Fans of MONSTA X rapper I.M – real name Im Chang-kyun – know that he has a tattoo on his left wrist of a right bracket with two colon marks on either side. To the uninitiated, it resembles an (un)smiley face of sorts; to him, it is likely the very definition of a person’s duality – and perhaps even a reflection of his own.
‘Duality’ is both the title and theme of his first solo mini-album, which was described in a press statement as a project that “depicts [his] intense inner confessions [and] the difference between the outside and inside of one’s thoughts and mind”. Beyond emotions, the most evident showing of the theme is in the delivery of the album’s five tracks, and the way I.M presents himself as a solo artist. For those more accustomed to his deep, gravelly rapping on Monsta X tracks or even his solo 2016 mixtape ‘Who Am I’, it may be interesting to not hear much of it in this release, though his naturally raspy voice is a given mainstay.
The album starts off with the smooth and sensuous title track ‘God Damn’, an outward expression of a stream of consciousness in an effortless blend of both English and Korean. I.M is known for his proficiency in the former, so this probably isn’t much of a surprise; yet, the song’s linguistic interchange alone is already a subtle display of his duality, and versatility in his forms of expression.
Although I.M does explore some complexity with his thoughts and emotions on the title track – far beyond the simple message of “finding one’s hope out from the wander” as stated in a press statement for the mini-album – the rapper still falls back on some of his tried and true themes for ‘God Damn’. He delves yet again into his inner sensuality (“Kiss me down till I’m naked” being quite the giveaway), which he previously touched on in ‘Horizon’ from his 2019 mixtape of the same name. Moreover, some of the atmospheric tones and melody transitions heard in ‘God Damn’ are also reminiscent of ‘Horizon’.
Thankfully, I.M picks up the pace next with the fully English track ‘Howlin’’, which contains a glimmer of vulnerability in its lyrics (“Grab me when I’m falling / ’Cause I make myself so lonely”). The hypnotic rhythms in ‘Burn’ add further intensity, fueling a desire to let his pent-up feelings go up in flames so as to move forward (“I don’t wanna waste my time on the past time”).
With ‘Happy To Die’, the mini-album reaches an unlikely crescendo, both in its higher tone and underlying meaning: achieving the ultimate state of happiness or contentment. In a countdown livestream that took place shortly before the launch of the ‘God Damn’ music video, I.M shared that his inspiration came from one of Jim Carrey’s lines in the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “I could die right now”. The rest, he added matter-of-factly (or cryptically), is up for interpretation.
What probably flips the entire album on its head is the final track, ‘Flower-ed’, or ‘시든 꽃’ (sideun ggot, ‘withered flower’ in Korean). The softest song of the lot, it demonstrates his ability to voice a side of him that’s not often heard in his music: an uncharacteristic, yet refreshing fragility.
Even as I.M succeeds in defining and redefining the theme of duality for himself, there is still much more room for his musicality to grow. That said, he has already come pretty far – from questioning his own identity five years ago in ‘Who Am I’, to the present: being an artist and a person who embraces the multiple aspects of his polarity.
- Release date: February 19
- Record label: Starship Entertainment