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“I was someone who wanted to go to a top college, an Ivy League school by American standards,” says RM, BTS’ leader. “I was a typical student who was trying hard to achieve. And then I trusted Mr. Bang, and I started to walk down a different path. And I had a sense of urgency and desperation about going after my dreams.” RM’s gifts as a rapper, songwriter, and producer have been essential to BTS’s development, as have his wide-ranging intellectual interests. In an interview from his label’s headquarters, the artist formerly known as Rap Monster discussed whether BTS should be considered K-pop, the uniqueness of South Korean hip-hop, the highlights of the Most Beautiful Moment in Life era, and more.

Đang xem: Rm

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(In celebration of BTS’ appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone, we’re publishing individual digital covers with each member of the band; check back throughout the next two days for more.)

You quoted the great abstract artist Kim Whan-ki recently: “I’m Korean, and I can’t do anything not Korean. I can’t do anything apart from this, because I am an outsider.” You said that was a key thing you’ve been thinking about lately. How does that idea apply to your work?So much of the pop and hip-hop I listened to came from America. But for me, as a Korean, I think we have our own characteristics and some kind of localized identity. I can’t really explain it very well, but there are some characteristics that we Koreans have, or maybe Eastern people. So we try to kind of combine those two things into one, and I feel that we created a new genre. Some may call it K-pop; some may call it BTS, or some Eastern-Western combined music, but I think that’s what we’re doing. If you think about the Silk Road in the past, there’s this idea of Eastern people and Western people meeting on some kind of, like, big road and maybe doing selling and buying of stuff. I think this story repeats itself, and some kind of new, interesting phenomenon is happening. We feel very honored to be existing in the very eye of this big hurricane.

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There’s so much great Korean hip-hop, including your early heroes Epik High, who are still active. What did you hear in it early on, and what do you hear in it now?There’s always a process of when something new comes into another culture, where the identity gets transformed and it changes and adapts to this new place. Obviously, there are differences between Korea and the United States that affect the music. For example, Korea is not a multiethnic country like the United States. So there are different sensitivities that are underlying the music. Korean rappers of course have their own unique and different lyricism, their own situations and hardships that they fit into the process. As a Korean, obviously, these are the things that resonate with me.

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Obviously, there’s a saying there’s nothing new under the sun. So especially for people like us, in the margins of the world, so to speak, we think about how can we transform this and how can we make this our own. So these are the things that I think about when I try to balance the inspiration of Korean and American rappers. And, I think, now though, there’s a convergence of all genres of music.

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