BTS RM and his knack for lyrical wordplay: Ddaeng, Cypher Pt 2, how the rapper wields the pen like a sword

Just like the rest of his members, BTS leader RM (born Kim Nam-joon) has a magnetic duality. If you catch him on the band’s variety shows Run BTS, In The Soop, he oscillates between being a paternal figure to six screaming kids, to being one of the screaming kids, wreaking havoc in the kitchen.

And then you watch him on stage. The goofy, crab-lover doesn’t exist for those moments and the performer in him takes over, and sometimes he shows his power by just walking to the middle of the stage as he raps. He doesn’t even need breathtaking choreography to emphasise the meaning of his lyrics—his hand gestures do it all, be it in Silver Spoon or Mic Drop. RM hits hardest with his quiet, soft and deadly verses, a balance in the rap-line between Suga’s rage and J-Hope’s aggression. RM stares you down, till you have no choice but to listen. It’s this fire that is captured by his penmanship.

Apart from powerful stage presence, rapping skills and leading one of the biggest boy-bands in the world, RM has another weapon in his arsenal—-he wields his pen like a sword. It’s not completely surprising as he was always an aspiring poet, but he’s just gotten more wicked with his lyrics over the years. One of the most profound instances—for a non-Korean person especially, is in his verse in Trivia: Love. The lines read, “I’m just a person, person, person, you erode all my sharp edges, you make me into love, love, love…” He plays on the visual similarities of the Korean letters in the two words, Person (Sa-ram) and Love (Sa-rang). In the Korean alphabet, ‘m’ is presented by a rectangular figure while ‘ng’ is in a circular shape. So, if the ‘sharp edges’ of the rectangle are ‘eroded’, it becomes a circle—and so, person becomes love. Without unnecessary exposition and in a subtle manner, RM explains his ideas of love and the softening impact it has on a person. Sometimes the wordplay is slight but nevertheless quirky and clever, like in We Are Bulletproof Pt 2, Love Maze and Heartbeat, where he plays with words make his songs more impactful.

For a while, RM had international ARMY rather confused with his song, Seoul Town Road, remixed with Lil Nas X. At the outset, the lyrics seem rather baffling. They read:

I got the homis in my bag

Have you heard of that?

Homis made of steel, from Korea, they the be-e-est

Ridin’ to the farm

Grabbin’ all the corn

We gon’ get yo’ money with my homi in your backyard

ARMY was puzzled, where did ‘homies’ fit into the original song about farming? However, as many Koreans explained—-the real word here is Homi, which is a steel farming Korean tool.

It’s in the song Ddaeng when RM seems to have the most fun. Packed with traditional Korean instrumentals, Ddaeng, crafted by the rap-line, is a hater for those who slammed BTS on the hip-hop scene in South Korea. After Suga and J-Hope’s suppressed fury, RM steps in with rather soft tones and plays around with the meaning of Ddaeng—which is an onomatopoeic word with multiple meanings in Korean, in changing contexts, ranging from a doorbell, to a buzzer in quizzes. Dripping with sarcasm, his verse alone had more than seven meanings of ddaeng and he inter-changed with other phonetically similar-sounding words such as eoltaeng (which means ridiculous in Korean), and thang (English, for thing).

The lyrics read, Cashier calculating sound, ddaeng (bell)

I liked it as a child, freeze ddaeng (game)

I’m ding-dong (the sound of a correct answer), you’re ddaeng (wrong)

The face in the morning after eating Ramyeon ddaeng (swollen)

Ddaeng also means Tang, which is an explanation for ‘swelling’ in Korean. The salt content of Ramyeon is high, which means your face is puffy, which is what RM intends to say to the haters. Later in the stanza, the words fit perfectly with ‘do your thang’, which is English slang.

RM’s creative wordplay when it comes to shutting down haters and trolls, knows no bounds. In Cypher Pt 2: Triptych, RM says a line that translates to, “This is a kingdom, I’m king, you’re dum.” While ‘dum’ refers to the English meaning ‘dumb’ (a rather pointed manner of lashing out at haters), ‘dum’ in Korean means a freebie, and dispensable. Hence, RM is telling his haters that they’re just replaceable in his kingdom. RM biases won’t ever forget his cold fury in his single Joke, which was an attack on those who said that BTS’s rap wasn’t the real thing. Joke is a harsh stream of consciousness, tearing down all their naysayers with the most explicit profanity that RM is known to use. The irony was that he even mentions that his wordplay is meaningless, knowing fully well that it isn’t.

Another popular trick was with the song Dis-ease. There’s a line that seems perplexing at first, as he says, ‘I’m ill’. However, here, RM intends to mean the word ill in several ways. The first meaning is the literal meaning, which is sickness. The second is the similar-sounding Korean word일, which means work. However, 일 also means one—-and that’s RM’s method of saying that he has become one with his work, has gained powerful fame, and that’s what makes him sick.

RM’s wordplay and biting sarcasm aren’t just restricted to his lyrics, we can witness them during hilarious Run BTS episodes and shutting down leading questions in interviews that could potentially lead to controversy. Despite being young, he commands respect, especially among the maknaes (younger brothers) to the extent that Jungkook had once admitted that he joined the band solely because of RM.

There’s much hope surrounding his solo album, that’s yet to come. As RM has expressed his varying emotions in the past few years, the album is sure to be something that ARMY can mull over for a long time.

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