- This is a bonus episode because I am nothing if not extremely extra and I had thoughts about Yoongi’s second outing as Agust D. (90% Positive, I promise.)
- Have you listened to Episode 3 – Stitch Talks Map of the Soul: 7 yet?
- If you haven’t checked out my essay series on Antiblackness in the K-pop Industry and its Fandom Spaces, you should! Because it’s a good way to get a grasp on my complicated and always in-flux feelings about Korean pop and hip hop music (and its stars) as well as my feelings about Korean hip hop as an art form.
- For more information about Jonestown and its demographics, I recommend two things: the Jonestown Wikipedia page (for easy consumption) and the article “An Update on the Demographics of Jonestown” (for more accurate figures for the population and death toll)
- As always, thanks for listening!
I went into Yoongi’s sophomore outing as Agust D knowing that I would probably find a ton to love about the album. After all, I literally love Yoongi’s voice. I’m talking about from the literal raspy sound of it and how he delivers his fierce verses to the way that he uses his Voice to unload sharp, intricate, and interesting commentary that often seems to revolve plainly around his past, present, and future as a rapper.
Mind you though, I was primed to like Yoongi’s return to the stage as Agust D.
For one thing, I am and will probably always be, fully fucking feral for every member of BTS’ brilliant rapline. (You may remember this from my review of BTS’ February release Map of the Soul: 7 because I couldn’t shut up about it then.)
For another though, it’s been how long since Yoongi’s first mix tape? From the moment that I first heard “Give It To Me” from his self-titled mixtape from 2016, I knew I needed more. And more, for the most part aside from one song that really grinds my gears because of the sample it uses and the overwhelming fandom response, is absolutely what we get with D-2.
D-2 has ten tracks that all cross genres, showcase Yoongi’s creativity as a rapper, songwriter, and producer, and feature multiple collaborations across the album from other talented artists. I’ll go over them one at a time to talk about my initial feelings about each song and how I feel about the songs after going over the translations provided by helpful translator accounts like doolsetbangtan’s account that also provide necessary Korean cultural and historical contexts in the process! (While I’m here: I also got information on song writing and production credits from that site so that’s awesome!)
Note that this is a review that will have some critical thoughts at points especially around one song in particular. If that’s not your cup of tea because you like pure positivity about your Korean pop culture? You have my permission to pour it out and move on! My feelings will not be hurt!
Now, let’s get on to the main event!
The first track on D-2 is “Moonlight”. Courtesy of doolsetbangtan, the song’s Korean title translates directly to “That Moon” and was written and produced by Yoongi and GHSTLOOP.
First impressions from a mixtape matter a ton. The song that opens a mixtape can make or break its audience. If it doesn’t have the right fit – if it doesn’t do a good enough job of introducing the artist to new listeners – if it doesn’t show enough growth as a follow-up release –
I am happy to say that “Moonlight” serves as a stellar introduction to D-2.
“Moonlight” has a throwback sound and revolves around Yoongi tracing his path through hip hop from starting his music career in a basement studio to where he’s at now on the top of the music charts and as a sought-after producer. This was a song that I liked before I read the translated lyrics in part because the beat and Yoongi’s cadence as he raps reminds me of block parties and summers outside.
Like I mentioned the throwback sound to this song and I feel as though it’s clearly on purpose to evoke the idea of a reflective path along a life in hip hop that’s been well-lived but still stressful because it can be a struggle to create. Because it can be a struggle to face what you have now when compared to who you were before and what you had – or didn’t have – then.
One of the things I talked about in my review of Map of the Soul: 7 and Yoongi’s “Shadow” interlude was about how relatable Yoongi is because of how he talks about the struggles of wanting fame and then actually getting it – especially when your brain seems compelled to send you spiraling constantly.
In “Moonlight”, Yoongi is even more relatable when he raps about how:
Sometimes I feel like I’m a genius
Sometimes I feel like I have no talent
Sometimes songs write themselves like crazy, but then,
when I’m stuck, I’m stuck like there’s no way out, yeah, right now
I wrote Verse1 fucking fast,
but can’t make Verse2 no matter how hard I rack my brain
And as someone constantly stalling partway through projects that really need to get done and that I’m actually passionate about and struggling to get the next line down even though the story’s already written in my head? I feel that. I feel that real hard.
I’m also absolutely in love with the mental imagery that Yoongi provides by talking about how the moon/moonlight that was with him when he first started his career in music… is the same one that’s above him now. No matter how much everything else changes – fame, skill, friends, and family – there are some constants out there and it is comforted to be reminded that… that’s one thing that probably won’t change.
Next up is “Daechwita”! That song was written and produced by Yoongi and EL CAPITXN and uses a sample from the National Gugak Center’s “Daechwita”.
Direct from Wikipedia, Daechwita (literally “great blowing and hitting”) is a genre of Korean traditional music consisting of military music played by wind and percussion instruments, generally performed while marching. That is super cool!
I think for me, “Daechwita” really works best as I watch the incredibly cinematic music video. I listened to the song first, as part of my first run-through on D-2 and then when I’d finished listening to the album, I put on the music video with English captions so I could get the full scope.
For most of this weekend, “Daechwita” has been the only song on D-2 where I started with the lyrics instead of solely focusing on the vibe I got from the songs and Yoongi’s method of delivery across his songs.
With the context added from the video itself and from where doolsetbangtan provides historical notes about the references that Yoongi references in his song and that show up in the video, I have this view of “Daechwita” has half diss-track and half historical fan fiction.
In their notes while translating, doolsetbangtan talks about how a bunch of cool stuff like how when Yoongi’s verse references a “Gwanghae flow”, he’s talking about the deposed fifteenth king of the Joseon dynasty. Or how his “born a slave, risen to a king” line above that one is based on the plot of Masquerade, the very movie that the music video seems to be inspired by.
Also, okay, I just want to talk a little about the music video because it is incredible and also like… I want to talk about the behind the scenes stuff that explains the music video concept as Yoongi talks about the song and concept in a way that really works for me
First of all, on a supremely shallow note: Yoongi looks really good in this music video. He’s playing two different versions of himself as Agust D, the “mad king” on top of the world and the upstart coming to take him down and both are really great looks on him. If you’ve peeped the cover of this Bonus Episode, you’ll see that I used a photo from the shoot as one of the images in addition to the D-2 cover itself. I literally couldn’t help myself.
I am always very weak for Yoongi on multiple levels and the combination of his gloriously soft and raspy voice, rude lyrics (for a very Caribbean definition of rude that does not mean what you probably think it does), and appealing visuals… makes the “Daechwita” music video a standout.
Then okay, I love an artist that gets to the point of their thing really quickly. Mind you, I’m also a fan of meandering trips through an artist’s process – and Namjoon’s post-album lives are honestly a really good example of how that works – but there’s something so sexy about Yoongi quickly summarizing his music video and the song in a video that’s under six minutes long.
I literally lost it though when Yoongi said that “Daechwita” is “more about the auditory enjoyment than the lyrics so I’d say you should focus more on the visual and auditory layers”. Like in a good way, entirely. Because this was the only song that I went into doing all three – focusing on the auditory and visual aspects but also trying to keep the lyrics in my head – and so to see Yoongi say that I could’ve uh… not done that last bit…
I cannot stop laughing.
“Daechwita” is great on its own as part of just like… laying there and listening to the track in the dark but the music video takes it to another level and honestly, I love having permission to just not pay attention to lyrics every once in a while – although, of course, Yoongi does write good lyrics.
Now let’s uh… let’s talk about “What do you think?” which was produced and written by EL CAPITXN and GHSTLOOP with Yoongi coming on for writing as well. Here’s where you’re going to get some of that criticism I promised so again, if this isn’t your cup of tea, pour it out and move on. Mkay? Thanks!
So here’s the thing about “What do you think?”: if I ignore the sample that opens the track, it’s a devastating diss track.
The lyrics are a fantastic “fuck you” to the people who keep BTS’ name in their mouth even though they hate them. Like “Ugh!” from Map of the Soul: 7, “What do you think?” takes aim at people with more free time on their hands than common sense and who try to make their problem with the artist… the artist’s problem. Across this track is the repeated insistence that Yoongi doesn’t care about what haters and busybodies looking for a fast track to the top.
Normally I love songs like this. I mean, I repress a lot of my righteous rage because it’s easier, but I’m honestly never far away from telling a lot of people about themselves. Ya feel? So diss tracks where an artist like Yoongi claps back against people who are more invested in image and in starting shit than they are in their own careers and their own successes? So good to me.
That opening sample.
Now, I wasn’t super focused on the sample or any conversations around it when Bring the Soul came out and he played the original version of the song used on the track. If I had, I would’ve brought it up then. But I didn’t clock it because, and I shit you not, the beat was so good that I couldn’t think of anything else once I got into it.
But here I am with my headphones on as “What do you think?” starts playing and I hear a voice that is both disturbing and familiar to me because like many of y’all… I did have a true crime phase as a youth. Jim Jones.
Look: multiple artists have dared to use sample parts of one of the many rambling sermons that cult leader Jim Jones delivered to his flock in their work. My friend Ash told me about Brockhampton’s “1998 Truman” and I found a handful of other songs in and out of rap and by artists with various levels of talent on my own.
However, being in good company on this doesn’t mean that the choice to sample one of Jones’ sermons is in anything other than bad taste.
Here’s the thing: I don’t actually know how Yoongi got on the Jim Jones train in order to sample his sermon, make this track, and mix it with his metaphors. I don’t know if Yoongi did any research – before or after listening to his words – into Jones or the horrifying events that he was entirely responsible for.
I find it unlikely that Yoongi could’ve simply stumbled across one of Jones’ sermons without also coming across any research or explanation for what Jonestown was and the mass death he ultimately cased. And that alone bothered me – I would be disturbed if Yoongi had sampled Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson on a track – but then there’s the issue of… who died at Jonestown.
Did you know that of the 909 people who lived and died in Jonestown in November 1978, the vast majority (around 70%) were Black people? 460 or 45% of the whole population of Jones’ little colony were specifically Black women.
Do you think Yoongi knows that Jim Jones actively preyed on Black people searching for someone to believe in or that believed in them? Do you think he knows that Jones stole from and manipulated these people until they left the United States and everyone they loved to his compound? Do you think Yoongi knows that you can listen to the “death tape” that includes the sounds of Jones’ poor, devoted followers dying in droves around him?
I am annoyed. Truly.
Genuinely, it is in bad taste to use a sample of anyone responsible for an atrocity at that scale in your work. But it is especially in poor taste to use Jones – a man responsible for the largest mass death of Americans until 9/11 – as the opening for an otherwise exceptional diss track. And that the Americans that died were largely Black – that they were manipulated into giving up their families, their agency, their money, and finally their lives for this man who promised them the world – that just doesn’t sit right with me.
And the thing is that so many people that I’ve seen talk about this track… aren’t talking about the sample. Or, they’re not talking about it as a problem. I’ve seen more people hyping it up than anything and like yes Yoongi is innovative, not everyone would take a Jim Jones sermon and put it in their hip hop song but –
A little acknowledgement that this is in extremely poor fucking taste would be nice. Because yes, talking about controversial and disturbing topics and making a point are all important things that Yoongi seems capable of. However, using that sample in this song? Isn’t that. It’s just a bad call that left a bad taste in my mouth.
Anyway, if not for the sample, “What do you think?” would easily be my favorite song on the album because it speaks to me. Because of the sample, it’s the only song I don’t love on the album. Which sucks and like when I ever get around to writing all the post cards I want to write BTS, Yoongi’s is gonna have a very neatly printed postscript explaining why “What do you think?” kept me up all night before I did this podcast review.
Anyway, let’s just… move on to Strange featuring RM/Namjoon. Obviously, as Namjoon writes his own verses, he’s joining our existing writing and producing set up for the song and it is… good.
Again, supremely biased in favor of all three members of BTS’ rapline so to have two of the three on a track together is delicious. Remember, “Respect” From Map of the Soul: 7 was one of my favorite unit songs on the album because it’s Yoongi and Namjoon at their best and doing their best. I remain obsessed with that song – although uh… now I don’t want to know what the sample is from just in case…
Anyway: so it stands to reason that “Strange” is another song I just really like.
The beat is really incredible, I’m absolutely beyond amused by the uh… autotuned introduction Yoongi delivers, and then like… okay. I didn’t actually read the tracklist for D-2 until I listened to “Strange” for the first time and so I’m here vibing along with Yoongi in the dark with my speaker tucked under my pillow and I hear Namjoon’s voice and I fell out of bed trying to get to my phone on the other side of the room so I could make sure that I wasn’t hallucinating.
And okay so I think of “Strange” as an ant capitalist bop or mmm… a “capitalism critical bop”.
It’s definitely interesting to hear anticapitalistic sentiments coming from a guy who, in the previous song, was bragging about many zeroes he’s got in his bank account. That’s for sure. Not bad or whatever, just… interesting.
And I know I’ve seen people muse about that before with BTS, if them still singing older songs about class and wealth issues (like “Baepsae”) when they’re millionaires is weird or somehow wrong of them since they’re part of The Privileged and like… While I get that point of view as a Certified Poor ™…
A) If they decided to never perform “Baepsae” again, I’d cry for missing it – song and the hip thrusts.
B) I think it’s definitely complicated for me. Like they are millionaires and I’m still on that #EatTheRich mentality and unwilling to extend that much understanding but at the same time, they’re seeing the world around them. They read the news and they see what fans are concerned about. They don’t live in a bubble and, as far as I know about most of them, they weren’t all born in the laps of luxury. (And as always, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong and they were all literally Little Princes.) So maybe they’re not talking about themselves in 2020 but they’re talking to us in 2020 and I mean… there are more of us than there are of them so…
I don’t know.
It may not work for you and you may not like it, but I like “Strange” because it’s the kind of complicated conversation – because Namjoon and Yoongi’s verses are really a conversation taking different approaches to the same issue – that I always crave and it’s coming from two rappers I feel a deep fondness for and uh… relatedness to. I don’t know if I’ve talked about this on any of the previous episodes that have been a bit K-pop-y but –
Yoongi and Namjoon are the members of BTS that I’ve creatively clicked with the most. For a variety of reasons, so far they’re the members whose work directly has inspired some aspect of mine. Especially when it comes to a Return To Rap as a writer and trying to figure it out for myself.
I love this track and I love these funky little nerds.
Up next is 28 featuring NiiHWA. The Korean title translates directly to “Perhaps, I’m gradually becoming an adult” (thanks doolsetbangtan) and sees Hiss noise replacing the now-familiar GHSTLOOP on writing and producing duties.
I read the lyrics for this song and somehow… I felt old? I’m only two or three years older than Yoongi and yet, here I am… feeling elderly. The song itself is great. Before I read the lyrics it was a total vibe and now, after I’ve sat with the lyrics for a while and kind of… did some reflection of my own to match Yoongi’s?
It’s still a good song but it’s also… fucking sad in how relatable it is. And again, that’s one of the major appeals of Yoongi’s songwriting for me. He’s usually able to get right at the core of what bothers me as a creator and person because… it’s what’s bothering him.
Like where the song’s like:
Though I’m breathing,
it feels like my heart has broken down
Yeah, to talk about now, it’s about becoming an adult who finds it only overwhelming to grasp onto a dream,
I’m becoming an adult
That shit hits different and it hits hard. Having dreams… trying to figure out how to hold on to them and do what you need to to make money and take care of yourself. This shit’s hard.
I don’t have a lot to say about “28” aside from Overwhelming Emotions That Feel Like Sadness, except that I once again like Yoongi’s more reflective songs because of the vibe they give me and I’m glad to have been introduced to NiiHWA through this song. I’ll be checking out some of his work in the future because he has a great voice and I want to see what his work sounds like!
Speaking of new-to-me artists, up next is “Burn It” which features MAX, a dude I didn’t know before Friday outside of a few selfies he took with Yoongi. But y’all that man has a voice and a half on him.
I keep singing MAX’s part in the song when I’m wandering around our little apartment trying to be chill and active around here.
I fucking love this song. Like it’s not a “Head Empty, Heart Full of Burn It” situation, but uh… it’s pretty close. Even after reading the translated lyrics, I’m mostly just like… I love with the sound of the song and the way that Yoongi and MAX’s voices work together.
Like I don’t have anything particularly introspective to say about this song, sorry. I just like it a lot!
I’m also going to have to figure out where to start with MAX since his voice, again, is incredible.
Now it’s on to “People” which was written and produced by Yoongi and Pdogg!
I think… I like this song so much more after I read the translated lyrics. Like vibing is all well and good and I have clearly done a ton of that across this mixtape, but understanding the lyrics causes this song to sort of… unfurl for me.
I liked it from my first listen, of course. Yoongi’s voice is fantastic here and I’ve been getting such a kick out of his little mmm… mmm… mmm why so serious? at parts of the song because it’s just honestly really… cute of him?
But “People”… also gives me energy. Not just from the beat – which is, of course, fantastic – but because of the hopeful note across the lyrics that make me think “okay, things can still get better” like:
Flow along the way the water flows
Maybe there’s something at the end
A special life, an ordinary life, each of them on their own
It’s all good
It’s all good
And the whole point is that like… what’s special to him might be ordinary to us and vice versa. Like I can’t really explain it but reading the lyrics and holding them in my head made me feel… warm. Because the things I took for granted that I could do before these current Quarantine Times – like go grocery shopping or hang out at a bar with friends or whatever – are things that Yoongi hasn’t been able to do on his own for several years now.
Things change for better or for worst and like… all we can do is keep going.
I just… fucking love this song and this nerd.
Now, we’re on track eight: “Honsool” a song about uh… drinking alone. So one of my favorite pastimes. Again, Yoongi remains relatable and I remain adoring.
Thanks to doolsetbangtan, I now know that “honsool”, the song’s title, is an abbreviation of a phrase that refers to “alcohol that one drinks alone or the activity of drinking alone”, something that the translator points out as a recent trend towards individualism in society and relaxing solo. I know that there are a lot of drinking cultures around the world where after work drinks with a bunch of your coworkers and even, sometimes, your bosses are seen as the norm. (Heck, in the Before Times, we had drinking days at my office.)
And sometimes it is just nice to be… alone with a drink. Even if your thoughts aren’t that nice when you’re alone with them.
I think that again, Yoongi manages to be so relatable that it hurts. Because like how he’s like:
I thought I’d party every day when I become a superstar
But the ideal is slapping the reality in the back of its head
Y’all… That shit hits hard.
Okay, next is “Interlude: Set me free”. This is the second to last track on D-2 and it has a chill as hell sound that sucked me in on my first listen.
“Set me free” is such an effective interlude because it gives you room to sit with and think about what you’ve listened to so far. It’s a break built into D-2 that still gives you much to marvel at because Yoongi is singing on this track –
Yes, he’s sang before. We know this. But how he sings on “Set me free” is just… so soothing. I found myself playing this song on repeat for like a solid hour at one point this weekend because it just makes me happy. It makes me feel like I’m floating.
How does it make y’all feel?
Finally, we close out D-2 with “Dear My Friend” a song featuring Kim Jong Wan of NELL who previously worked with Namjoon on “everythingoes”.
Courtesy of doolsetbangtan, a direct translation of the Korean title is “what would it have been like”.
I think… it’s hard to pick favorites from an album like this because every song brings something different to the table and showcases a slightly different side to Yoongi’s creativity as an artist. However, if I had to pick a favorite based on both the initial vibes and how it felt to listen to the song after reading the translated lyrics?
This would be my favorite. Kim Jong Wan’s voice is incredible – and for the third time across this mixtape, I’m so grateful to Yoongi to making me get interested in an artist I hadn’t really held in my mind before. The beat from the opening seconds with the uh… piano notes alone. The way Yoongi delivers his verses about this friendship, how it ended and what it could’ve been – what they could’ve been together…
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how gosh darned relevant Yoongi is across this entire mixtape and “Dear my friend” is no different. This is a song about reconnecting with a friend who’s been through tough times and was in a detention center but it’s not even remotely hard to mentally link up with.
Because who hasn’t wondered about a friendship that diverged wildly after a point? Who hasn’t wondered who they’d be if they’d stayed – or if their friend had? Who hasn’t tried reconnecting with a friend that went MIA [missing in action] only to find out that you’re not even remotely recognizable to one another now?
Yeah. I think it’s a song that moves me the most on multiple levels and still… I can bop my head to it without feeling consumed by all of the emotions.
Ah. This was a hard review to write and I was not expecting that. And yes, it was partially because of “What do you think?” and my frustration with that sample straight up ruining the song that should’ve been my favorite.
But at the same time, it’s always a little difficult for me to review BTS’ content as a group and when they do their own thing. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because sometimes it still doesn’t feel like I get it well enough to comment on it. Or because at the end of the day I’m a relative newbie to music commentary. Or maybe it’s because I don’t know when my Rap Snob self will sneak into the sunlight. Or uh… it could be because I just want to scream with delight when they do something I like and that’s not exactly helpful.
Anyway: I did my best because Yoongi ultimately did his best.
Regardless of my main critical thought about “What do you think?” and choices made in bad taste with that stinking sample at the start… at the end of the day nine out of ten Is still an “A”. And again, Yoongi’s second spin as Agust D here on D-2 is really good.
I like it so damn much. I’m listening to it multiple times a day since Friday morning and have worked it into my regular streaming rotation.
I think I even put “Daechwita” on my playlist for my project on blackness and Korean pop and hip hop the second I was finished my first listen of the mixtape. Usually it takes me a little longer than a single listen to get me to add new songs to that playlist.
If you want to talk about anything about the mixtape – yes, even “What do you think?” and even if you disagree – my DMs on twitter are open and so’s the comment section on my website!
Thank you so much for checking out my review and listening to it and – hopefully D-2 as well.