LiFTED ON THE SCENE - Japanese Hip Hop goes local
We’ve got the scoop on Japan’s hottest MCs, parties & anime
Kazutaka Yagi from Avex Management Inc, and Reach Japan is here to give LiFTED his snapshot of the Japanese Hip Hop scene. He has been deeply involved with it from the beginning and is still in love with it. Yagi has high expectations for Japanese Hip Hop going forward and is sure that the scene will continue to change dramatically.
“For us, change is a good thing. We can’t take our eyes off of it and for sure the future will bring amazing new artists and more innovation!”
Japan is the second biggest music market in the world. In terms of Hip Hop, it has been a vibrant scene since the late ‘80s and continues to evolve in unique ways today. There are currently many new and established scenes for Rap, Bboying, parties, fashion, and overall Hip Hop culture in Japan. Let’s get started and see what’s happening on the Japanese Hip Hop landscape.
At first, the Japanese Hip Hop scene was not well-known and stayed underground until it gradually grew in prominence with its own local DJs and rappers in the mid-to-late 90s. The kids who grew the culture back then are now in their 40s and are known as ‘second baby boomers’ like Gen X in the US. Many of these people are now in leadership positions in the entertainment industry, like me.
WHERE’S THE PARTY AT?
One of the best parties going now is GETBACK!! which focuses on Hip Hop music from 2000 to 2005. It is organized by DJ U-YA and has been hosted at nightclubs all over Japan. While the scene may be centered in Tokyo, Hip Hop music is popular all over the country, especially in cities like Nagoya. DJ U-YA said, “A lot of young Japanese party-goers are fanatics of young Japanese Hip Hop artists. They prefer listening to Japanese Hip Hop songs rather than western ones. This is a very interesting trend.” DJ U-YA is referring to the trend that music sales have been 80 percent local and only 20 percent western for a while now.
DJ U-YA also plans to launch a party in the evening for Hip Hop fans in their 30s and 40s that will end before midnight. Another very interesting trend to watch if it takes off.
Speaking of Nagoya, TOKONA-X was an early star who released his music on Def Jam Japan in the early 2000s. He had a massive impact not only in Nagoya but also on the whole Japanese Hip Hop scene.
Afterward AK-69, E-qual, and SOCKS also broke out on the wider domestic scene from Nagoya.
Another MC, SEAMO scored a #1 on Japan’s charts
Two other dope MCs are nobodyknows+ and Home Made Kazoku
Home Made Kazoku
One of the most exciting new rappers is Kazuo who is half African American and half Japanese. Born in the US and raised in Japan, he got started by performing in open mics, cyphers, and showcases around New York City, and steadily making a name for himself.
Kazuo is constantly pushing the boundaries of his artistry with a DIY approach and humorous videos for his songs. He hopes to bridge the gap between Black and Japanese culture and entertainment.
Okinawa is a very unique place in Japanese culture and was actually a part of the United States until 1972. Many famous Japanese artists were born and raised in Okinawa, like pop superstar Namie Amuro, among others. There are still American naval bases, and US pop music, but increasingly Hip Hop culture is an influence. Local kids are born with US music and fashion all around them.
Okinawan Kentaro Teruya is an influential person in the Japanese fashion scene. He works as a chief creative director in B’s INTERNATIONAL who was an authorized distributor in Japan for leading brands like XLARGE and X-girl since the early 90s. He also developed his own successful fashion & music label LIBERTY FORCE in Okinawa.
Kentaro said, ”The people who live here definitely love their hometown. Now you can see the younger generation are wearing local brands. They’ve been influenced by many forces, and have mixed the various angles of fashion into something unique. The same goes for music.”
Japan is famous around the world for its anime scene. The recent anime, Hypnosis Mic, is dubbed by popular Japanese male voice actors. The storyline features each anime character as a member of a crew fighting against other teams like a rap battle. This project is groundbreaking for the Japanese anime scene and uses rapping in a good way. In the near future, Hip Hop anime will surely spread across the Asian region.