Kim Namjoon: From Ilsan Boy to Leader of BTS

He once asked an esteemed group of international officials attending the 2018 United Nations General Assembly, “What is your name?”

The man who gave the speech himself went by many names — Runch Randa, Rap Monster, RapMon and RM. But in his speech, he emphasized his real name and the man that came with it.

“I’m Kim Namjoon, RM of BTS. I am a hip-hop idol and an artist from a small town in Korea.”

The BTS leader’s speech for the 2018 UN General Assembly contains one of Namjoon’s most memorable quotes. His talk reminded the world of the importance of accepting who you are and where you came from, as well as the mistakes and fears that make up “the brightest stars in the constellation of my life.”

Kim Namjoon’s speech is not only impactful because of its encouraging words to speak your truth and embrace your flaws. His life, which reflected these words, added power to his encouragement. Fans of the global-famous band BTS know of Namjoon and his struggles to make a name for himself while trying to survive the harsh racism of the world and judgment from the Korean music industry.

His story of fighting tooth and nail to protect his band, battling against prejudice and speaking his truth through meaningful songs seals the authenticity of his speech, as well as his role as a leader and an influencer in the world of music — and even in fashion.

So who is Kim Namjoon? Who is the man behind the leader of today’s most influential band?

Kim Namjoon: An Ordinary Boy from Ilsan

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You know him as RM of BTS. But he is also Kim Namjoon, an ordinary boy from Ilsan (Image from InStyle)

In his UN speech, BTS’ RM shared his beginnings. “I was born in Ilsan, a city near Seoul, South Korea.  It’s a beautiful place, with a lake, hills and even an annual flower festival. I spent a happy childhood there, and I was just an ordinary boy.”

“Ordinary” seemed like the proper term to describe a young Kim Namjoon. He is the elder of two siblings and has a younger sister. He was a boy forced by his mother to wear a cute Mickey Mouse shirt while playing with other kids. During his primary school days, Namjoon was impressed by the security guard uniforms and wanted to be a guard of a housing society himself.

Despite calling himself an “ordinary” boy from Ilsan, Namjoon was not as ordinary as he claimed. His brainpower said otherwise.

Namjoon learned Korean and Japanese in school. He learned to speak English fluently by watching the popular American sitcom “Friends”first by watching the scenes with Korean subtitles, then with English subtitles and eventually without any subtitles. During his time as a student in New Zealand, Namjoon continued honing his English skills, believing it would be essential to his academic run.

“What is Namjoon’s IQ?” you ask. Namjoon’s IQ score is 148, making him a genius, as well as a part of the top 0.1 percent of the world’s smartest population. If that’s not enough, Namjoon is also among the top rankers in South Korea’s national school exam and scored a TOEIC score of over 900.

Considering his academic performance, his parents expected him to graduate and work a regular day job. But Namjoon’s passion for music persisted, paving the way for him to become RM of BTS.

Your Passion Can Shape Your Future

RM of BTS leads his group through every win and every trial. (Image from Radio.com)

Namjoon is known for his insane rapping skills and beautiful songwriting. The latter was a skill developed from his literary writing days as a primary school student. When he was 11 years old, he transitioned from literary writing to songwriting once he gained interest in hip-hop music after hearing “Fly” by Epik High. This song did two things for Namjoon: provide him comfort and encourage him to look further into the genre.

His introduction to Eminem cultivated his interest in lyricism. By this time, Namjoon transitioned fully into lyric writing. In 2007, he started rapping in local hip-hop circles. He recorded his first self-composed song during his middle school years. The following year, Namjoon thrived in the underground Korean hip-hop scene. Going by the stage name “Runch Randa,” Namjoon released many tracks and started collaborating with other rappers — the most famous one being Zico.

Namjoon, realizing that his passion for music is bigger than life, started auditioning for entertainment agencies. At one audition, he met Untouchable’s Sleepy, who was also a judge. Sleepy, impressed by Namjoon’s rapping skills, saved his phone number and gave it to producer Bang Shi Hyuk — the CEO of Big Hit Entertainment.

The introduction paved the way for Namjoon’s audition for Big Hit Entertainment, which made him the first BTS member to join in 2010. After his audition, CEO Bang and producer Pdogg decided to start a hip-hop group, which marked the band’s humble beginnings.

Who is the Leader of BTS? Kim Namjoon, Of Course

There are many stories concerning how Kim Namjoon became the leader of BTS. Some stories say that Namjoon was appointed the leader simply because he was the first official member who joined (Min Yoongi, aka SUGA, who is older than him joined a few months later).

Others believe that Big Hit decided against making the oldest members the leader to prevent the younger ones from experiencing a “concentration of power.” So, being the middle member, Namjoon was appointed as the leader.

But during his appearance at the TV show “Problematic Man,” Namjoon said that he was chosen as the leader because he was the first member to join, the “cornerstone of the group.” He added that he was also the one who came up with ideas for their songs, cementing his leadership status.

 

No matter what the story is, one thing is for sure: Namjoon is the perfect leader for BTS.

First, RM serves as the spokesperson of BTS. Namjoon ensures his members stick to their schedules and tasks. When they are feeling overworked or burnt out, he speaks out on behalf of his members so they can take longer rests like their extended break in 2019.

In the same interview with The Problematic Men, Namjoon shared one of his biggest struggles as a leader: representing both the company and the band. As the BTS leader, Namjoon represents the concerns of the band to Big Hit. On the other hand, he is also responsible for making the band understand the side of the company, which can cause conflicts. Despite these concerns, Namjoon manages to build a bridge between the company and BTS, seeing that their band is still with Big Hit Entertainment.

Namjoon is also fiercely loyal to BTS. He defended the band against haters and accusers. Despite struggling with making it big in the industry after their debut, Namjoon kept his band together during the darkest days of BTS. Even when BTS’ net worth soared to greater heights, Namjoon still kept the band together.

Second, Namjoon does more than rap for BTS; he writes and produces their songs, too. The majority of their discography has his name on it. If you listen closely, you can hear his signature style in BTS’ music. Together with fellow members SUGA and J-Hope, he creates songs that aren’t just catchy; these songs must have a significant meaning that connects them with their fans. The lyrics of their song Spring Day (which he penned with SUGA) continue to touch the hearts of both fans and new fans, which is why the song never left Melon’s top 100 charts.

Third, Namjoon promotes collaboration with other artists. He was the first BTS member to collaborate with another artist. Namjoon delved into political issues by collaborating with Wale for the song “Change.” Since then, he has connected with artists like Primary, MFBTY, Gaeko, HONNE, NELL and more. BTS has also started connecting with other artists and eventually featured major collaborations with Steve Aoki, Halsey and Nicki Minaj.

Fourth, he represents the band perfectly when it comes to the international stage. His extensive knowledge and fluency in the English language make him the perfect global representative of the band. He can perfectly express his band mate’s thoughts during interviews (despite sometimes doing the translations grudgingly).

Finally, Namjoon is very open about social issues that affect society. Apart from expressing his thoughts in songs, he partners with organizations that strive to make the world a better place. At the UN General Assembly meeting, he helped launched an initiative called Generation Unlimited with UNICEF. His UN speech addressed the youth, urging them to stand up and speak out.

At the same time, he encourages their fans to follow the band’s motto “Love yourself.” He does this by going live on VLIVE, reading comments, encouraging fans to go about their hobbies, discover themselves and ultimately, love themselves.

Kim Namjoon’s Dynamic with the Rest of BTS

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Kim Namjoon: A leader and a friend of BTS (Photo from BBC)

Kim Namjoon plays many roles in BTS but there are two roles he has to balance when it comes to him and the members: being a leader and a friend.

Fortunately, RM is good at being both, albeit there are challenges, especially with the older members of the band (Jin and Suga). In South Korea, age influences how people interact with their peers. Namjoon is smack dab in the middle of the BTS age range (Like J-Hope, he was born in 1994 but J-Hope is older than him by a few months).

With the older members, Namjoon must respect them and still be firm with his decisions at the same time, which can be tricky, especially if the elders feel their ways are better. With the younger members, he must seem like the reasonable hyung (older brother) and leader without becoming too overbearing.

So, how does Namjoon navigate his relationships with all the members of BTS?

Kim Seokjin (Jin)

Jin is two years older than Namjoon and is the eldest of the group. Despite the 2-year gap, RM earned his respect from Seokjin as a leader but in return, maintains his respect for Jin as the eldest of BTS. The two are like the parents of the group, functioning as Dad and Mom respectively.

Jin is very supportive of Namjoon and always backs him up, especially during American interviews. BTS’s leader always encourages their eldest member to read the interview questions while he translates.

Min Yoongi (SUGA)

There’s a running joke regarding the #Namgi (RM and Suga’s ship name) connection: Suga always mentioning how long he has been living with Namjoon. True enough, Suga and RM have lived together for more than 10 years already. Anyone who has been together that long has had their share of ups and downs.

Namjoon and Suga have their disagreements regarding the music, performances and the band, but the two manage to talk out their differences most of the time. RM admits to threading lightly when in conflict with the older members like Suga and Jin. Despite this, Suga also respects Namjoon, calling him the rightful leader of BTS. He also admitted that RM is the best at his job and he couldn’t think of any other member who could assume the leadership position.

Jung Hoseok (J-Hope)

As mentioned, Namjoon and Hoseok were both born in 1994, making them same-age peers. Same-age friends have no limits that come with being friends with older people, which explains the comfortable relationship between Namjoon and Hobi. Although, during one KKUL FM segment, J-Hope admitted to feeling one percent awkward with RM, attributing that one percent to the latter being the leader of the group.

Leadership aside, RM and J-Hope share a strong and warm friendship. Hoseok doubles as Namjoon’s assistant leader (beta) and one of his best friends, as well as his dance teacher.

Park Jimin

Namjoon is often affectionate to the younger members of BTS, which includes Jimin (who is the leader of the maknae line). RM often acknowledges Jimin’s talents, whether it’s singing or acting cute. He knows when Jimin needs affirmation and he gives it. He also pushes Jimin to venture into previously unknown territory to him, such as songwriting. In return, Jimin seeks Namjoon for advice concerning producing and songwriting.

Kim Taehyung (V)

Kim Namjoon is notorious for adoring over the youngest of the Kim line, Kim Taehyung. He acts and looks like he’s V’s older brother. Like Jimin, Namjoon inspired Taehyung to write his own songs. Their first joint project was 4 O’Clock, a song they released on Soundcloud during the 2017 FESTA. Since then, RM has been helping V with his songs, as well as in his growth as a performer and a singer.

Jeon Jungkook

ARMYs know the story of how Jungkook chose Big Hit over the other entertainment agencies: he saw Namjoon rapping and thought he was cool. Since then, Jungkook has been vocal about how much he idolized and still idolizes his Namjoon hyung. In return, RM dotes over the maknae and praises him, insisting that Jungkook is also a godsend to BTS.

What Are Your Opinions About Kim Namjoon?

Throughout his entire career, Kim Namjoon has faced both praise and backlash. It came with the territory; after all, being famous puts you under the spotlight. In a world where everyone has a say on the music you produce or the videos you release, RM faced a variety of opinions concerning his musical decisions, contributions to the industry and even his looks.

Kim Namjoon is a force to be reckoned with. (Photo from Weverse)

One of Namjoon’s notable qualities is that he can handle both positive and negative feedback well. With praises, he is appreciative. With disses and negative comments, he is professional and savage at the same time (remember that one time someone asked him why they wouldn’t produce an entire album in English?).

It has been nearly 10 years since Kim Namjoon debuted in BTS. Since then, he has dealt with a variety of opinions concerning him. Some of the most popular are:

His Work In and For BTS is Underrated, If Not Underappreciated

Being RM of BTS is not an easy title to carry. Namjoon writes, composes, arranges and produces most of BTS’s songs. On top of that, he serves as the bridge between the band and the company. As the leader of the band, he makes strategic decisions concerning the welfare of BTS and its members while submitting to the company’s standards. And despite all of these, many people are still focused on how he sings and performs.

Most Namjoon-biased fans hope that people wouldn’t just admire his performance, but his lyrics, production quality and overall leadership. Fortunately, today’s interviewers and audiences are getting that.

Kim Namjoon is a Good Singer

We’ve seen him try to hit the high notes whenever he’s singing a song on karaoke or switching parts with the vocal line. They’re not always the best Namjoon moments, but they do make for good comedy. However, these moments shouldn’t define his vocals because RM can sing.

Search his performance at the Duet Song Festival in 2016. His deep and husky voice isn’t just ideal for rap. It’s literal music to the ears. His backup vocals in Mikrokosmos are also heartbreakingly emotional.

RM is Just As Attractive as the Rest of BTS

One of the saddest opinions concerning Namjoon is that he is not as attractive as the other members. Most fans are so drawn to the vocal line that they sleep on Namjoon’s visuals.

First of all, man is a god of proportions. RM has always boasted about being the tallest in the band. Now, he is also the most buff. Namjoon’s body structure has always been well-proportioned, but since he started working out, it looks like he has unlocked yet another best version of his physique. Plus, he is the master of winking and dimpling. RM is not RM without his adorable, be-dimpled smile. And whether he’s sporting a mohawk or a clean-shaven look, there’s no denying that Kim Namjoon is a gorgeous being.

Namjoon is Protective of ARMY, Too

When the rest of the world thinks of BTS fans as crazy or just bots, RM rightfully puts them in place by spitting out facts. When BTS returned to the US in 2021, he told an interviewer at the AMAs that he is happy to “…have a good time. With BTS ARMY — with the actual people, not AIs, not the bots,” dispelling accusations that most of the fans are just bots. 

In an interview with James Corden, he also seamlessly brought up the issue between Corden and the fans. Asking Corden if he was alright, Namjoon easily forced the late-night show host to talk about the time he made fun of ARMY, calling them “15-year olds” during his joke concerning BTS’s appearance at the UNGA. RM got the fans the apology they wanted, even if Corden didn’t think of it as an apology.

RM Inspires Everyone to Live a Better Version of Their Lives

The earlier version of the BTS leader was known for writing and rapping angry lyrics, producing raunchy songs and being accused of plagiarism. While Namjoon has already apologized for his faults and defended himself against misconceptions, he has strived to be a better version of himself every year.

From being an angry rapper who’s always after haters, Namjoon is now known for his love of plants and biking. He no longer responds to haters (unless necessary) and chooses to keep calm and carry on, as we all should.

 

In many interviews and shows, BTS has jokingly or seriously said that BTS would not exist without Kim Namjoon. The BTS leader may have shrugged or chuckled at the joke but there’s no denying that Namjoon is crucial to BTS’ past, present and future.

So when you hear the names Runch Randa, Rap Monster, Rap Mon, RM of BTS, Joon — think of Kim Namjoon, the ordinary boy from Ilsan who made something extraordinary out of his life.

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