Japanese female rappers are an integral part of the Japanese hip-hop landscape. Like every year, it’s important to highlight these Japanese artists shaking up the rap game. The list of Japanese female rappers is long, and more and more of them want to impose themselves in this still-too-masculine environment. We have chosen to propose 5 of them, which according to the team, have marked this year 2020: Awich, Coma-Chi, Elle Teresa, Lipstorm, and Maria. Nevertheless, we must watch the many female rappers who could explode the game in 2021. This top is just an introduction to prove that rap is not only a man’s business in Japan.
Occupied by some of Asia’s largest US military bases since 1945, Okinawa has been rocked by the different musical tendencies of the American soldiers living there. It is on this island that Akiko Arasaki alias Awich was born in 1986. Passionate about poetry from the age of 9, she naturally discovered hip-hop when she bought the album “All Eyez On Me” by rapper Tupac. Her first rap lyrics followed at the age of 14.
Later in 2006, she left her native island for a university stay in Atlanta, a prominent black-American music culture center. In this city, Awich will build her artistic DNA, but also through the support of her husband. Her husband, with whom she shared the same admiration for music and art, was tragically murdered in Atlanta. He was tragically murdered in 2009 after the birth of their daughter. Shocked and shattered, the young mother is forced to return to Japan with her daughter.
Awich, from reconstruction to consecration
After an extended rebuilding period, Awich continued to write poetry and became close to the producer of the YENTOWN collective, Chaki Zulu. Together they produced several EPs and singles. It was the 2017 album “8” that marked a turning point. With the tracks “WHORU?”, “Ashes” and “Remember,” Awich swept the charts and reached the top of the Japanese hip-hop charts. The release of his second album, notable collaborations with international artists such as Tyemek and Krawk, and further appearances with the 88rising label led to a contract with Universal Music Group.
The “Partition” EP, which comes seven months after the release of his second album “KUJAKU,” gives him even more international stature. This EP was fully supported by Universal Music, who saw her as one of the best ambassadors of the Japanese rap game. Surprised by this new status, she confided in an interview with the American magazine Flaunt :
“I didn’t think I could be introduced as Japan’s No. 1 female rapper. I couldn’t even imagine it. They embrace me and show me so much love; I appreciate it. I’m starting to understand that I’m part of this country; I can be a representative for the girls…“
Coma-Chi deserves her place in our TOP 5, as her background and career are examples that have motivated many Japanese female rappers. Most of her lyrics are about the Japanese society around her, where women are sometimes underrepresented. A discourse emphasizing the importance of women is very present in the records “JOMON GREEN,” unveiled in 2018, and “JAPANOIA,” released this year.
She heard about hip-hop at the age of 15 and was deeply influenced by the rap music of Lauryn Hill, MC Lyte, and Queen Latifah. At age 20, she started writing her first lyrics while improving her performances and listening to legendary Japanese rap groups such as Rhymester, Nitro Microphone Underground, Tha Blue Herb, and Scha Darr Parr.
In 2005, she surprised everyone by reaching the finals of BBOY PARK (one of Tokyo’s most prominent rap battle competitions) and became the first woman to reach this level by placing second. The organizers had planned the final in the central ring of the sacred sumo stadium, Ryogoku Kokugikan. They were in a difficult situation, as no one had expected a female MC to reach the final. But mainly because of the sacred sumo ring, which was forbidden to women. After lengthy discussions, Coma-Chi was allowed to enter the ring, and the final could occur.
Coma-Chi, a Japanese rapper with endless ambitions
More determined than ever to succeed in hip-hop. She began working on her first work, “Day Before Blue,” a project released in 2006. It was a phenomenal success, considered the best Japanese female rap album. This led to her signing with Knife Edge Records. Coma-chi finally decided to release her music independently after being controlled by a label that did not consider her opinions. In 2011, she launched her label QUEEN’S ROOM. Today, Coma-Chi has great artistic maturity and no longer focuses solely on hip-hop as she did initially. Her creations include jazz and soul music and music with traditional Japanese sounds.
Japanese women are kind and docile. These are some common stereotypes about Japanese women that certainly can’t be attributed to Elle Teresa. Elle Teresa is probably the most eccentric Japanese rapper on our list, unlike other women who tend to copy male rappers. Originally from Namazu City (Shizuoka Prefecture), she grew up in a family of dancers. Her father was a student at a dance school, and her mother was a manager at the same school. She regularly accompanied her parents to local dance clubs during her teenage years. Taking this activity seriously and having nothing else to do, she started going to nightclubs with her friends. Her first taste of hip-hop culture came from listening to TLC, Redman, and Methodman.
Elle Teresa and Yuskey Carter, a decisive meeting for the Japanese rapper
It was while approaching producers and rappers that she met Yuskey Carter. It was a decisive meeting, as he quickly decided to take her on as a dancer while she was still in high school. While shooting one of his video clips, the young girl effortlessly spits a text from KOHH. Surprised, Yuskey naturally asks her why she doesn’t try rap. He was even more stunned and finally decided to produce her after she had presented him with a dozen rap songs.
Elle Teresa often looks back on these turning points in her life. She confided to the YouTube channel Neet Tokyo in 2017:
“I grew up in a family of dancers, so I would find it hard to imagine doing anything else but dancing. Yuskey has given me an incredible opportunity. I was always good at writing anyway. I had a great talent for writing letters of apology for my behavior at school.“
Her debut EP, “Ignorant Tape,” from 2016, “PINK TRAP,” 2017, presents her as a simple, ordinary woman who likes to have a good time with friends. We discover her very atypical colorful style. Manga characters such as Sailors Moon or Bulma are her main influences, which she often copies in her video clips. The other projects that will be released, particularly “KAWAII BUBBLY LOVELY II PARU” last year, without forgetting those to be released in 2020, allow Elle Teresa to leave her mark on female J-RAP. Better keep an eye on her.
For the fourth artist on our list, the choice was rather difficult among the Japanese female rappers we would have liked to mention. If we had to name the most underground female rappers in the Japanese hip-hop scene, we’d talk about Tsubaki, McFrog, Lipstorm, or Charles. Lipstorm is the most accomplished artist, making the most significant Japanese female rap activities. She is one of the few artists who easily mixes Japanese and English in her lyrics. A confident woman with unwavering conviction, she constantly rocks her freestyles (#quarantinemonde, Excuse my quarantine style) on her Instagram account.
The Japanese rapper with the most street influences
Lipstorm is originally from Isahaya (Nagasaki prefecture) and quickly developed a passion for hip-hop as a teenager. Heavily influenced by Lil Kim, Fat Joe, Rakim, and other New York rappers, she began her first rap freestyle at 17. Later, under the influence of several Nagasaki DJs and friends, she moved her musical activities from her hometown to Tokyo and joined one of her best friends, Ladycat (a rapper from Shibuya).
One of her first collaborations occurred in 2013 with DJ ADDICT in the album “THA PATIENCE THE MIXTAPE.” Having this golden opportunity to be noticed by the Tokyo J-RAP scene, Lipstorm shows all her talents as a female rapper with her flamboyant lyrical game.
She was approached by Ish-One, who asked her to join the female rap group S7ICKCHICKs, consisting of Casper, AYA, a.k.a Panda, Fuziko, and the singer AYA. The group quickly became very popular in Tokyo and, between 2013 and 2018, released three albums (LIPS7ICK, G7OSS, 7ASKIS) produced by Ish-One’s label. Buoyed by the positive aura around her band, she had time to release her first in 2016, THIRST 4 CHI77.
Then, she is strongly solicited for collaborations by various Tokyo rap entities. In particular, Red Bull Music invited her to a freestyle episode of 64 Bars. A year later, she unveiled her second album, “1000”, involving several people who had supported her since her debut. Lipstorm plans to release an EP this year in December, so fans will again have a front-row seat to see the extent of her talent.
MARIA (Simi Lab)
An unstable youth caused by many moves is part of MARIA’s story—the mixed-race daughter of an American military father and a japanese mother. In 2008, she met two members of SIMI LAB in a nightclub at the Yokosuka military base. Initially, SIMI LAB was a group of four rappers (QN, OMSB, DyyPridre) who wanted a female rapper in their collective. Her first appearance was in 2011, in the video for the track “Show Off,” which allowed her to sign her first label contract.
From SIMI LAB to Maria, the independence of the Japanese rapper
Since 2017, Maria has given her career a second wind and decided to work solo on “PIECES.” A second album that still needs to receive the approval and support of her label SUMMIT. In conflict with her label, she decided to release the album anyway. This work received a lot of support and was a commercial success. Indeed, two tracks allowed her to return to the forefront of the Japanese rap scene: the video clips “Bad City~Yokohama~” and “SPASA” will reach more than 4 million views on YouTube.
This year, MARIA released her new EP “Deep Float” in September and started promoting it early. Like the single “Set Me Free,” produced by Gradis Nice, released on 24 December 2019. Unlike her previous releases, the artist focuses on a slightly more RNB style by multiplying the collaborations.
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