Just as the era for BTS' Young Forever album came to a close with the final tour stop for the accompany album hitting Tokyo on Aug. 14, a new one unexpectedly started with member Suga dropping his debut mixtape Agust D on the 15th. The 10-track release not only thrust the 23-year-old rapper in the solo spotlight, but introduced his alter-ego that the tape was named after; an alter-ego that showcases the star's ear for hot productions, hardcore rap style, and how he can make his vulnerabilities a strength.
From the beginning of the tape, Suga is set on introducing you to this new side of himself with the song "Agust D" following right after the intro track sets the mood. The track samples James Brown's 1966 hit "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," but rather than simply snatching parts of the track, Suga finds a way to subtly reinterpret it that would perk up the ears of the hardest hip-hop fans.
“Ya'll get turned on by ma tongue technology”
But if the production doesn't grab the listener, the lyrics will, as Suga's flow is more aggressive than ever with the rapper able to fully stretch his abilities on these solo songs. The lyrics are eye-opening to him speaking about the constraints of being a K-pop star ("This K-pop category ain't enough size for me," he spits in translated lyrics provided by Big Hit Entertainment), but also offering an unexpected take on why the industry should be glad he's in that world ("All ya fried rappers should be thankful I am an idol"). Right from the get go, the perceived weakness that most K-pop idols can't be legitimate MCs becomes a strength that the rap scene is actually lucky Agust D is just an alter ego or it'd be game over.
Meanwhile, the rapper drops interesting catchphrases ("Ya'll get turned on by ma tongue technology") that one typically wouldn't find in a K-pop song.
But this is BTS we're talking about—a K-pop boy band who isn't shy about making relatable tracks about identity and mental health. Even with this new side of himself, Suga continues that promise, but might go deeper than a seven-member act could.
On punchy standout "Give It to Me," Suga questions himself and his road to success, rapping, "If you ask why I succeeded, there's no one answer / During that short time I slept less than you and moved more and grew / Still, it seems like even if I don't know the secret to success, I know the secret to failure." Meanwhile, the subdued "724148" sees him looking back on his pre-fame days with a harsh microscope: "I tried to do music in a little more style, first thinking I'd better get out of Daegu / The powerful footsteps of this pimply high schooler fade out in front of one audition poster" (according to translation from K-pop social media account @papercrowns) The tape's dreamy closing track "So Far Away" elicits a sense of helplessness as he details not knowing what his ultimate dream is, but ends on a hopeful note that the young star "will fully bloom after all the hardships" (according to translation from K-pop fansite Peachisoda).
The song is similar to how BTS leader Rap Monster has hinted at his own mental health issues, admitting he deals with dark and light times in the past. Like his band leader (who also dropped a mixtape, 2015's RM, which ranked on Spin's 50 Best Hip Hop Albums of 2015), Suga isn't afraid to admit his weakness and in that vulnerability comes strength—even if he's going by an alter ego.
While BTS gets a well-deserved break from promotions, hopefully this mixtape and the accompanying promotions will give us a chance to get to know the mysterious Suga even more.
Listen to Fuse's K-pop podcast K-Stop discuss the Agust D mixtape below: