SAI, the vocalist of Tokyo-based post-punk band Ms. Machine, chooses five rappers that have influenced her and her ‘poetry-rap’ solo project.
Elle Teresa is a rapper born and raised in Shizuoka (the prefecture where Mt. Fuji is located). From the beginning of her activity, she has sung about the strength of women, which has made her popular with female audiences.
Teresa also collaborates regularly with rapper NENE, a member of Yurufuwa Gang. I feel that the lyrics of hip-hop female rappers in Japan right now are more powerful and affecting than the modern rock scene. Their style isn’t to behave like a man but to still fight within the hip hop scene, all the while remaining feminine in their fashion and lyrics.
As a high-school drop-out that recently made her debut on major label Avex, Elle Teresa is a Japanese rapper who truly embodies a Cinderella story.
Moment Joon is South Korean-born rapper based in Osaka. He raps in Japanese, his lyrics showing the pain and discrimination of living as a Korean immigrant in Japan. Non-Japanese nationals don’t have the right to vote in Japan, and there are plenty of other rights that foreign nationals don’t have – despite living here and paying high taxes. Moment Joon has always been regarded in the Japanese music industry as an outsider. However, he calls himself a "Japanese rapper", and he is a part of the recent upswell of immigrant rappers in the contemporary Japanese hip hop scene.
Many socially-aware rappers such as Moment Joon were born in the 1990s. Similar is AKKO GORILLA, who collaborates with Moment Joon in the above music video and often raps about feminism. I myself was born in 1992, a similar era. I was 18 years old when the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami happened, and I couldn’t trust the Japanese government any more. For my generation, 2011 was a year when common sense, values and justice were greatly shaken. And they still are. Meanwhile, I want to keep paying attention to Moment Joon, who keeps fighting and expressing himself.
A rapper who very recently and suddenly appeared on the scene, Yokai Jaki is characterised by their aggressive lyrics and tunes and punk-like fashion. The song "Boke shine" from Jaki’s 2020 album Venom was remixed in 2021 with OVERKILL and rapper Jin Dogg. The music video also features Mi chill of Tokyo hardcore band moreru – who is also a member of Dangerous Family, a band known for extreme live performances featuring masturbation and deep kissing.
The music video opens with footage of a young man rioting on the streets of Tokyo following the banning of alcohol and live music due to COVID-19 and the Olympic games. It feels inevitable that a young rapper should be so dissatisfied and angry with the recent situation in Japan as to make this song.
Campanella is a member of the Nagoya Tokai crew RC SLUM. His unique flow is very addictive. A song called “PELNOD”, featuring Yoshie Nakano (vocalist of the Japanese legendary jazz unit Ego-Wrappin), is one of the reasons Campanella became famous.
Campanella often features the instrumentals of RAMZA, a beatmaker and composer also based in Nagoya who frequently acts as backing DJ at Campanella’s live shows.
“KILLLEME”, a track from Campanella’s second album PEASTA, starts with a strong low beat and is often performed live. At first glance, the title could be read as "KILL ME", but it is actually pronounced "kiru-mu". One of Campanella’s charms is that he doesn't publish the lyrics – his lyrics can be interpreted in multiple ways and we never truly know what Campanella is saying.
Before starting rap, Kuroyagi was active as a noise artist. Unlike much hip hop (particularly ‘classic’ American hip hop), there is almost no misogyny in his songs. His lyrics are mostly occupied by the inner life of a depressed and shy character. After one of his gigs, Kuroyagi once told me that he “doesn’t like live shows,” which reflects the introversion in his lyrics.
Among Kuroyagi's works, PUT THE NEEDLE TO THE GLOOM is a masterpiece. The album is made up of songs that are like taking a walk at night, just as the black artwork evokes an image of darkness.