The Next 5: Kazuo
“My goal is to always stand out like how I usually do and make the chaotic music I wanna make”
26-year-old Kazuo, who was born in New York but grew up in Japan, is a bilingual, biracial beast on the mic. His perspective is unique due to his African American and Japanese heritage, but his bars are legit, and he honed his craft doing open mic nights across New York City, so he's got real street cred.
Of all the artists on the Next 5, Kazuo is the one who brings the East-West heat the most. He’s truly hybrid, and since he moved back to Yokohama last year he’s been tearing up stages and dropping FIRE indie singles with hilarious, take-no-prisoners videos to match.
His first album AKUMA dropped in 2020 and it was angry and irreverent [everything he does is irreverent!] and dealt mostly with his feelings about his biracial identity and not fitting in anywhere. His recent tracks have been more exploratory, with this year’s ‘SEKAI’ basically on a Drum & Bass beat, and a few weeks ago he dropped ‘Oh My Darling’ which sounds like Lo-Fi Rock. Joints like last year’s ‘WATCH OUT!’ are bass-heavy Trap bangers that throb and sizzle and make you hit repeat to catch the funny, clever lyrics.
Kazuo is one artist we really cannot wait to see what he does with his Jagermeister creative grant.
You’ve been selected by LiFTED and Jagermeister as one of the Next 5 Asian artists to break out this year. How does that feel?
I get hard just thinking about that. This was the final step I had to take to become an Asian person. Konnichiwa.
As part of The Next 5, you’ll receive a Creative Grant to help you push forward in your career. What will you spend the money on?
My mom is gonna read this for sure so I won’t say anything weird, but I definitely have some ideas. One of them is wanting to put together a fire video that best captures who Kazuo is ‘currently’. Who is Kazuo? What is Kazuo? Where is Kazuo? How is Kazuo? Why is Kazuo? With Jager’s funding, you will find out! I’ve been making songs and videos on a 2015 MacBook so an upgrade won’t hurt.
Tell us about your local Hip Hop scene and how you plan to make moves in ’22-’23?
The Tokyo rap scene is definitely interesting but I wanna say I operate around it rather than in it most of the time by choice. There are some fire artists I know personally who have an undying love for Rap and take this shit seriously and are pushing the culture forward but on the flip side, I feel like there are some who make the scene look trash. I’m very critical and vocal of the scene just by being a Black person from New York, and I don’t agree with the direction some of these dudes take. The mildest being them just doing shit that was hot in the states two years ago and not even putting their own spin to it besides it being in a different language. I ain’t tryna hear a little Japanese boy from one of safest cities in the world talk about how grimey their hood is or them making gun noises in their ad-libs. They ain’t ever seen that type of shit. Their glorification of that lifestyle is getting on my nerves cause I know people back in New York who live that. I could go off about this all day.
My goal is to always stand out like how I usually do and make the chaotic music I wanna make whether you consider it Rap or some other shit. I don’t really care what the next person is doing unless they’re doing it better than me. I don’t know if I should reveal this just yet but I’m about to be taking a huge step in my career that’ll boost my name which means there’s gonna be more chaos, so stay tuned!
At LiFTED we’re all about cross-border collaboration and linking the Asian Hip Hop scenes together. Jagermeister has a similar vision, representing each of these vibrant markets across Asia. What is your vision for yourself in the Asian Hip Hop game?
Honestly, one of the reasons I wanted to write my lyrics in two languages was after seeing Korean rappers do that shit. One of them being Flowsik. As far as collabing, I feel like I’ve already worked with most of the artists in my country that I wanted to work with so far, so it’s time to move on to work with fire artists on the outside regardless of genre. Fuck it, I’ll say a few names. My dream collabs at the moment are Anderson .Paak & UMI!
I approach my music not in the sense of how it’s gonna impact the Rap game, but how it’s gonna impact all of music. I already have fans who are now artists in my DM’s telling me I am the reason they’re doing bilingual shit so I want more people to copy my style[s]. I may not be the first to blend two languages or cross cultures through art. Never will claim that shit. But I am one of the best to do it, and the most creative with it through my lyrics and production. Play my cards right and I will be regarded as one of the greats. At the end of the day, no matter what move I make, it’s always gonna be representing Japan which means Asia. If that’s being arrogant, fuck it.
What are you working on RIGHT NOW?
Damn dude, no need to yell. I’m working on abs today. Trying to get this six-pack before my next photoshoot. But for job stuff, I’m working on the next few releases but not gonna lie they’re kicking my ass. Still gonna make the deadline though. Also, gotta work on some features for other artists but those aren’t kicking my ass as much. OH! I also gotta finish some videos for YouTube and TikTok. 24 hours ain’t enough dude. I spend damn near an hour just thinking about the perfect reply to people’s messages.