Kim Nam-joon (Hangul: 김남준; born September 12, 1994), better known as RM (formerly Rap Monster), is a South Korean rapper, songwriter, and record producer. He is the main rapper and leader of the South Korean boy group BTS, managed under Big Hit Entertainment. In 2015, he released his first solo mixtape, RM. As of December 2018, his second mixtape, Mono, is the highest charting album by a Korean soloist on the Billboard 200 chart, having peaked at 26. He has recorded with artists such as Wale, Warren G, Gaeko, Krizz Kaliko, MFBTY, and Primary.
RM was born on September 12, 1994, in Ilsan-gu, South Korea. His family includes a mother, father, and younger sister. He often received awards for his poetry and writing in his youth. RM became fluent in English as a child through watching Friends with his mother. Initially, RM wanted to go into literary studies but thought it as too risky a career choice and instead considered business administration.
At the age of 11, RM became interested in hip-hop music after hearing Epik High’s “Fly” in fifth grade. In March 2016, RM commented about the early beginnings of his interest in the genre:
“There were a lot of things that were vaguely difficult in elementary school. Because of a girl I liked … because I fought with my mom … No matter how young you are, it’s just as difficult as it is for an adult. I thought that things were really difficult for me, but I felt very strongly that the song “Fly” was giving me comfort … differently from connotative genres like poetry and ballads, rap is primary progressive, and I felt a huge strength from that detail. If I had been listening for the sake of the melody until then, from that point on, I started to listen to lyrics … In hip-hop, the lyrics are written as one is emptying out their entire soul. Our homeroom teacher … introduced me to Eminem, and told me that someone like this had succeeded by telling their own story … I took pleasure in following [Eminem’s] lyrics and showing them to my friends, and having concerts at our school festivals.”
In 2007, RM started activities in the underground Korean hip-hop community under the stage name Runch Randa, doing his first recording with self-written lyrics on the program Cool Edit. As Runch Randa, RM released a number of tracks and collaborated with fellow underground rapper Zico. He received considerable spotlight from the amateur community and participated in his first concert in 2008.
In 2009, RM auditioned for Big Deal Records, passing the first round along with Samuel Seo but failed the second round as he forgot all his lyrics. Finding RM an incredible performer, the Korean rapper Sleepy exchanged contact information with RM and introduced RM’s work to Big Hit Entertainment producer Pdogg and CEO Bang Si-hyuk, who was then inspired to make a group with RM in it after seeing him rap. At that time, RM scored in the top 1% of the nation in the university entrance examinations for language, math, foreign language and social studies and had an IQ of 148. RM’s parents were strongly opposed to his interest in music due to his academic achievements, and RM decided to set music aside to focus on his studies. However, RM later received a call from Sleepy to contact Bang Si-hyuk, telling him “that person is searching, go try once.” Without his parents’ knowledge, RM sought out Bang Si-hyuk and learned that he was planning a group called BTS that was similar to the Korean hip-hop group 1TYM. In order to convince his mother to allow him to be a rapper, he asked her, ” she wanted to have a son who was a first-place rapper, or a 5,000th-place student.” He joined Big Hit Entertainment shortly after at age 16.
RM has described himself as an atheist. He is currently enrolled at Global Cyber University.
RM developed his stage name Rap Monster during his trainee years. Though commonly misunderstood that he took on the name as he “raps like a monster,” RM revealed that it became his name due to the wording in the lyrics of a song he wrote that was inspired by San E’s “Rap Genius.” He recalled, “In that song, there’s a part that says ‘call me rap monster, ’cause I rap non-stop’ I took that part and wrote it into the lyrics of a song that I was working on for myself, but it became muted at some strange location so only the ‘rap monster’ part came out. Maybe because the company thought it was funny, they started to call me that to tease me.” RM has described himself as having a love-hate relationship with the name, feeling that he did not have it because he had incredible value.
In November 2017, he formally changed his name to his current stage name RM as he determined that his former moniker was no longer representative of who he was or the music that he creates.
RM was recruited as BTS’ first member in 2010, and he trained for years with fellow underground rapper Min Yoon-gi and dancer Jung Ho-seok, who later became known as Suga and J-Hope respectively. During his three year trainee period, RM performed on five pre-debut tracks credited to BTS in 2010 and 2011. He also worked as a songwriter for girl group Glam and helped pen their debut single, “Party (XXO),” an explicitly pro-LGBTQ song which was praised by Billboard as “one of the most forward-thinking songs out of a K-pop girl group in the past decade.” In 2016, RM commented on his trainee years:
“During those three years, the music market changed and what [Bang Si-hyuk] wanted to do changed too, and I ended up dancing and became an idol who performs. At the time, it gave me a lot of stress, and it was very difficult in that I felt like I was living a counterfeit life … but the reason that I remained to the end nonetheless is because [Bang Si-hyuk] told me that … he would let me make music that I had written, not music that others had written, so I couldn’t run away. I did try to run away once, but in only 3 hours I was convinced and came back.”
On June 13, 2013, RM made his debut as Rap Monster of BTS on Mnet’s M! Countdown with the track “No More Dream” from their debut single album 2 Cool 4 Skool. RM has produced and written lyrics for a variety of tracks on all of BTS’ albums.
In 2018, he was awarded the fifth-class Hwagwan Order of Cultural Merit by the President of South Korea along with the other members.
RM has collaborated with many Korean and American artists. In 2014, through reality television show American Hustle Life, RM formed a working relationship with Warren G, who offered to give BTS a beat. In an interview with magazine Hiphopplaya, Warren G stated, “After spending some time with BTS, we became friends, and I wanted to work with these talented friends. Even after they returned to Korea, we kept in touch via email and phone calls, and this work was done. As an artist and producer, is one of the best rappers I know.” RM recalled, “At first, I thought he was just saying these offers. But he said he was ‘serious,’ and then I realized at that moment that it was real.” On March 4, 2015, RM released a single with Warren G entitled, “P.D.D (Please Don’t Die)” ahead of his first solo mixtape. This track reflected how RM felt towards those who hated and criticized him at the time, which he used to find very upsetting.
That same March, RM collaborated with hip hop project group MFBTY along with EE and Dino J as a feature for the song “Bucku Bucku.” He featured in the music video for “Bucku Bucku,” and also had a cameo in another MFBTY music video for their song, “Bang Diggy Bang Bang (방뛰기방방).” RM first formed a lasting working relationship with MFBTY member Tiger JK during a TV show in 2013 when Tiger JK was promoting his song “The Cure,” telling the rapper that he grew up listening to him. Tiger JK credits RM as one of the rappers who changed his preconceptions about kpop idols, whom he previously shunned.
On March 17, 2015, RM released his first solo mixtape, RM, which ranked 48th on Spin’s “50 Best Hip Hop Albums of 2015”. The mixtape featured a variety of topics such as RM’s past on the track “Voice” and the idea that “you’re you and I’m me” in the track “Do You”. When discussing his work on the track “God Rap,” RM described himself as an atheist, believing that the only thing that determines his fate was his own self. The entirety of his work on the mixtape took around four or five months, with RM working on it in between BTS’ activities. The following year, RM recalled, “I wrote a lot about the anger and rage I had been carrying, but when I look at it now, they aren’t songs that are 100% under my sovereignty and there are a lot of really immature parts as well,” resolving that he wanted his next mixtape to be something he worked on by himself. Following his first mixtape, RM featured along with Kwon Jin-ah on Primary’s “U” that April. That August, RM collaborated with Marvel for Fantastic Four’s soundtrack in Korea, releasing the digital single, “Fantastic” featuring Mandy Ventrice through Melon, Genie, Naver Music and other music sites.
In addition to his music work, RM was also a regular cast member on the first 22 episodes of the Korean television program Problematic Men which began airing on February 26, 2015 on tvN. During the show, cast members are given a variety of puzzles and problems to solve and work through them by talking about their own thoughts and experiences.
RM also began taking on more music production within and outside of BTS in 2016. That August, vocal group Homme’s single “Dilemma” was released, which RM co-produced alongside Bang Si-hyuk. This was his second official production after his participation in BTS’ song “Epilogue: Young Forever,” which was released on BTS’ first compilation album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever (2016). and the unofficial SoundCloud release of “I Know”.
In 2017, RM collaborated with American rapper Wale on a special socially-charged track called “Change,” released as a free digital download along with an accompanying music video filmed about two weeks prior to the track’s release in March. The pair first formed a relationship over Twitter with Wale reaching out to RM in 2016, having seen RM’s cover of his track “Illest Bitch.” RM decided on the topic of “Change,” saying that though the two rappers were extremely different, their commonality lay in the fact that both America and Korea had their political and social situations and both of them wanted the world to change for the better. That December, RM featured on a remix of Fall Out Boy’s song “Champion.” The track reached number 18 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles, and helped RM reach number 46 on the Emerging Artists Chart for the week of January 8, 2018. On December 27, RM made history as the first K-pop artist to chart on the Rock Digital Songs chart, coming in at number two on the list.
In 2018, RM released his second mixtape entitled Mono that October, which he referred to as a “playlist.” He became the first Korean artist to rank number one on the Emerging Artists Chart in the United States with the playlist. The playlist was critically well received, with RM laying “his deep insecurities bare on songs like ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Seoul.'” The track “Seoul” was produced by British electropop duo Honne. RM and Honne developed a working relationship after Honne discovered RM was a fan of their music online and met with RM in Seoul while they were performing there. That November, RM also collaborated with Tiger JK on his last and final album as Drunken Tiger before retiring the name, featuring on the track “Timeless.” Tiger JK originally expected the RM’s lyrics to contain self praise, which was the trend of rap at the time, but RM wrote the lyrics to leave behind the historical meaning of Drunken Tiger’s name for which Tiger JK was very thankful. In a survey conducted by Gallup Korea RM ranked at the 12th most preferred idol of the year for 2018.
In 2017, American hip-hop magazine XXL released a list entitled “10 Korean Rappers You Should Know,” which included RM. Writer Peter A. Berry promises that “Rap Monster rarely fails to live up to his name.” He describes the young star as “one of the region’s most dexterous rappers, capable of switching flows effortlessly as he glides across an array of diverse instrumentals.”
Critics stated his first mixtape “takes listeners on a roller coaster narrative of confidence and uncertainty that comes with self-discovery.” Crystal Tai from South China Morning Post stated RM received a lot of praise for his natural flow and lyrics and that he’s got some “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy mixed with Earl Sweatshirt and Chance the Rapper” in him.