Happy birthday to RM, the intrepid leader of BTS! The rapper, songwriter, and art lover turns 28 today, September 12th — what better way to celebrate than by rounding up some songs that highlight his work?
With that being said, trying to narrow down RM’s discography to just 10 songs is an enormous challenge. In many ways, he is BTS — he’s written nearly 200 songs (the most recent count in the Korean Music Copyright Association has him clocking in at 199), and, as a fluent English speaker, often acts as the translator for the group when overseas.
BTS was built over a decade ago around the artist born Kim Namjoon. Then an underground rapper in the Korean hip-hop space, HYBE’s Bang Si-Hyuk spotted something special in the wickedly sharp teenager and set out to build a crew around him — now, a few Grammy nominations, six Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 tracks, and countless broken records later, the rest is history (in the making).
To celebrate RM’s birthday, we’ve rounded up ten of our favorite songs that highlight his skills as a writer, rapper, and leader of the group. Also be sure to play the accompanying playlist below, maybe while taking a walk or soaking up some time in nature — it’s what Namjoon would want.
As an already talented and clever songwriter, RM really flexes his multilingual abilities with some of the wordplay employed on “Trivia: Love.” This solo track off the wonderful Love Yourself: Answer is such a gem — sonically, the syncopated piano and romantic strings succeed in capturing the feeling the title suggests. It’s in the lyrics, though, that RM really shines: “You erode all my edges and make me into love” is a delightful sentiment on its own, but RM is actually referencing the shapes of the hangul, Korean characters, that make up those words.
Softening the hard cornered edges of the character ‘ㅁ,’ found in the Korean word for human, turns it into the round ‘ㅇ’ in the Korean word for love. “Saram” becomes “sarang” — RM, then, goes from a person to someone living with love. The layers! The cleverness! The multilingual skills needed to understand it! It’s one line of many that demonstrates his attention to detail when writing for BTS.
The intro track from BTS’s Map of the Soul: Persona, which doubled as an appropriately explosive introduction to the sweeping Map of the Soul: 7, sees RM completely in his bag. His deep voice, rapid flow, and confidence is overflowing in this rock-heavy solo song, which samples audio from the group’s own “Intro: Skool Luv Affair.” “Intro: Persona” offers a window into RM’s reflective mindset — he often seems consumed by identity and legacy, as demonstrated in “Airplane Pt. 2” with the line, “Who should I live as today? Kim Namjoon or RM?”
“Who the hell am I?” is the question that persists on “Intro: Persona,” which also ties into Map of the Soul: 7‘s overarching exploration of Carl Jung’s Map of the Soul. The visual accompaniment for the track could be discussed in a whole essay itself.
“seoul” (prod. HONNE)
There’s a vulnerability to a lot of RM’s music, and no where more so than in his 2018 mixtape mono. The tracks in the slight EP, which he prefers described as a playlist of sorts, contain lyrics that unravel like pieces of poetry. “If love and hate are the same words, I love you, Seoul/ If love and hate are the same words, I hate you, Seoul,” he confesses on the mixtape’s second track. Naturally, Seoul is also a homonym for soul, giving the deceivingly sparse track a second layer to peel back.
Is it a blessing or a curse that this legendary rapline offering is an elusive Bangtan Soundcloud exclusive? This 2018 Festa gift highlights quite a few hallmarks of a great BTS track — clever usage of traditional Korean instruments, a killer beat, layers on layers of wordplay, and a healthy heaping of flexing from RM, Suga, and j-hope (as they should). We won’t take up too much of RM’s birthday explaining the countless uses of the word “ddaeng” employed by BTS’s rappers — jump over to the song’s Genius page for full breakdowns — but it’s definitely worth mentioning that the song completely shifts on its axis by the time RM’s verse arrives.
Taking a sharp turn over to another BTS Soundcloud drop, “Bicycle” couldn’t be more different from the aforementioned “DDAENG.” Also written for the annual Festa celebration, this gentle 2021 is a relaxing ode to one of RM’s favorite hobbies.
As a member of BTS, RM’s life is incredibly different from that of most other people, and even from many people working in the arts, and he’s gone on record many times before explaining that riding a bike is a way to capture a feeling of freedom and anonymity. “When I ride my bike, I’m free from the pressure of the things I’m supposed to feel and think about. I don’t care if people recognize me, and that’s the closest I get to feeling free, mentally and physically,” he once shared with Billboard. These feelings are captured in the sweet, more acoustic-leaning track.
“All Night” feat. Juice WRLD
One thing about BTS? They’re never going to give less than 110% to a project. “All Night” was written for BTS World, a mobile video game, and is one of the two collaborations between BTS members and the late Juice WRLD. “Come to my studio, magic happens,” RM says, referencing his personal recording space known as Rkive.
RM and Suga switch off verses with a practiced ease, and Juice WRLD’s contribution winks at the fandom — “She calls me charming, need an ARMY/ Marching for your love, I’m a sergeant.” It’s an unnecessarily sultry song, too — I thought this was supposed to be for a cute game on my phone, friends? What happened here?
Balming Tiger – “Sexy Nukim” feat. RM of BTS
The most recent track on this list, 2022’s Balming Tiger’s “Sexy Nukim” features an incredibly fun feature from BTS’s fearless leader. The whole song is truly a vibe — the gravely, smoldering single from the Seoul-based music collective allows RM to slide in with a wickedly smooth verse. In an interview, the group members reveal that they used the lyrics he sent to them on the first take. (They then go on to describe him as a “humble and charming” personality, just to twist the knife a bit more.)
RM’s appearance in the music video, naturally, shows him arriving on a bicycle — find the cheeky visual below.
BTS’s Map of the Soul: 7 gave the group space to explore whatever topics they wanted — Jimin and V’s subunit track is dedicated to their eternal soulmate bond, Jin professes his love to ARMY with “Moon,” and Jungkook reflects on growing up as a member of BTS with “My Time.” Between explorations of art and the permanence of a life in music with “Black Swan” and the solo tracks from BTS’s rap line discussing the persona, the ego, and the shadow, comes “UGH!”
It’s, ironically, a sonically very angry track aimed at the world’s many forms of aggression. It’s like RM, Suga, and j-hope are holding up a mirror to the subject, absorbing the indignities and spitting them back out in their signature styles. Once again, there’s plenty of wordplay to unpack, even in the title — the Korean translation denotes the feeling of blood rushing to your head in a fit of emotion.
Widely considered one of BTS’s very best songs (and one of the best K-pop songs of all time), “Spring Day” is essential when it comes to conversations about RM as a writer. Built on a melody written by Namjoon after a day in the park, “Spring Day” is a piercingly sentimental song, evergreen in times of both struggle and joy.
The core of the song is a theme explored by many great writers — think “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” of Les Miserables. For BTS, it’s this: “No darkness, no season/ Can last forever.” Even after the longest of winters, a spring day will always come — it’s the kind of universal concept so many people understand, thoughtfully explored with a verse or a moment from each member of the group.
“BTS Cypher Pt.3: Killer”
Let’s end this list with a banger, shall we?
Of the four BTS “cyphers” the rap line has offered over the years, “PT.3: KILLER” might take the cake. Arguably the group’s most unhinged diss track (in all the best ways), RM kicks off the song with a dizzyingly rapid-fire verse. It’s a great reminder that this is a group that was formed as a hip-hop crew, specifically around the writing and rapping skills of a kid who was destroying the competition in underground rap battles prior to officially being signed to the label that became HYBE.
While Suga’s verse is one for the history books, the song wouldn’t be the same without RM leading the way (and neither would BTS, at the end of the day). “Bitch I don’t care, you can’t control my shit,” they spit together — the BTS of 2014 wasn’t playing around.
RM Birthday Playlist: