A look back on RM and Warren G’s underrated yet significant collaborative single, “P.D.D.”
It can’t be denied that the population of BTS fans has grown exponentially in the past few years and that there is an overwhelming amount of content to catch up on. Though, it’s never a bad idea to a moment to look back and reflect on the growth that BTS has undergone. In particular, the group’s leader, RM, proves to be a remarkable example. Throughout his career, fans have been able to note not only his development as a performer situated in a specific music industry with its struggles and problems but also as an individual.
In our current context of problematic online cancel culture, it’s not uncommon for individuals in the spotlight to admit to their mistakes. There’s always a quick dismal of any sincerity from anyone attempt to learn and correct themselves. That being said, such cynicism is understandable when the same slip-ups are often repeated. However, it’s the clear effort to rectify his wrongs whether centred in the harmfully recurring the cross-cultural issues, particularly that of anti-blackness, within the Kpop industry that RM is respected for.
Though his 2015 mixtape, RM, and its recent 2018 follow-up, mono, very much showcases much of his growth, there’s something that predates this debut mixtape that’s just as significant but often overlooked—something that only predates RM’s release by only a handful of days.
While BTS’ leader is no stranger to working with key figures of the hip-hop scene in South Korea or the U.S., it was his collaborative track with Warren G that marked an initial step in the right direction—”P.D.D.”
Released when RM was still active under his unforgettable stage name, “P.D.D” which means Please Don’t Die is a smooth track with a West Coast hip-hop vibe. However, that’s only to be expected given that he collaborated with the U.S. hip-hop veteran who pioneered the sound. Different to most BTS music videos, there’s a simple approach to “P.D.D” as we see RM travelling to and wandering the streets of Los Angeles along with behind the scenes footage of the collaboration.
The rapper’s lyrics speak to his most vocal critics, asking them to stay alive to witness his rise to fame. In the validation of working alongside a hip hop veteran, “P.D.D” could be taken as a signifier of RM letting go of the Kpop idol and underground rapper inner conflict that had very much gripped his stage persona back then. In the track, RM anticipates the death of those against him, the death of their online hate, egos, hip-hop fan prejudices, and rap careers. Although, in the bridge, he offers an alternative, that they can enjoy RM’s rap career with him rather than be opposed to what he stands for as a rapper, Kpop idol, and artist. In a 2015 interview with magazine Hiphopplaya, he offers:
“It reflects how I feel lately towards those who hate me and criticise me. I used to find it really upsetting and got very angry a long time ago. However, I’ve been able to rise above that a bit more that. I wanted to truthfully add that feeling. This is also the reason behind the lyrics of “If you want to come with me even now, then let’s go.”
However, at the core, the track marks a more significant crossover than what we’re used to between the Kpop industry and the one in the West. “P.D.D” is arguably most significant in that the track unites the South Korean hip-hop scene with the birthplace of the entire Black subculture itself.
The collaboration was born after RM had left an impression on Warren G as the latter assumed the role of mentor on the group’s Mnet reality show, American Hustle Life. In the mini-series, BTS travel to L.A. and spend two weeks in what can be described as a hip-hop boot camp of sorts. Warren G remarks in a 2015 interview:
“After spending some time with BTS, we became friends, and I wanted to work with these talented friends… As an artist and producer, [RM] is one of the best rappers I know.”
In the show, BTS are tasked with different missions in order to experience authentic hip-hop culture but to also grow as artists. We see the members challenged to compose a song in teams, take on day jobs only to give back their earnings to the community, and try to hand out flyers in order to gather a crowd for their performance amongst other things.
In an industry where hip hop can often be watered down to just a concept, American Hustle Life was a key and formative moment for the South Korean group. There’s a mending of Kpop’s strong detachment when BTS are immersed in exploring and learning the fundamentals from rap and dance, to its important Black cultural roots and history. The members are shown to be tutored by knowledgeable figures that are very much absent from South Korean hip-hop, Black musicians like Coolio and Iris Stevenson whose race very much ties in with the subculture.
When asked in an episode for East Meets Morgan, RM agreed that other hip-hop oriented Kpop groups should undergo a similar experience if possible. The episode also highlights this shared passion for hip-hop between two musicians in spite of their differences in background, language, and music industry.
However, this is not to claim that RM or the group won’t be free of or encounter wrongs in the future—after all, no individual is perfect or born well informed as much as the internet would like to assert. Yet, it can’t be denied that American Hustle Life was a valuable experience in which something meaningful like “P.D.D” was born from.
Fundamentally, there’s a noticeable difference between BTS before and BTS after American Hustle Life—this noticeable growth characterising their sound, and understanding. In the same Hiphopplaya interview, the rapper shows this insight as he reflects:
“I wanted to ask Warren G a lot about hip-hop. Like Warren G stated, things like ‘shooting guns, doing drugs, robbery’ aren’t things that are hip-hop itself, but a negative side that’s included within hip-hop. It’s like an uninvited guest that shoved its way into hip-hop, but people said that that’s hip-hop. He also told me that hip-hop is something that’s open to everyone despite what race you may be or what language you may speak.”
Ultimately, “P.D.D” is the coming together of two distinct artists in their shared love for music, a love that triumphs over cultural, language, and industry barriers.
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