journey has been one of both chance and self-realization. Early experiences sparked his interest in hip hop and led him to hone his skills.
Joining BTS allowed RM’s talent to impact the world. But through it all, he stayed true to his artistic identity as a lyricist and socially-conscious rapper.
RM’s discovery of music led him on an unexpected path that converges art, message and community. His story illustrates how pursuing one’s passion can lead to inspired self-discovery with far-reaching influence.
|Key Events in RM’s Musical Journey
|RM born Kim Nam-joon in Ilsan, South Korea
|Takes rap lessons from underground crew Zene the Zilla
|Releases first official single “Nunmul” (Tears) as Rap Monster
|Joins hip hop crew Daenamhyup
|Releases RM mixtape and appears on “Show Me the Money”
|Signs with Big Hit Entertainment and prepares to debut with BTS
|Debuts as part of BTS
|Releases introspective mixtape RM
|Collabs with Wale on “Change” and breaks Top 40 in US
|Releases critical and commercial hit Mono mixtape