‘I Poured My Soul Into This Album’: How Suga Let Go of the Past and Stepped Into His Future
Of all the BTS members, Suga is probably the one who is most familiar with the daunting feeling that comes before dropping a solo project — but he’d never released something the size and scale of D-DAY before.
The 30-year-old rapper/producer/songwriter born Min Yunki has two full-length mixtapes using his alter ego Agust D — his 2016 debut, named after his second alias, and 2020’s D-2, both which established him as a ferociously introspective artist. Through his emotionally wrenching raps, he’s also emerged as a bold K-pop star, unafraid to share his reflections on mental health and inner struggles.
But last summer, BTS announced that they would be focusing on solo projects instead of group albums. Suga was already in the midst of working on the final installment of his planned Agust D trilogy, and he realized that the whole world would be paying extra close attention to what was supposed to be his side project. Suddenly, he felt pressure to stay true to his raw, explosive rap persona as Agust D while still living up to the name of Suga, the BTS member who speaks at the U.N. and the White House and collaborates with pop giants like PSY, Halsey, and Coldplay.
“Since I had to finalize the trilogy, I wanted to push Agust D by any means,” he tells Rolling Stone on a Zoom call from the HYBE office in Seoul. “Yet in reality, in terms of marketing, Suga has more presence. There was a heavy pressure to synchronize [the personas of] Agust D and Suga, and it took a toll on finishing the album.”
In his solo work and across more than 100 songs that he’s helped write for BTS, Suga has always worked to reconcile different identities and competing desires, wrestling between striving for success yet rebuking material desires, aspiring for honesty yet fearing overexposure, and wanting to meet expectations of the public yet feeling being misunderstood by critics. But on his new album D-DAY, which arrived on April 21 alongside a behind-the-scenes companion documentary, Suga: Road to D-DAY, streaming on Disney+, he reveals that he’s learned how to conquer these inner conflicts. On the opening title track, he declares that he’s forging a new future, defined only by himself. “Comparing yourself to those floundering in life, inferiority, and self-loathing / Starting today, aim your gun at these things,” he raps.
Across the 10-track project that blends hard-hitting drill beats, affecting R&B, and angsty emo rap, he unleashes philosophical verses that unpack his personal traumas, love and loss, the impossibilities of living under late capitalism and, as always, the hypocrisies of his haters — now with a wisdom that comes with self-knowledge. If 2016’s Agust D represents a Suga who used rap as an outlet for his intense emotions, and 2020’s D-2 captured a version of him learning to accept himself despite uncertainty, then D-DAY is the sound of a musician who finally understands who he is, comfortably moving through life’s chaos and changes.
Throughout D-DAY, Suga reflects on the idea of “liberation,” rapping about his search for freedom from the structures of the world and his own anxious thoughts. Yet the album posits that music, and the emotional process of making it, might be a form of freedom in itself. On the single “Haegeum,” a Korean word for “lifting a ban” that is also the name of a Korean traditional string instrument, he makes incisive cultural commentary about digital overconsumption. “Everyone’s been blinded by envy and jealousy / Without realizing that they’re putting shackles on each other / Don’t get swept away by this tsunami of info,” he spits. But when he pleads for everyone to “get on” the track’s grimy drill beat in the hook, it’s as if he’s urging listeners to live in the present by losing themself in the raucous music.
Suga also proposes liberating yourself from regrets of the past on “Amygdala,” a mournful rap song inspired by the part of your brain that stores fragmented memories of traumatic events. The verses see him making his most personal admissions yet, as he raps about the hardest parts of his life in a frantic string of visions: His mom’s heart surgery she underwent soon after he was born, the motorbike accident he endured as a teenage delivery worker, and “the call I got during work about dad’s liver cancer.” Yet making the song, and taking out those “unpleasant memories” to reorganize them again, facilitated the process of healing, he says in Road to D-DAY. “It’s part of the treatment to bring back bad memories from your past and learn to control those memories,” he explains in the film.
Growing up in Daegu, South Korea, Suga taught himself how to rap and produce long before he dreamed of becoming a K-pop idol. As a teen, he would practice sampling by making beats from the instrumental scores of Ryuichi Sakamoto, the famed composer and Yellow Magic Orchestra member who died in March at the age of 71. D-DAY marks a full-circle moment for Suga, who was able to meet and collaborate with his music hero on the album cut “Snooze,” which also features Korean indie rock singer Woosung of The Rose.
Road to D-DAY captures Suga and Sakamoto’s first meeting, in which they discuss their motivations for music-making and take turns playing each other Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” on the piano. The delicate piano chords of that classic song and Sakamoto’s string scoring style were Suga’s inspirations while making “Snooze,” a moving trip-hop song that is dedicated to all the emerging artists who were inspired to create because of BTS, he tells Sakamoto in the documentary. “I wanted this song to give them some strength. ‘I know it’s hard, but it’ll be okay […] I’ll catch you if you’re afraid to fall,’” he explains. It’s a masterful example of Suga’s ability to offer words of solace to his listeners, as he does on “Life Goes On,” BTS’ Billboard No. 1 hit song that he reinterprets into alternative hip-hop on D-DAY.
Suga joined Big Hit Entertainment in 2010 under the belief that he wouldn’t have to learn complex choreography. Now, through his years in BTS, he’s become a well-rounded performer, able to pull off slick dance moves, unleash fiery raps, and also play some guitar, which he’s been learning in recent years. Though he’s the first BTS member to embark on a headlining solo tour, which will kick off April 26 in North America, before heading to Asia this summer, he’s humble almost to a fault when discussing his goals for the stage. “I am just a rapper,” he says. “I worried a lot about what’s the best way for me to express myself. But I am not that terrible at playing guitar, so if I showed that to people I thought maybe they would like it.”
Ahead of the album and tour, Suga spoke to Rolling Stone about collaborating with IU and J-Hope, his production philosophy, and whether the Agust D moniker will live on.
In the Road to D-DAY documentary, you said, “When I was working on this album, I wondered if it may be the last piece of work under the name Agust D.” Just to confirm, D-DAY is not your last album as Agust D?
No. If you buy the album and look at the “thanks to” section in the liner notes, then you’ll know [the answer to that question]. And if I say it’s the last, then it has to really be the last. A lot of musicians will say they’re retiring and then they make another comeback — I definitely don’t want that to happen. It’s the last of the trilogy, not the last of Agust D.
The stories that I have to tell as Agust D are heavier than those of Suga, right? I don’t have much energy left in me to continue to tell those heavier stories, because I poured out my soul in this album. But after a couple of months, maybe I’ll have some more stories to tell as Agust D, or I can put stuff out as Yunki, or release things as Suga. No one knows what’s possible in the future.
So I can’t tell you that this is the last of Agust D. My next album could come out next year, in a decade, or right before I die. Maybe the company said that it would be the last? But this is not where I’m wrapping up. There was the Batman Dark Knight trilogy, but then Batman came back again [in a new movie]. It’s that kind of vibe.
You collaborated with IU again for “People Pt. 2,” after producing, and appearing on, her 2020 single “Eight.” What do you admire about her as a collaborator and what kind of synergy do you have together?
We needed to work on synchronizing [the personas of] Suga and Agust D, since from a marketing perspective, there was no reason for me to release this as Agust D. But because I have told stories about myself, Min Yunki, through the persona of Agust D, I now had to match it [with the brand of Suga]. I put a lot of thought into which artist would be the best for this synchronization.
I could’ve included BTS members. Jung Kook actually recorded vocals as a guide for the demo. But If I did the track with Jung Kook, I didn’t want to give the impression of, “Oh, this is another BTS thing!” So I searched for an artist to feature. I already had collaborated with [IU] for “Eight.” We already had synergy, and a lot of people loved that song because of our connection. Also, me and her have a good relationship. We are already friends and we are the same age. So I requested that she appear on my song. Because she’s such a busy person, I worried that she wouldn’t accept. Thankfully, she accepted without any hesitation. I’m pretty satisfied with “People Pt. 2.”
For “HUH?,” featuring J-Hope, did you give him any sort of direction on how to write his verse?I’ve been doing music for 17, 18 years, but when I’m working with someone else I never pressure them. The genre of that song is drill. I made it with Yijeong [HYBE songwriter-producer EL CAPITXN]. The beat is very difficult. J-Hope told me that it was hard [to write on], but I was like, “Just do whatever you want. I’ll organize it all for you later!”
It’s similar to when I was working with PSY, or on “Eight,” or making music for commercials. When producing music for others, I would ask them: “What would you like? What kind of song do you want? What do you want me to write?” When someone’s writing a song for me, the same applies and I would tell them, “Do whatever you like” or “Write what you want.” When I first heard J-Hope’s verse, I wanted to use it right away. I said, “Wow, you really said what you wanted to say, and it worked!” We just went with it without any edits.
Did you play the album for any of the other BTS members, and did they give you any feedback?The other members don’t really give me feedback. They do, but their feedback feels like, since the documentary film is with Disney(+), I will say it in terms of Disney, their feedback is Disney-like. Always positive. They just say something like, “Wow, the album is sick!” I can’t really feel certain that it’s objective, so I try to rely on external feedback. The members always tell me it’s good. If I show them something that’s not good, they won’t tell me it’s not good. [laughs] I always appreciate them though. They motivate me and give me courage.
For “Snooze,” you collaborated with Woosung of The Rose and Ryuichi Sakamoto, who recently passed away. How has Sakamoto inspired you as an artist and what was it like collaborating with him?
This might be a little complicated, but there is this method of reversing samples, chopping and splicing which is commonly used among songwriters a lot. Some people would see this and ask, “Is this really composing?” And it actually is because all these samples are being taken from their original sources and then recorded again. For example, for “Eight” with IU, I made the theme in the beginning by reversing and chopping a piece of audio. This process is very common in hip-hop — many hip-hop musicians have used, and are still using, this method. And, in order to do this, you need instrumental songs, songs without vocals that can be put into different structures.
I needed to practice that kind of production through sampling, and I ended up using Sakamoto’s songs for practice. Even before I started producing, ever since I was young, I really admired his compositions, like “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” or the score from The Last Emperor. And I used these kinds of instrumental tracks to make my own beats when I was in seventh grade or something. So Sakamoto naturally was one of the legends that I dreamed of meeting, and when I expressed my interest in meeting him, he accepted without hesitation.
I am very saddened by his passing. But when I met him, it was so nice. We didn’t meet musician to musician. It just felt like he was an adult, and I was a child. I really miss him. He was one of my role models. He gladly participated in my album, and the collaboration went so smoothly. We both worked happily on the song.
Also, that song isn’t necessarily me telling just my own story. When people listen to the lyrics, they’ll probably see that. Not only is it about the artists who have come up after me [and BTS], but there’s also the many people around the world who have found solace in Sakamoto’s work.
The theme of the album is “liberation.” What does liberation mean to you?
In the past, I knew what that theme meant, and I figured out my thoughts were already resolved in the process of recording it. There was this K-drama called My Liberation Notes [from 2022] that did really well. I had started working on the album three years ago — and then I noticed that it really matched thematically with the drama. I felt and hoped that people were looking for more stories, more discussion on this topic of “liberation.”
Honestly, I didn’t write the song [“Haegeum”] because I was so obsessed with the concept of “liberation.” Haegeum is an instrument. But a while ago, I was playing this rhythm video game a lot. In the game, there’s these songs called “haegeum songs.” [Editor’s note: “Haegeum songs” are songs that you can only unlock in the game by reaching a certain stage.] That was originally the meaning of the song. So I wrote the hook to “Haegeum” about three years ago while I was working on “Daechwita.” Back then, I was composing many songs using traditional Korean instruments. Also yes, I made that beat for “Daechwita,” people seem to not know.
Once I asked myself about what my definition of liberation is, I started unpacking that idea of liberation more [through my songs]. I think viewers will think it’s very fun and entertaining—considering the other kinds of promotions I’ve done. I have confidence. In the video, I’m just living very freely. [Laughs]
The “D” in Agust D stands for Daegu, your hometown. Since you’ve lived in Seoul for a while and traveled all around the world, what kind of place is Daegu to you now?
People will always ask me why there’s a space after Agust, and there’s a D. They say, “Is that a One Piece thing?” [Editor’s note: The protagonist of the One Piece manga is named Monkey D. Luffy.] Daegu is very important — of course, it’s my hometown. I feel very comfortable there. And you know, musicians have this pride about where they’re from. I go there pretty often. I go there for makchang [grilled chitterlings]. Also, my parents just like it a lot. It’s a dreamlike place.
What kind of live performances are you preparing behind this album?
I know everything so you just have to come and watch. It won’t be recorded. If Min Yunki does a show, you gotta come.
Additional translation by TaeHo Lee