I have a friend who is a self-proclaimed lover of old school, gangster rap and hip hop like N.W.A, and Ice T. Classic stuff. Naturally, I had to tell him that Warren G had worked on a new single with a young Kpop idol. “No way,” he laughed. “That's cool—but unreal.” Well, it's very real. And in a way, very unexpected. The reality we are talking about is Rap Monster’s new single, “P.D.D,” part of his upcoming mix tape, RM.
In 1994, Rap Monster was born. That same year, Warren G's debut single, “Regulate”(ft Nate Dogg), peaked at number 2 on U.S. and worldwide music charts. “Regulate” is a too-real account of the gangster life-style on the West Coast in the early ‘90s, told through the story of a ruined attempted carjacking. Warren G would go on to work with a virtual who's who of notable and critically-acclaimed rap artists, including but not limited to Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Dr Dre. He has been hailed as creating one of the best rap albums ever, as well as elevating rap to critical acclaim and commercial success as a legitimate culture and music genre. It's also important to note that Warren G was a figurehead on BTS's “American Hustle Life” and helped produce the BTS album, Dark and Wild. He was also involved in the direction of the American video for “Boy In Luv.” As peculiar as this collaboration is, Warren G and BTS are not strangers.
However, we can't even begin to talk about Rap Monster and his place among Kpop rappers without bringing in two of the most well-established names in the business: Rap Monster has been heralded as the next G-Dragon, perhaps even the next Zico. But I argue that no, he isn't and he never will be. Rap Monster will remain his own entity.
G-Dragon and Zico both established their presence through their respective idol groups, but each retains a distinct style and essence to their style of rapping. G-Dragon isn't so much a rapper as an artist—he has some singles where he invokes a “rap” style, such as “Coup D'etat” or “Dirty Vibe,” but G-Dragon is essentially the artist with an unlimited budget and creativity. He raps where it benefits his musical style, but doesn't necessarily adopt the culture of hip hop. Zico, on the other hand, debuted his “Tough Cookie” with a completely different feel. For those that have sampled his mix tape, this style is familiar. “Tough Cookie” is aggressive and unapologetic. It's raw, vulgar, and ugly. But it's also what makes Woo Jiho into Zico. The song is a banger and adopts a plethora of stylistic cues from rap and hip hop culture, propagating and encouraging negative stereotypes, but it's also playing at “gangster.” The juxtaposition of golden grills and cookies is almost laughable, as is its title “Tough Cookie” (really?). It watches and reads like caricature, but then again, Block B has never taken themselves completely seriously, either.
Enter Rap Monster.
“P.D.D” opens with a lonely-looking Rap Monster walking through an airport in Los Angeles. The beat starts with the familiar lazy and smooth guitar-studded licks of West Coast rap, and Rap Monster's soulful and gruff voice pleading “Please don't die.”Wait, don't die? This sounds like a ballad, and I really dislike ballads. This is why subtitles are important. “Please don't die” becomes “please don't die before I shoot you.” Herein lies the lyrical wordplay that Rap Monster has keenly developed. This switching of emotion and feelings was prevalent in the teaser video for “Dark and Wild,” where he raps about love, and the build-up of emotional insanity that takes listeners into a dark place. With “P.D.D,” Rap Monster is beginning to really exercise his lyrical chops, exploring the idea of love and hate, pain and pleasure, as essentially two sides to the same coin. This imagery of duality is one that comes up frequently in his lyrics, as well as through the imagery he presents in the music video. The video gives the impression of a low budget film, without the glitz and tight choreography we have come to expect from BTS. But this is not BTS. This is Rap Monster. The scenes fluidly switch from Rap Monster walking down the street wearing shades, seemingly unfazed, to a young man that appears positively floored to meet one of his childhood idols.
The hook echos, “ride with me,” inviting listeners to follow Rap Monster's career from his beginnings in the underground, to his successful work with American legends, and to his eventual domination of the industry. The chorus begs the listeners, the haters, to not die before he has had an opportunity to destroy them by his own success and talent. It is difficult to dissect and understand lyrics when they are in a different language than your own (although Rap Monster is surprisingly fluent in English), but there is no denying that Rap Monster wants to skirt the thin line between aggression and affection. There is a quiet anger in his lyrics, that he is afraid that “his shadow gets ahead,” and there is a “darkness he knows well.” There is a poetic side to Rap Monster as well, where the sides of love and tragedy are constantly in balance, but also fighting against each other. Therein lies his true potential as an artist that has to struggle with the demands of being a commercialized idol, but also stay true to his own intentions.
The new single, “P.D.D,” is slower and less frantic, but brings to light some harsh truths that have been evident in the Korean pop industry probably since its inception. It is an ode to Rap Monster's haters and the “keyboard warriors” that have criticized his career since his debut, and his position as the rapper in a boy band “idol” group. At some point, all rappers have faced the critiques of others, as this is an essential part of the culture of rap. (I have covered this topic while discussing Bobby's rap battle diss towards idol rappers.) However, there is more under the surface. The ubiquity of Kpop and its status as a fringe interest has lead to, among other things, netizens that are often angry and abusive. The gossip mill for much of the Korean entertainment industry is especially harsh and has unproportionate responses to many non-scandals. By adopting the moniker of Rap Monster, he is embracing an essential cocky attitude and brushing off the suckers, wankers, and haters.
As to the question of whether or not Rap Monster's solo efforts will alienate his group's solidarity, I don’t think so. Introducing members of idol groups as solo acts is not new. This is actually an essential part of their marketing and branding for groups that rely on rap images. Before their official debut, each individual member of M.I.B released a solo track that highlighted their unique style, talents, and abilities as rappers. Rapping is like singing, everyone has a particular way of embracing and expressing it that may not necessarily line up with the goals of the rest of the group or its parent company. “P.D.D” uses strong language that would not be welcome in the promotional circuit of BTS's singles.
We should take heed and pay attention to where Rap Monster is headed. He is set to feature on an upcoming single by MFBTY, comprised of Korean hip hop heavyweights Yoon Mi-Rae, Tiger JK, and Bizzy, as well as a rumoured collaboration with American hip hop artist Kriz Kaliko. Working with iconic American producers is now becoming commonplace for many Kpop acts, and the future looks promising. What differentiates Rap Monster's efforts is his maturity in the way he approaches topics of identity, emotion, and the self. Rap Monster’s upcoming mixtape, RM, is set to drop next week and if the cover image doesn’t make it glaringly obvious that this struggle with duality is a major theme, you haven’t been paying enough attention.
I give “P.D.D” an: