BONUS | A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Hip-Hop | Oh no, Anime! the Podcast

Marc recorded a special audio version of the Japanese hip-hop panel he’s been doing for a while now. Tune in as he teaches you all he knows about the history of hip-hop in Japan and its place in Japanese culture, and recommends some of his most essential artists! Be sure to check out after the jump for show notes to follow along with, including music videos. There’s also a Spotify playlist that we’ll be updating periodically at the end!

Follow along with these show notes during the episode, and check the end of the post for the Spotify playlist:


What we’re going to cover today:

-A brief history of Japanese Hip-Hop

-Problems from a western perspective

-Some recommended artists


A Brief History


1980s: The Beginning

-Introduced in 1983 with Wild Style, dancers from wild style did tour in Japan the following year dancing in department stores and outdoor spaces solidifying the hip-hop phenomenon

-Going to hear a lot of English words today and that’s for a reason

+Initially it was thought rapping in Japanese would be impossible due to sentence structure

+This was solved eventually in two ways, albeit much later: heavy use of English words and abnormal rhyme schemes

-Breakdancing was huge in the 80s and eventually DJing, Graffiti and MCing would follow but wouldn’t be relevant for a little longer

+Epicenter of early Japanese breaking scene was Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, sitting on the border of Harajuku and Shibuya and a famous meeting place for different subcultures like the rockabillies


Early Pioneers

-DJ Krush

+Immensely prolific, still active today

+One of few J-hop artists to cross into the west collaborating with Aesop Rock, Mos Def, and Black Thought from the Roots

-Yellow Magic Orchestra

+One of first Japanese groups to experiment with hip-hop

+1981 song “Rap Phenomena” laid groundwork and influenced American artists like Afrikka Bambataa and Mantronix

Yellow Magic Orchestra – Rap Phenomena


The Two Sides of Japanese Hip-Hop in the 80s

-The Club

+Associates with oshare or “stylish” subculture

+Perpetuated by a more upper-class set in nightclubs and cafes

+Relatively sanitized

+Characterized by muted clothing like suits

+Lyrics often more flowery and sanitized

-The Streets

+Arose from Harajuku’s Hokoten or “Pedestrian Paradise”

*Hokoten is like a giant unsanctioned street fair and fashion walk that was shut down in 2013 but has had immeasurable influence in Tokyo street culture and fashion

            +Dealt more with breaking and street fashion/culture

+Considered more genuine as hip-hop grew

-The distinction between these two groups, and the perception of the “street” version of hip-hop as more “genuine”, would be used in the 90s to prove who was real and who was fake in the Japanese scene


1990s: Commercial Viability

-1990s saw Japan’s first hip-hop commercial successes

-Scha Darra Par

+Probably one of Japan’s most recognized hip-hop groups to this day

          +Big hit was Konya wa Boogie Back w/ Kenji Ozawa in 1994

+Standard 3-person team with two MCs and a DJ

+Appeared on De La Soul’s 1993 album Buhloon Mindstate

+Similar to Beastie Boys and Tribe Called Quest

-East End x Yuri

+DA.YO.NE and Maicca sold over 1 million copies each

+Collabo between hip-hop group East End and Yuri Ichii of the group Tokyo Performance Doll

+Not only a massive mainstream success but also the first instance of idol hi-hop which is quite a full subgenre today

          +Kinda nonexistent after their second album

+About the poppiest thing on here


Scha Dara Parr – Konya wa Boogie Back feat. Kenji Ozawa (Live)

-Y’all wanna see something really crazy go to youtube and search for the Utada Hikaru version of this performed at her first live in 1999 with SDP


East End x Yuri – DA.YO.NE

-Da Yo Ne is a slang expression of agreement, like “you know?” or “I know, right?” depending on context

-This song spawned several different copycat singles in different regional dialects by similar rap group/idol crossovers


A Crisis of Legitimacy

-Explosion of party rap cause friction with underground rappers who saw these artists as not legit

-Most notable is Lamp Eye, basically the Japanese version of the Wu-Tang clan

-Their song Shogen calls out Dassen 3, using imagery that calls back to the wack oshare style of the 80s to try to reduce their target’s legitimacy

+You’ll notice if watching the video that several members of Lamp Eye appear in ill-fitting suits and old-fashioned hats, visually calling back to oshare styles of dress and making fun of them

-This is a common theme in the 90s with group calling back to the b-boy and street side of 80s hip-hop to try an appear more legit

Lamp Eye – Shogen


2000s and Beyond: Growth and Diversification

-Explosion and expansion of Hip-Hop to every conceivable subculture and subgenre

-Less emulation and more evolution and experimentation

-More focus on distinctly Japanese political and cultural issues

-The first period where Japanese hip-hop finally developed its own unique sound


Nujabes: The Most Important Figure in the History of Japanese Hip-Hop

-Released 3 studio albums from 2003-2011

-Died in auto accident in 2010

-Unique style of production blending jazz influences w/ traditional techniques for nostalgic + atmospheric sound

-Considered by many to be the first truly Japanese hip-hop sound

-Style is still emulated and expanded on today extensively

-Collaborated w/ western artists

-Brought Japanese sound to international audiences like no one else


Nujabes – Luv (sic) Part  2 feat. Shing02


Nujabes – Battlecry feat. Shing02 (from Samurai Champloo)


Hip-Hop in Japan Today

-Experimentation continues w/ new genres like Grime and Drill

-Anime: Devilman Crybaby, Samurai Champloo, Afro Samurai, Detroit Metal City, Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou

-Video Games: Parappa the Rapper, Jet Set Radio, Yakuza 0

-TV dramas, films, commercials + much more


Ken the 390, Young Dais and AFRA – Devilman Crybaby Bars




Burapan and “Blackfacing”

-Refers to “black wannabes” in Japan, some of which is tied to hip-hop

-Somewhat derogatory

Bura – derived from burakumin, a historically outcast and ostracized Japanese class

+burakumin can be said to be similar to the untouchable class in Indian caste system

Pan – derived from panpan, a slang term for Japanese prostitutes used by American soldiers post-WWII

+panpan is derived from the word for bread pan and Pan American Airways

+American soldiers would often call prostitutes “bread girls” because of this

Yagipan were more attractive prostitutes who served white customers, burapan were less attractive ones who serviced black customers, hence the association

+yagi is the word for goat aka “a white animal”


-Ranges from typical hip-hop fashion to hairstyles to full-on blackface

-Black culture seen as “cool” or “rebellious” in Japan

-Japan is ethnically homogenous, most Japanese lack any cultural context for black culture in the west

-Burapan and blackfacing are seen as somewhat extreme nowadays and have dwindled


Recommended Artists


Yurika: Pop-Rap/Party Rap

-First album Adiantum is on spotify and it is GOOD, covers pretty much every genre a pop rapper can cover

-Album available on Spotify, some singles on iTunes

Yurika – Dig it the Vintage feat. ZEN-LA-ROCK



Rhymester: Old School

-Formed in 1989 by MCs Mummy-D and Utamara and DJ Jin, didn’t make their major label debut until 2001

-Song is a good example of groups in the 90s referring back to the street style of the 80s to appear more legit

-All the old-school stuff on Spotify, newer stuff on iTunes

Rhymester – B-BOYism



M-flo: Pop Rap Pioneers

-One of the most influential pop rap groups of all time in Japan

-Members are producer Taku Takahashi, MC Verbal and vocalist LISA (Elizabeth Sakura Narita)

-Notable because they can all speak fluent English and use it a lot in their music, very well

-Akin to something like the Fugees in Japan

-Broke up in 2008 and didn’t fully reunite until this year with a new album that sounds great

-Pretty much everything on Spotify/iTunes

m-flo – Been So Long



Shing02: Multilingual OG

-One of the few multilingual rappers from Japan, is a Japanese-American partially raised in western cities and was a frequent collaborator with Nujabes when he was alive

-Known for addressing issues such as Japanese ethnicity, sexual exploitation and problems with the education system

-A few singles on Spotify, more on iTunes

Shing02 – i miss you remix



Loota: Rising Star

-Is a contemporary of KOHH and Korean rapper Keith Ape, is an up and coming rapper in the newest generation of Japanese MCs experimenting more with a modern western hip-hop sound

-Recommended by Frank Ocean

-Only his features on Spotify, full debut album on iTunes

Loota – Kirikirimai feat. 5lack



Evisbeats: MC and Producer

-A Nara-born producer who also goes by the name ADIDA when MCing, his style is definitely a result of Nujabes’ influence with a chill downtempo sound that often samples jazz, light music and Japanese folk music

-A few remixes and collabos on Spotify, albums on iTunes

Evisbeats – Yureru feat. Dengaryu



Wednesday Campanella: Rap-Rave/Avant Garde

-A group who is a heavy proponent of rap-rave and electronic music, consists of the female front KOM_I and producers Hidefumi Kenmochi and Dir. F

-Have performed at SXSW and hold a significant western following

-Also goes by their original Japanese name Suiyoubi no Campanella

-Pretty much everything available @ any of the big digital music storefronts, they’re p popular over here

Wednesday Campanella – Chupacabra



KOHH: Trap/Drill

-Probably the MC with the most international success in his future on this list

-Raps and produces in a style entirely reminiscent of modern American trap and drill, and is often associated with western artists like Feddy Wap and Frank Ocean

-All albums and mixtapes on Spotify/iTunes

KOHH – Dirt Boys feat. Dutch Montana & Loota



Lyrical School: Idol Rap

-Probably the best example of an idol hip-hop unit, does a really good job blending idol music and hip-hop stylistically

-Originally formed in 2010 under the name Tengal6, was changed to Lyrical School in 2012

-Current members are minan (leader), hime, hinako, risano and yuu

-7 former members, somewhat regular rotation with no original members from Tengal6 days left

-Might recognize them from appearing on a bonus track from tofubeats’ first album

-2016 album Guidebook and associated singles on Spotify, few more EPs and stuff on iTunes

Lyrical School – Natsuyasumi no BABY (Summer Vacation Baby)



Izumi Makura: Chill and Introspective

-A female singer and rapper with a chill and introspective style who is a stylistic compatriot of DAOKO

-She has a pretty large catalogue despite being firmly on the fringes of mainstream hip-hop, and her music has also appeared prominently in Space Dandy

-Emblematic of new wave of female rappers “whisper-rapping” and starting to separate the art of rapping from hip-hop exclusively

-Most if not all albums on Spotify, iTunes

Izumi Makura – Pillow



Ken the 390: Rapper, Singer, Seiyuu

-Founded Da.Me. Records which is a pivotal record company in Hip-Hop’s later rise in Japan

-Has sound that blends the best of eastern and western hip-hop and R&B into something new, nostalgic and funky as hell

-Really accessible for western listeners, a great first recommendation

-Most newer stuff from 2010s on Spotify, a lot of older stuff on iTunes including some Da.Me. Records samplers if you wanna check those out

Ken the 390 – H.I.P. feat. Mummy-D and Tiara



Simi Lab: Mixed-Race Collective

-An 8-member MC and production collective who’ve made waves in the 2000s for their raw style and effortless presentation

-They’re notable for being composed almost entirely of mixed-race members, each with deep ties to black culture in the states and beyond

-Both albums on Spotify, only the 1st one on iTunes

Simi Lab – Uncommon



Catarrh: Japanese Grime

-One of the hottest MCs in Japan’s brand-new and burgeoning grime scene, is known as one of the quickest and most brutal battle rappers active right now (as you’ll hear in the clip)

-Has performed shows in the UK with several other Japanese MCs to surprisingly rave reviews

-Nothing out there on western internet yet, Grime is still very underground in Japan, lot of freestyles and whatnot on YouTube

Cattarh – Freestyle



The Otogibanashi’s: DIY Production Collective

-Another of Japan’s large production and fashion collectives, have as much ties to the DIY and underground hip-hop scene in Japan as they do street fashion

-Their videos range from small-scale self-produced affairs to large, extravagant and psychedelic productions

-Albums Business Class and Toy Box on Spotify/iTunes

The Otogibanashi’s – Fountain Mountain



Chelmico: Up and Coming Duo

-A new female rap duo formed in 2014

-Members are MC Mamiko and MC Rachel

-Not mech else about them out there for me to find online, their music kind of speaks for them wholly

-Have worked with several notable producers in the Japanese underground electronic scene, particularly Mikeneko Homeless

-Probably my favorite new hip-hop act right now

-All their stuff is on Spotify/iTunes, they’re fairly new still so their catalogue isn’t huge

Chelmico – Timeless



Coppu: Thoughtful Indie Hip-Hop

-Part of a new recent wave of stylish and highly independent female rappers in Japan, her sound is emblematic of modern Japanese hip-hop and heavily incorporates jazz and samba into her beats

-She’s also a mom!

-Nothing on Spotify, a few albums and Eps on iTunes

Coppu – Shiki



King Giddra: Politically Charged

-An old and well-known group of 3 MCs who all put time in in the United States, and rap about distinctly Japanese cultural and political issues in a manner similar to western groups like Public Enemy

-They were active in the mid-90s before breaking up and reuniting for one last album in the early 2000s

-Nothing on Spotify/iTunes, there’s some stuff on YouTube

King Giddra – 9-11



C.O.S.A.: Collaborative Genius

-Born in the rural town of Chiryu and was exposed to hip-hop culture through Japan’s burgeoning lowrider scene in the 1990s

-Is often considered a member of the “next generation” of hip-hop in Japan, and associated with acts like Campanella and Kid Fresino

-Nothing on Spotify/iTunes, he has a few tracks on YouTube

COSA – Love feat. Kid Fresino



KandyTown: Massive Production/Fashion Collective

-Kandytown bucks current trends by making hip-hop that sounds much more like the style of the 90s in Japan

-They’re a 15-member unit that covers every aspect of what a crew would need from MCs, DJs, producers, directors, fashion designers and engineers

-Have members that rap in Japanese and English

-Only 1 single on Spotify, only 2 on iTunes. Way more on YouTube

KandyTown – Get Light



Teriyaki Boyz: Rap Superstars

-Kind of a rap supergroup in Japan, consists of Ilmari and Ryo-Z from Rip Slyme, Verbal from m-flo, solo rapper Nigo and Nigo, their DJ and founder of the immensely popular clothing brand A Bathing Ape

-Said earlier that Nujabes brought distinctly Japanese hip-hop to a western audience in an unprecedented way, Teriyaki Boyz are probably the most commercially successful and recognizable Japanese hip-hop group in the west

-First album Beef or Chicken has an absolutely apocalyptic list of producers: Adrock of the Beastie Boys, Cornelius, Cut Chemist, Daft Punk, Dan the Automator, DJ Premier, DJ Shadow, Just Blaze, Jermaine Dupri, Mark Ronson and The Neptunes

-Have also done collabos with Kanye West, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, Busta Rhymes and Big Sean

-Truly an insane story that a bunch of dudes rapping in almost exclusively Japanese were able to be seen by such insane western producers and MCs

-Had 2 songs in Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift which is how most people know them

-Basically nothing on Spotify or iTunes, some stuff on YouTube which is insane considering how many westerners worked on their two albums

Teriyaki Boyz – Kamikaze 108 (prod. By DJ Shadow)



Thanks for listening and following along! We’re curating a Japanese hip-hop playlist on Spotify featuring artists that appear in this podcast and much more, check it out by CLICKING HERE!

Also, if you have any questions regarding this episode please email us at [email protected] We’d love to answer them!

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