September 10, 2023 | Tokyo, Japan | Team RJHH
In 2023, the Japanese rap scene continues its meteoric rise, nurturing an artistic fervor that entices well beyond its borders. For you, the editorial team has embarked on the ambitious adventure of compiling a list of artists reshaping the country’s musical landscape, offering fans of Japanese hip-hop a glimpse of the talents deserving of your attention this year. At the heart of this vibrant movement, artists with unparalleled styles emerge, combining authenticity and modernity in their creations. From Awich to DJ Tatsuki, including emerging talents such as Lana, ¥ellow Bucks, and Watson, we unveil a mosaic of artists reflecting the renewal of Japanese rap.
Through this first selection, prepare to dive into the fascinating and diverse universe of these artists who represent the cream of the crop of Japanese hip-hop and showcase modern Japanese rap. Each article is an invitation to discover rising figures defining the contours of the future of this constantly evolving scene. Stay tuned, as the 2023 selection from our experts is your passport to the best of current Japanese hip-hop. We are thrilled to accompany you on this musical journey where each production each rhyme is a revelation of the raw talent that defines today’s Japanese hip-hop.
In just a few years, Awich has established herself as the embodiment of the resurgence of hip-hop in Japan. Since the resounding release of her album “8” in 2017, the rapper has been tirelessly building a career as brilliant as it is atypical, brick by brick. From the creative depths of “Kajuku” to the revolutionary “Partition“, and through the impressive “Queendom“, Awich has proven that she is much more than an artist: a true force of nature. Recognized nationally and internationally, she has climbed the ladder of success with unwavering determination. This perseverance and artistic boldness allowed her to join the major label Universal Music, marking a new milestone in her already prolific career.
See also: Awich biography
In 2023, the rapper pushed the boundaries of collaboration by launching the “UNITED QUEENS” project. This avant-garde initiative brings together the most influential female voices in current Japanese hip-hop, including confirmed talents such as NENE, Lana, MaRI, MFS, CYBER RUI, and AI. Within this influential collective, the “Bad B*tch Aesthetics” remix was born, capturing the audience’s attention from the first notes. A rare artistic synergy that demonstrates that unity undeniably strengthens. In an environment often dominated by male figures, “UNITED QUEENS” resonates as a powerful anthem for female emancipation and solidarity, placing Japanese rappers at the forefront of hip-hop.
But Awich does not stop there. Among the dazzling collaborations of this project, we find the track “ALI BABA feat. MFS“. A gem that accumulated thousands of views on YouTube, reflecting the perfect harmony of the assembled talents that set the hearts of genre fans ablaze. Sharing stages with artists like NENE and MaRI reveals artistic complicity and complementarity that promise beautiful future creations. While resounding successes already mark Awich’s career, the rapper seems to be at the beginning of her ascent. With an inexhaustible thirst for creating and innovating, she is committed to continuing to surprise her fans in the years to come.
Looking towards the future, Awich carries the aspirations of an entire generation of female artists ready to break the glass ceilings. Between raw talent and sharp artistic vision, she is more than ever the figurehead of a booming Japanese hip-hop culture, ready to conquer the world with each rhyme, each verse, each note. And one thing is sure: Awich is just getting started, and the hip-hop world hasn’t heard the last of her.
In the vibrant streets of Motomachi, in Yokohama, a young talent carrying music in his genes forged his path in the Japanese hip-hop landscape. He came from a family of musicians – with a mother who is an R&B and rock singer, also venturing into creating techno tracks, and a DJ father proficient in a multitude of instruments, including drums and guitar – Leon Fanourakis was destined to leave an indelible mark on the music industry.
At age 10, under a friend’s influence, he discovered the world of hip-hop, immersing himself in the rhythms and lyrics of American artists of the genre like JAY-Z or Kanye West. This was only the beginning of a journey that would see him carve out a space in the hearts and minds of hip-hop enthusiasts all over Japan. His determination and raw talent made him appear noteworthy at the High School RAP Championship 2016, a platform that saw him conquer the stage and win the title. But Leon did not stop there. His star continued to shine as he won season 2 of “Rap Star Birth“. It was a harbinger of the great artist he was becoming.
2018 marked a significant turning point in his career, a moment of rebirth where he officially joined the 1% (One Percent) collective and adopted his current stage name: Leon Fanourakis. This step symbolized his growth as an artist and the assertion of his unique identity in the music industry. The track “BOUNCE“, in collaboration with SANTAWORLDVIEW, released in 2019, cemented his status as a significant force in the Japanese rap world, gathering over 5 million views on YouTube. This success was not a flash in the pan but the beginning of an exponential career that would see the release of five albums between 2018 and 2022, each reinforcing his position as a leading rapper of his generation.
Leon Fanourakis is not content to rest on his laurels. He continues to make waves, collaborating with renowned names such as JP THE WAVY, T-Pablow, LEX, and others, bringing his unique touch to an increasing number of musical productions. This young rapper, who has energized the new generation of Japanese rappers, is undoubtedly an artist to watch closely this year. With a rich musical legacy for Japanese rap, the future exploits of Leon Fanourakis are highly anticipated. The young prodigy from Yokohama is here to stay, and his future looks as bright as his dynamic personality.
Within a year, the Japanese music scene has witnessed the rise of a new hip-hop and R&B star: LANA. Her meteoric ascent results from authenticity, talent, and the unwavering support of iconic figures from the J-rap scene. Originally from Shonan, located in the Kanagawa prefecture, LANA is not a stranger to the Japanese rap universe. She’s the younger sister of LEX, another big J-rap star who made his mark on his generation with various projects. Because of this family connection, some might think her path was predestined, but the young artist has repeatedly shown she deserves her spotlight through her strength and unique talent.
July 2023 was a pivotal month for LANA, with the release of her debut EP titled “19“. This collection of tracks showcases a complete artist capable of seamlessly transitioning between hip-hop and R&B. The support from numerous Japanese hip-hop artists, who quickly recognized her talent, only heightened the buzz surrounding this newcomer. However, it was with the track “TURN IT UP“, produced by the incomparable Zot on The Wave, that LANA truly made an impression. This song, which amassed no less than 15 million streams on Spotify and iTunes Music, quickly became an anthem for many fans. It catapulted LANA to the forefront, making her an indispensable name throughout Japan.
If you haven’t heard of Watson, the rapper from Komatsushima, Tokushima Prefecture, it’s time to catch up. Pronounced “Watoson“, this young Japanese rapper epitomizes the new generation of artists ready to do whatever it takes to leave their mark on the music world. In less time than it takes to say “NEW REAL“, Watson burst onto the music scene last year. His breakthrough came with the track “NEW REAL feat. Young Zetton“, which racked up over 2 million views on YouTube in record time. Watson is the artist to watch if you have a soft spot for the UK Drill style. He is now synonymous with this music genre, seamlessly blended with Japanese rap culture.
What sets Watson apart, besides his origin, is his unique flow. After completing high school, like many his age, he dreamed of a comfortable and prosperous life. His quest for success led him to Osaka, where he lived the life of a dealer. However, despite various jobs, Watson’s yearning for more drove him to quit his job to pursue an unexpected passion. While pop music was his first love, a karaoke night shifted his trajectory. When a friend sang a song by AK-69, a spark ignited within him. From BAD HOP to Kohh, his fascination with hip-hop grew, and he began practicing freestyle in his hometown of Tokushima. In 2021, this passion materialized in the form of his debut album “Thin Gold Chain“, anchored by the signature track “18k“. The public response was resounding.
Watson didn’t stop there. He collaborates with emerging talents such as Ralph, JUMADIBA, AZU, MC TYSON, Candee, and Lunv Loyal. But perhaps what’s most impressive is his ability to collaborate with Japanese rap icons like SEEDA. Not to mention one of his standout tracks, “MJ Freestyle“. With this track, Watson took everyone by surprise. Using a Michael Jackson sample, Watson masterfully fused the hip-hop world with the nostalgic echoes of 80s and 90s pop. The genius of this track not only captivated his Japanese fans but catapulted Watson onto the international stage. The audacity to incorporate a global icon like Michael Jackson demonstrated how far Watson is willing to push the boundaries of creativity.
Regarding contemporary Japanese rap, it’s impossible not to mention the name of Wataru Sakaguchi, better known by his pseudonym, ¥ellow Bucks. This young prodigy from Takayama quickly carved a path to the top of the Japanese hip-hop scene, and here’s why.
¥ellow Bucks’ interest in rap isn’t recent. Indeed, as early as his middle school years, he was captivated by this art and began to write his lyrics. At the age of 15, he made his debut as a rapper. His innate talent quickly led him to stand out, and by his high school years, he began to participate in various hip-hop events. These early experiences laid a solid foundation for a thriving career in Japanese rap. He has become a mainstay on the list of artists to watch closely this year. His breakthrough to a broader audience came with his impressive performance during season 3 of Abema TV’s “A Rap Star Is Born“. From that moment, his career skyrocketed.
His albums “Jungle“, “Ride 4 Life“, and the deluxe version of “Ride 4 Life” released in 2020 and 2022, respectively, attest to his undeniable talent and ability to capture the audience’s attention. Each project is packed with catchy songs and prestigious collaborations. Notable names include JP THE WAVY, Awich, AK-69, Tina, and DJ Ryow. In just a few years, ¥ellow Bucks hasn’t just won over Japanese listeners. His music resonates well beyond the archipelago’s borders, making him an emblematic figure in major hip-hop events in Japan. However, like many artists, ¥ellow Bucks’ life isn’t free from controversy. Arrested on November 17, 2021, for violation of the cannabis control law, he nonetheless displayed incredible generosity by donating 5.8 million yen to the Aichi Prefecture following his appearance at the controversial event NAMIMONOGATARI.
2023 sees ¥ellow Bucks returning with a new EP, “Survive“. Embracing the elements that garnered his initial success, this project demonstrates his ability to evolve while remaining true to his roots.
2023 marks the pinnacle of the meteoric career of DJ Tatsuki, the turntable prodigy based in Tokyo. From his early steps alongside DJ Chari, he inscribed his name in the annals of Japanese hip-hop, captivating audiences with his creative genius and flawless mastery of beats. The albums “GOLDEN SOURCE” and “THE FIRST“, released in 2020 and 2018, respectively, were only the precursors to the monumental success that awaited him. Through these collaborative projects, he not only showcased his talent but also that of the artists who accompanied him, creating an artistic symbiosis that resonated deeply in the hearts of the Japanese public.
Propelled by a growing reputation, DJ Tatsuki embarked on a solo career in 2022, inaugurating this new chapter with the bold project titled “23“. This was a natural step for someone who has always been at the forefront of musical innovation, navigating the Japanese hip-hop universe with aplomb.
His year 2022 was marked by the notable release of the tracks “TOKYO KIDS feat. IO & MonyHorse” and “TOKYO KIDS (Remix) feat. Zeebra & Hannya“. Drawing from the Japanese musical heritage, specifically by sampling “Tokyo Kid (1950)” by the legendary Hibari Misora, DJ Tatsuki created a veritable shockwave in the industry. Modernity met tradition in a perfect fusion, catapulting both versions to the top of the iTunes hip-hop charts. The tracks “TOKYO KIDS” and “TOKYO KIDS (Remix)” have been listened to over 6 million times on Spotify.
But it’s not just the turntables that know the grace of his hands; the violin is also one of his playgrounds. This is evidenced by his notable participation as a violinist during the solo concert “Stigmatization” that reverberated in the iconic Yokohama Arena. Collaborations under DJ Chari & DJ Tatsuki have also populated his journey, enriching his artistic palette and showcasing his versatility. Since his twenties, he has been a central player in the Japanese music scene, taking on the role of live DJ for ZORN, a collaboration that continues to bear fruit.
And, as if to imprint his indelible mark on the music universe, June 2023 saw the launch of his label “Chewing Gum and Dreams“. A suggestive name, promising a place where creativity knows no bounds but the imagination and where dreams take shape to the rhythm of chewed chewing gums.