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December 13, 2018 | Tokyo, Japan | by ATTANGO

The powerful nations of hip-hop culture have their history, and Japan is no exception. In the 90s, several artists significantly contributed to consolidating the nascent Japanese rap scene by drawing inspiration from American rap and incorporating elements of Japanese musical culture. Names like Scha Dara Parr, King Giddra, Buddha Brand, Rhymester, and other rappers perfected the original Japanese hip-hop sound, adding traditional rhythms and instruments such as the shamisen, koto, and taiko. They demonstrated remarkable creativity and technical prowess that left their mark on the underground scene of the time. Moreover, many essential tracks propelled to the top of Japanese charts and still resonate today. That’s why I delved into my classics to compile a comprehensive list that represents this period more in-depth. After examining the results, a selection of 12 records stands out. Here is the list.

SCHA DARA PARR, Towering Nonsense 1991

SCHA DARA PARR | Towering Nonsense – 1991

The two MCs (Ani and Bose) and DJ Shinco form the group SCHA DARA PARR. They emerged in the late 80s when Japanese rap began establishing a presence in underground music scenes. This style was still highly unknown to the public. With the release of the album “Towering Nonsense” in 1991, an actual hip-hop scene was born, and Scha Dara Parr was propelled onto the Japanese market. The track “Game Boy” was used in several Japanese advertisements and a version of the Zelda video game. Although their musical approach resembles that of Run DMC, their content is more in line with the performances of the Beastie Boys. Their wacky and offbeat production offers carefree entertainment. Scha Dara Parr gained more recognition and attention from the Japanese public with the songs “Konya Wa Boggi Back” and “Summer Jam 95”, which were featured on their 5th album, “5th Wheel 2 the Coach,” released in 1995.

EAST END × YURI denim-ed souL EP - 1994

EAST END × YURI | denim-ed soul EP – 1994

In 1994, Japanese rap was far from being popular a music genre as it is today. However, despite this situation, a group of artists called EAST END × YURI (pronounced EAST END “plus” Yuri) managed to reach the general public with their single “DA-YO-NE”. In reality, Yuri Ichii was the only woman in the group invited by the other members, Gaku, Yoggy, and Rock-Tee, who had been friends since high school. The following year, in 1995, “DA-YO-NE” was included in the EP “denim-ed soul” and broke the million sales record, becoming the first album in the history of Japanese rap to achieve this level of success. Initially, there was some reluctance to include YURI in the lineup. Indeed, she came from Tokyo Performance Doll, a J-pop group composed exclusively of Japanese female “idols,” and EAST END × YURI members wondered if she was capable of rapping.

However, the colossal success of “DA-YO-NE” was the answer to all questions. Yuri proved a significant asset to the group and quickly became indispensable. It is fascinating to see how the introduction of YURI into the group broke down barriers between musical genres and allowed Japanese rap to reach a wider audience. The success of “DA-YO-NE” paved the way for a new generation of Japanese rappers inspired by the story of EAST END × YURI and exploring more urban and modern sounds. Nowadays, Japanese rap has become a popular music genre worldwide, thanks partly to groups like EAST END × YURI, who dared to take risks and experiment with new things.

DJ KRUSH Strictly Turntablized - 1994

DJ KRUSH | Strictly Turntablized – 1994

Before releasing his album “Strictly Turntablized,” DJ Krush was part of the Krush Posse collective that laid the foundations of Japanese rap alongside Muro and D.J. Go. Their first recording, titled “K.P.,” appeared with the release of the film Yellow Rapculture In Your House in 1990. They innovated by incorporating the American rap style into Japan while adding funky elements. The result created a real buzz among the public, and two other releases in collaboration with Monday Michiru, “Chain Gang” and “Wagamama,” achieved the same success. However, the group disbanded before the release of a full album.

In 1994, DJ Krush released two recordings that laid the foundations of modern instrumental hip-hop. “Strictly Turntablized” is the more rhythmic of the two albums and is entirely instrumental, with no rappers or singers. Only Krush and his turntables are featured. This album is a true manifesto of instrumental boom bap that runs through all the tracks. A year later, “Strictly Turntablized” was distributed internationally, marking an essential step in developing Japanese instrumental hip-hop.

RHYMESTER Egotopia -1995

RHYMESTER | Egotopia – 1995

Rhymester was part of that generation of artists searching for a rebellious aesthetic. Some joined the punk rock scene, while others felt more comfortable in the newly-born hip-hop genre. Formed in 1989 by Mummy-D and Utamaru, Rhymester released their first album in 1993, which unfortunately didn’t sell well. But the group didn’t give up and expanded a year later with the arrival of DJ Jin. In 1995, they released their album “EGOTOPIA,” considered the best Rhymester album.

Inspired by various American rap groups, particularly the style of A Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep, Jeru the Damaja, and The Roots, Rhymester merged these styles with the wild energy of Tokyo’s youth. This combination gave birth to a unique sound in Japanese rap. In 1995, this album was revolutionary in sampling and dynamic beats. Even though most listeners don’t understand the lyrics, the rhyme combined with a laid-back style makes this classic unique.

Regardless of comparison, this album was a true breakthrough and is recommended to anyone curious about the potential of Japanese rap. So if you’re looking for a sound that breaks from the norm and a unique fusion of musical styles, “EGOTOPIA” is the album for you.

MICROPHONE PAGER Don't Turn Off Your Light - 1995

MICROPHONE PAGER | Don’t Turn Off Your Light – 1995

It’s hard to talk about Japanese rap classics without mentioning the legendary duo MICROPHONE PAGER. Formed in 1992 by Muro, PHFron Masao, DJ Go, and Twigy laid the foundation for Japanese hardcore hip-hop. Over time, the group was reduced to two members: Muro and Twiggy. In 1995, they released the album “Don’t Turn Off Your Life,” considered a masterpiece of Japanese rap.

This album contains legendary tracks such as “Rapperz Are Danger” and “Yamu Machi” (病む街), whose sample was worked on by beatmaker Maki The Magic. He drew inspiration from the main melody of Shamek Farrah’s “First Impressions.” Produced by American producer Stretch Armstrong, “Don’t Turn Off Your Life” remains unique and continues to be famous despite its age. In summary, MICROPHONE PAGER has left an indelible mark on the Japanese rap scene with its unique sound and artistic creativity. Their album “Don’t Turn Off Your Life” is a true masterpiece of Japanese rap and helped popularize the genre in the country.

KING GIDDRA Sora kara no chikara - 1995

KING GIDDRA | Sora kara no chikara – 1995

King Giddra is a legendary group in the history of Japanese hip-hop, composed of K DUB SHINE, Zeebra, and DJ Oasis. The group members are considered pioneers of the genre in Japan, and they began their careers in 1993. Zeebra and K Dub Shine, who had lived in the United States, realized hip-hop was necessary for Japanese society. They were convinced that hip-hop culture could help solve social problems, such as unemployment among college graduates, advertising overload in the media, and issues related to sex and violence.

King Giddra thus focused on important political and social issues in their first album titled “Sora Kara No Chikara.” Some specialized media considered this album one of the most influential albums in developing the Japanese rap style. The group drew inspiration from Public Enemy, an American rap group known for its socially conscious lyrics. In this album, the music samples and the beats are pure American, but the lyrics are rapped in Japanese. King Giddra created music that entertained and raised public awareness of Japan’s social problems. Their contribution to the Japanese hip-hop industry is invaluable, and their music has inspired many artists who have followed in their footsteps.

LAMP EYE - Shougen (証言 )  - 1995

LAMP EYE | Shougen (証言 ) – 1995

“Shougen” is indeed an iconic title in the Japanese rap scene of the 90s and marked a turning point in the evolution of the genre in the country. The collaboration between Lamp Eye and other artists resulted in a memorable and influential song that inspired many artists in the following decades.

The success of “Shougen” is also due to the quality of its lyrics, which address essential themes such as life in urban ghettos, discrimination, violence, and social injustice. The rappers used their voices to express their views on these subjects and reached a broad and diverse audience with their unique style and poignant message. In summary, “Shougen” is an essential classic of Japanese rap and deserves its place in the country’s history of this musical genre. It is a song that continues to inspire many artists today and remains an example of the impact and importance of music in conveying important social and political messages.

BUBBHA BRAND Ningen Hatsudenjo - 1996

BUDDHA BRAND | Ningen Hatsudenjo – 1996

“Nigen Hatsudensho” is a title that has become a reference in the classics of Japanese music. This amazing group, Buddha Brand, comprised three talented MCs: Dev Large (who unfortunately passed away in May 2015), Nipps, and CQ, as well as the beatmaker DJ Masterkey. Their story began in 1988 in New York, where they met for the first time, and their musical collaboration began two years later.

After returning to Japan in 1995, the group released the EP “Nigen Hatsudensho,” a true masterpiece of bilingual English/Japanese lyrics filled with creative, hardcore, and playful punchlines. Their influences are multiple and varied, but they remain anchored in New York rap.

The success of the EP was immediate, and it quickly became a reference for Japanese hip-hop fans. The impactful lyrics, impeccable production, and unique flows allowed the group to stand out in the Japanese music scene. Their impact on Japanese hip-hop culture is undeniable, and their music has inspired many artists who followed. In short, “Nigen Hatsudensho” is a timeless work that has transcended borders and linguistic barriers to become a hip-hop classic. Fans will forever remember the Buddha Brand group of Japanese and international music.

SOULSCREAM, The Deep - 1996

SOUL SCREAM | The Deep – 1996

“Soul Scream, composed of Hab I Scream, Dj Celory, ALG, Shiki, and E.G.G Man, was formed in 1994 and debuted with the album “The Deep” in July 1996. Their Japanese urban music inaugurated a new style, calm and poised, imbued with nature, which continues to resonate on the underground scene for many years. Indeed, “The Deep” by Soul Scream is considered one of Japanese rap’s most relaxing and soothing records. Soul Scream thus became another representation of Japanese hip-hop in the mid-90s, which is why this album is considered a true monument in the genre.

Three years later, “Positive Gravity” strengthened the group’s notoriety thanks to “Hachi to chō” (蜂と蝶), an explosive track that was listened to far beyond Japanese borders. In summary, Soul Scream left a mark on the Japanese music scene with its unique style, imbued with calm and nature, and has established itself as one of the references in Japanese hip-hop thanks to tracks like “Hachi to chō.”

BY PHAR THE DOPEST Lastrum - 1998

BY PHAR THE DOPEST | Lastrum – 1998

The story of “By Phar the Dopest” is one of a friendship that has endured since childhood. Kreva and Cuezero, two young rappers from Edokagawa-ku, stood out with their natural flow and brilliant lyrics, quickly becoming a reference in Japanese hip-hop culture.

Their ascent began in 1997 with the release of their first single, “Trump Card,” which immediately captivated fans. The following year, they released their flagship album, “Lastrum,” which quickly made waves in the Japanese music scene. Kreva and Cuezero showed their love for boom-bap beats in this album, which perfectly complemented their unique rap style.

Over the years, the duo continued to produce critically acclaimed albums and singles, expanding their fan base beyond the borders of Japan. Their influence on Japanese hip-hop culture is undeniable, inspiring generations of rappers and producers. The story of “By Phar the Dopest” is one of exceptional talent and friendship that established itself in the music scene thanks to their passion and determination.

ZEEBRA The Rhyme Animal - 1998

ZEEBRA | The Rhyme Animal – 1998

Zeebra is an artist who expresses himself passionately in his rap lyrics, addressing social and economic issues affecting Japanese youth. He has also shown great interest in American hip-hop culture, evident in his first solo album, The Rhyme Animal. The title is a tribute to Chuck D of Public Enemy, one of his primary sources of inspiration.

The Rhyme Animal is a must-have album in Zeebra’s discography. The impeccable production (done by Zeebra himself) transcends language barriers. It offers sounds such as “Mirai e No Kagi” (未来への鍵), “I’m still N1”, “Tokyo No Chuo” (東京の中央), “Party Checka,” and the hardcore sound of “Original Rhyme Animal” that hit every time. The only downside was the lack of an audience for Japanese hip-hop at its release in 1998.

Zeebra is a talented artist who has successfully brought hip-hop to Japan and inspired many artists in the country. The Rhyme Animal is an album that deserves to be discovered by all rap enthusiasts due to its musical quality and relevant social message.

m-flo Planet Shining - 2000

m-flo | Planet Shining – 2000

m-flo, composed of Mc Verbal, Dj Taku Takahashi, and Lisa, was discovered in July 1999, following the release of their first opus, The Tripod EP, which included a double single with a new song titled “Flo Jack” as well as a reissue of their track “Been So Long.” Afterward, the group released six other singles that had moderate success.

In 2000, m-flo released Planet Shining, an immensely successful album in Asia, reaching the sixth place on the Japanese charts. The album is incredibly catchy, with hooks that easily stay in your head, such as the chorus of the song “Been So Long.” Planet Shining skillfully blends different genre influences to create cohesive sets. Although this album may not necessarily satisfy hip-hop purists, the vocal combination between Lisa, Verbal, and Taku is indeed highlighted on most tracks, creating a sonic result that is creative, infectious, and hard to resist.

NITRO MICROPHONE UNDERGROUND Nitro Microphone Underground - 2000

NITRO MICROPHONE UNDERGROUND | Nitro Microphone Underground – 2000

Nitro Microphone Underground is considered the Japanese answer to the American Wu-Tang Clan, with one of the most distinctive concepts in the Japanese rap scene. Each of the eight members, namely Gore-Tex, Deli, Bigzam, XBS, Suiken, Dabo, Macka-Chin, and S-Word, brings their unique rhythm and style of rhymes.

In 1999, their first EP, “Nitro Works,” was well-received by critics and the public. A year later, they released their first album, “Nitro Microphone Underground,” which was a huge success, selling thousands of copies. Their aggressive and hardcore style with innovative rap has captivated fans of the genre.

Each member has also released solo albums, further strengthening their popularity in traditional Japanese rap. Their live performances have been praised for their energy and stage presence. Nitro Microphone Underground is an example of the significant impact that Japanese artists have had on the global hip-hop scene. Their contribution to the music culture is undeniable, with unique sounds and inspiring lyrics that have influenced a new generation of rappers.


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