Photography by Jun Yokoyama
tofubeats’ Yusuke Kawai curates a playlist of some of the tracks that inspired him to make music. Ranging from hip hop to techno, J-pop to Shibuya-kei, his choices typify the beatmaker’s broad and influential style.
Yusuke Kawai, the beatmaker, producer, singer and DJ known as tofubeats, is one of Japan’s most prolific and successful electronic musicians. Since he first started producing music aged 14, Kawai has consistently pushed the boundaries of pop, emerging from the underground with a style that combines instrumental hip-hop with house, electropop, J-pop and much more.
Tofubeats has an identifiable sound but Kawai is also versatile performer, known for his extensive list of collaborations, remixes and soundtrack works. Over the past decade, working with the likes of Daoko, Akiko Yano, Mitsume and many, many others, he’s built himself a standing as an in-demand producer with a distinctly creative approach to beatmaking.
We asked Kawai to make a playlist for the Glow, with any theme he wished. He decided on a playlist of some of his greatest influences, tracks that drove him to make music and those that shaped his approach and sound. With choices spanning from techno mainstays to classics of Japanese hip hop, the playlist below is a thorough dissection of the foundations at the core of Kawai’s style and success.
A great song by a legendary Japanese hip-hop group. It's a shame that it's not available on streaming overseas because of sample sourcing issues. After listening to this version of the intro on YouTube at a friend’s house, I became strongly motivated to make music.
From King James Version’s “I'll Still Love You" to Isao Suzuki Quartet’s “Aqua Marine" and Kei Ogura’s “Itosugi no aru fūkei" [Landscape with Itosugi], the sampling sources crossfade from American to Japanese music. It’s very moving.
I started making hip-hop after listening to Buddha Brand, but I also started to admire artists who have a similar hip-hop flavour but deviate from it. One of them is Para One. A long time ago, when I suddenly had to attend a techno festival, I heard this huge remix of an Ayumi Hamasaki song and thought, “I can do this with my own MPC!”. I started a project called dj new town.
Para One, who was involved as a producer on “Greatful Days”, is an artist that expanded the concept of hip-hop. He and many other producers have now moved on from this style, but I’m still obsessed with it. It’s also great to see famous J-pop artists being torn apart like this.
I think that if you pursue hip-hop for long enough, you’ll inevitably go beyond it. When I think about it like that, Para One, Pal Joey, and Illreme fit along those lines.
Illreme – who is also currently active under the name of Jun Kamoda – definitely fits well. His recent release "Escape the Night" is also excellent, but I'd like to focus on his older work here. There aren't many people who can rap so well on Riow Arai's crazy breakbeats – I think it’s a really great song. Also, I was influenced by the mood of Osaka and Kansai in this era.
MC ECD, who passed away in 2018, had been active since the early days of Japanese hip-hop. He also had Illreme as a sidekick for a while. I was influenced by his lyrics, which are as clear and piercing as those of Yasuharu Konishi – who I’ll talk about more later."
"Big Youth", the album version of this song, is scratched boldly and combines two pieces of music. It’s insanely good. The album itself was a milestone in Japanese hip-hop, but it still hasn’t yet been properly distributed internationally.
It's a mystery to me that Cherryboy still hasn't become a world-renowned techno musician. It’s been ten years since the release of “The Endless Lovers” but it never fades away... When I hear this song and De De Mouse’s “Baby Star Jam”, I’m reminded of things that happened in 2010.
I started playing clubs in my late teens, and I’m so glad that I got to see Cherryboy live. His live performances using the MC-505 are amazing.
Although the words "city pop" and "Showa" are beginning to be discussed overseas, there are many other special pieces of Japanese J-Pop/R&B from the ‘90s and ‘00s that have influenced me.
The Mayu Nakazawa album that contains this song, Step Into My Heart, has not been reissued or put on streaming, and the music video that remained on the internet has been deleted. However, it is, to me, important and irreplaceable. I originally bought the album for Nakazawa’s cover of Tatsuro Yamashita’s “Funky Flushin’” but, since then, I’ve only listened to the rest of the songs. The visuals are great, and I keep wishing it would be reissued.
The strength of the music made by Pizzicato Five, or rather Yasuharu Konishi, is truly amazing. I don't mean that the sound is flashy or anything, but the music is very strong. As for this song, the flashy arrangement of the original attracted my ears at first, but when I heard the album version later, I began to hear only a simple arrangement.