Many fans of RM know that he refers to his studio and his work as “Rkive,” a play on words that combines “RM” and “archive” to illustrate how the rapper’s music tells stories and provides a musical and historical record of his experiences. The newest addition to the Rkive is RM’s first solo album Indigo. What is an archive, and how does RM contribute to powerful acts of making the archive more inclusive of everyone’s stories?
The Silence of the Archive
The general definition of an archive is “a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people.” It’s easy to think that historical records are completely objective and factual, or simply a series of facts and numbers about what happened in the past. There’s no question that archives provide important records of history that tell us invaluable information about how our world came to be. However, historical archives also reflect systems of power, privilege, and oppression that pervade our past and present.
This means that historical archives feature the stories and opinions of those in power in newspapers, books, letters, and records. On the other hand, those who were enslaved, colonized, and otherwise silenced or pushed aside based on their identity often don’t appear in the archive, at least on their own terms. We are often left with mere “scraps” of marginalized stories: “unknown persons, nameless figures, [and] ensembles.” When it comes to BTS, we can easily apply this pattern to archives of our time; how often does ARMY have to complain about unfair and often racist media coverage of BTS that belittles them or minimizes their accomplishments?
To learn more about those in the past whose voices aren’t included in the archive, historians and authors have to be creative in circumventing these silences. Music, particularly in the study of Black America, has been an important part of this process; for example, tracing the history and linguistics of a traditional song was used to help a Black family in South Carolina find their ancestral village in Africa. This use of Black music as an archive has continued from enslavement to our present, eventually creating genres such as hip-hop and rap that are, of course, the foundation of BTS’ music. Seeing RM deliberately engage in his music-making as an archive calls upon a powerful history of liberation, one that BTS continues by using their music to tell their own stories in the face of discrimination and hate.
Indigo as a Storyteller: A Historical Exploration
In addition to music, historians have also turned to material objects to understand more about people whose voices aren’t included in the archive. For example, one can learn a significant amount about enslaved African experiences with sickness by carefully tracing the records of different medicines used on slave ships, even though there are few accounts of the actual people who ingested these medicines. Black historian Stuart Hall declares, “I am the sugar at the bottom of an English cup of tea” to illustrate how a drink considered to be an integral part of British identity is deeply connected to non-British plantation workers in India and the Caribbean.
One such material we can study in the archive is indigo. Used originally as a dye and medicinal product, indigo was mass harvested on slave plantations across the world from the 1500s-1800s. Terrible working conditions were inflicted upon people who harvested indigo from all parts of the world, leading to the Indigo Riots in India and significantly impacting the Haitian Revolution. In America, the term “blue-collar” worker arose in the 1920s to describe jobs with taxing manual labor because people who worked “blue collar” jobs would wear indigo-dyed clothing to hide dirt and residue. As this remarkably thoughtful ARMY Twitter thread details, indigo “spans time, history, gender, and political boundaries,” and studying it in detail can unearth histories of oppression and resistance.
There’s no question that RM’s brain works on a million levels when it comes to creating new projects, and Indigo is bound to be no exception. In addition to the valences and significance of indigo in the historical archive, the term “indigo” has many other layers of meaning when it comes to RM’s work: the Korean word for indigo is 남색 (nam-sek), which can be translated into “Namjoon’s colors,” indigo is a combination of blue (the color with which RM self-identifies) and purple (ARMY’s color)...the list goes on and on. In many ways, RM’s Rkive continues to re-imagine the relationship between words and people, history and commodities, nature and humans to create a record of existence.
When we talk about BTS and ARMY’s accomplishments, we often use the phrase “making history.” RM demonstrates through his work of music as an archive that this phrase can mean more than just breaking records or winning awards; the way in which BTS and ARMY record their stories—be it through music, social media, and even media sites such as ARMY Magazine—is a form of making historical records that ensure our voices are heard, and there is proof of our existence and impact. Indigo will surely add to this history in new and profound ways.
Written by: Mariko
Edited by: Sanam
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