(ALL TRACKS RE-UPPED)
These past three weeks I’ve been working as an interpreter for a documentary about Japanese hip-hop, round and round the streets of Osaka, jabbering back and forth between MCs and the director, getting educated.
Like any asshole foreigner who likes good music, I’ve been probing the country’s underground for ‘jackin beats’, ‘surreal verses’, ‘creepy crunk’, ‘tasteful yelling’ going on about two years now. Hip-hop on the islands is at a transition point. Where it used to be an exclusively Tokyo/Osaka axis, the music has spread strong, north to snowy Hokkaido and down south to Kyuushuu, a land mass known previously only for permaculture farms and the graves of infamous pirates. Anybody you talk to nowadays will say that shit’s really popping off in Fukuoka (Kyuushuu’s biggest city), that it’s got the future of hip-hop twisting in its volcanic branches. Now think if somebody told you ‘Denver’s comin up’.* Curious if not confusing.
As far as I’m concerned, the future of hip-hop here in the east is in the hands of Origami, a pair, sometimes group of MCs from somewhere in Tokyo. They’ve got two albums out, both recommended highly, and a solo by MC Nanorunamonai is loose in the streets since two weeks ago. Onimas fries up the tracks, his beats ain’t party shit. Surreal, eerie, buzzed up, crawling through the street shit, sometimes celebratory, dwelling in a furious melancholy each track having a very specific sense of place. Shibito and Nanorunamonai front the group with S in particular spitting manic, crazed fire on the mesh. See Shibito was (is?) a Hikikomori, one of these folks that retreats silently from the modern world. Can’t take the klaxons, the hollering, the cars buses trains, deaths on the subway, can’t bear to watch life wash away in repetitive motion after repetitive motion for monthly cash. So people like this withdraw, pull back into their own world. On permanent strike from industrial capitalism so to speak. Some Hikikomori play video games like sweet crack on their parents’ ticket, some sit alone in dark rooms and wait. N chose to write lyrics it seems. He got kicked out of school and just kept writing and rhyming and one day found his throat with some comrades. Now he’s loud, and Origami is nice. Check the tracks.
Second track on Origami’s first one walks in from the instrumental haze of the opening, Nanonarumonai’s raw throat pulls itself together and knocks along with rusty kicks. Shibito opens fire on the second verse, dude’s flow is like daggers; this is his introduction to the world, he walks in diagonally, mid-seizure, laughing, spitting about drugs, ketamin, weed, amphetamines. ‘Clock hand is moving right’ ‘Hurry up Hurry up’. ‘Carnivals of coup-de-tats’.
Guitars strumming, mid-tempo beats that roll into a ranting flow by Eron Za Tazu on some crazy word play shit. KAN shows up on the last verse. Lyrics like ‘Meet at the red-lit roadside in a pitch-black underground’ shit like this. I dunno I’d translate more but it sounds awful in English. Japanese rappers use Chinese Kanji characters in ways that will fuck you. The verse as it is heard has one meaning, but when written down, the meaning flips via the visual, symbolic context of the Kanji. There’s a lot of wordplay happening throughout this whole cut.
I picked up Ojiba’s ‘Time is Fire’ a couple weeks ago at We Nod in Tokyo. What got me was the production, its obvious maturity and funk. Ojiba here abandons the classic-break sampling tendencies of Japanese hip hop as they’ve existed. Another knife in the heart of Jurassic 5 and other brewers-hat-backwards-white-guy grippin-a-guiness-raisetheroof-hop esque shit and its continuing influence here in Japan. Cartoon beats, thick, full production, post-breakbeat hip-hop as far as it goes.
Fifth track off ‘Time is Fire’, beat is riding some violin-ass shit, rolling with clippy breaks and cheesy samples. The group hooks are classic honshuu collectivist hip-hop but the flows are capable, Ojiba’s all about drinks, weed and ladies on his verse. Ohli-day’s next hollerin about the VIP room, that he’s different from when he was young, that you gotta come check him out. Coming up seems to be pretty important to dude. Second verse’s actually full of English, hear it?
Lyric-wise this cut gets pretty stupid with the hook roughly translated as ‘booty-shaking bitches with no thigh cheese’, the sensual ‘I’m a match here to light your body up’, some real club-skulking mating ritual kinda shit, but it’ll work pretty well for people that have no idea what the fuck they’re saying. Nice dancehall-esque flow by Tomoz about taking you out for a nice night, wanting to see you smile; this runs over a vacuum-beat tok-tok combo by track maker Suminof (!) and Ojiba (028) coming in to talk about taking out Rolls-Royce class gals, how tonight’s gonna be ballin, how he’s high every week. Not every day but every week, smokers be scrapin by in dank-free Nihon. A baller in relative terms.
I’m gonna throw up this track by MC Raita, a Tokyo-area cat I saw perform with Daedelus and Jet Set last fall. On stage dude comes up there big bald and friendly, friend in tow, two taiko drums in tow. Starts toasting over taiko drums thunderous in the tiny club with this awesome, gnawing intensity. Everybody’s head’s bobbing, probably reaching Zazen as the drums pump. Raita chanting like a holy man, drums bellowing like a monk’s New Year dedication. The baldness brings it all home. The track I’ve got here is not the banginest, frankly it’s cheesy with real honest matsuri-esque beats, but you can kind of feel the damp night heat of a summer festival here, Kimonos and Yukatas, red lanterns bobbing, fireworks swirling…Hopefully he puts together a more solid set of tracks for his debut, but I’m putting it up here just cuz dude’s creative, might go somewhere and besides I wanted to tell that story.
Duff works with a group called 5W1H coming out of Osaka. This kid hasn’t broken yet, he’s young, 20, and he’s just putting his shit out there. I met this guy along with Gebo and some of the older Kansai-area rappers during the interview sessions; when cats started freestyling Duff struck me as pretty capable and brave. The demo he gave me unfolded into this audio ghost house, a CD full of spirits, divergent from b-boy heritage. Most of these tracks are Duff’s mind slipping over cliffs, rolling down a chasm, he can’t really stop himself. Cat’s gaspin. Feel this kid, Hakim Bey style.
See what I’m saying about this ghost house shit? Sounds like the dead are walking and the utensils in your kitchen are rattling. People dyin somewhere. Duff towards the end koi koi koi, bring it bring it bring it
Someone convulsing in tongues in the foreground until Duff follows up polite-style riding some horned up atmospheric beat, bouncy at moments, flowing. I’ve got no idea what this cat’s saying on this track, hell I barely understood him in person.
This is Duff on the MGM beat (thanks Icky), somebody asked if this is a freestyle. Most likely, kid’s freestyles are pretty nice, then given the DJ cuts you can hear plus the way D collapses at the end, might be. Mastering’s a little shitty too. Check what he does.
So that’s a little bit of hip-hop on the islands. Haven’t even ventured into Tokyo shit real hard, like Baku, MSC, Think Tank etc. Definitely want to mention Inden and Itetsu from Osaka. Get at me, what’s bangin, what’s a flatline, what do you want to hear more of. Honesty now. Let’s do part II real big.
HEX (respect to shrimp for the guest post)