Influenced by the East Coast boom, Japanese hip hop took off in the early 1990s with groups such as Buddha Brand, Scha Dara Parr, and King Giddra. Gradually finding its own artistic identity, a scene peppered with jazz samples set up shop in Tokyo and became popular through manga soundtracks.
Searching for a signature sound is symbolised in the work of Nujabes. This legend of Japanese hip hop, who died in 2010, influenced many producers around the world and created soundtracks for the animated series, Samuraï Champloo. He developed lo-fi, lyrical sounds strongly influenced by jazz. He was involved in myriad projects including the EP Luv(sic) with his friend and rapper Shing02.
Though J-Pop might be more mainstream, rap has been well established on the island since the 2000s and comes in many forms. There are groups like kiLLa, whose members explore a dark, downtempo and sometimes ethereal universe; and then the young Hiyadam, who collaborated with Vladimir Cauchemar on the track “Regarde”, and serves up techno rap.
In 2015, thanks to the song “It G Ma” by Korean Keith Ape, Asian rap found itself in the spotlight, opening the doors for other players on the scene to go international. Like Loota, who later appeared on the track “Another Card”, taken from Frenchman Ikaz Boi's masterpiece, Brutal (2018) and who also features on the Japanese artist's latest project, Gradation (2019). Perhaps more surprisingly, we can even find him on Thirst (2019) by SebastiAn, the producer signed to the Ed Banger label.
Benefiting from more exposure than his friend with whom he featured on the banger “It G Ma”, Kohh was far more noticeable on Frank Ocean's “Nikes”. Representing a forgotten Japan, marked by violence, drugs and poverty, he has signed to the label 88rising. Making connections from the United States to France, he appears on Kekra's latest mixtape, Freebase Vol. 4, and has had his track “Paris” remixed by Club Cheval producer Sam Tiba. Sometimes flirting with horrorcore, Kohh's music is eclectic and deep, moving through many layers with intensity, from a feeling of brutality to more a melancholic and psychedelic vibe.
From Tokyo to Okinawa with rapper Awich, from the artists who founded the movement to those of the new school, via Ryuzo's gospel touch, this playlist will give you a glimpse of the rich world of Japanese rap.