August 15, 2023 | Interview by ATTANGO | Team RJHH
Today, we have the privilege of speaking with A.O. the young prodigy of rap and beat-making, hailing from Ehime, Japan. He electrified the streets with his explosive debut album, “Run the Streets“, released on June 23, 2023.
Born in 1995, A.O. swiftly made his mark on the hip-hop scene, drawing inspiration from American East Coast rap legends. These icons, who have shaped his artistic vision, led him to create a unique style that blends the essence of classic hip-hop with striking contemporary energy. This fusion of influences caught the experts’ attention and earned him the top spot in the “Counter the New Wave” audition organized by ADD CREATIVE. A.O. has also graced television screens with his notable participation in the “Rapstar2021” show on Abema TV. Amidst a fierce competition featuring 2546 candidates, A.O. rose among the elite 31 selected rappers, showcasing his undeniable mastery of the art of rap and his ability to stand out in a highly competitive environment.
In this exclusive interview, we will delve into the behind-the-scenes of album creation, explore the profound influences that have shaped his unique style, and get to know the young rapper redefining hip-hop standards in his homeland and beyond.
Hello, A.O., thank you for accepting the interview for Real Japanese Hip Hop Media. Can you introduce yourself to those who may not know you yet?
What’s up? This is A.O., a.k.a the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I’m a Japanese rapper and beatmaker, born in 1995 in Ehime.
Can you tell us about your journey and how you discovered the Hip-Hop culture?
First things first, I started my music career as a lead singer of a rock band. We were huge fans of Linkin Park and enjoyed their rock and hip-hop fusion. From there, I started researching different artists and became hooked on hip-hop culture as I was introduced to some of the greatest albums like Illmatic by Nas, The Blueprint by Jay-Z, and Straight Outta Compton by NWA, and too many names. Even though these classics were released a while back, these albums were so fresh to me. That’s how I got into hip-hop.
“I learned a lot from them about how to make my original sounds and inherit their legacy”
Congratulations on releasing your debut album, “Run The Streets”. Please tell us about the inspiration behind this album and what it means to you. Your rap style is heavily influenced by 90s New York American hip-hop. What attracts you to this musical style, and how has it affected your music?
Thank you. When I was 22, I went to the States for the first time. To New York City. It was the most amazing experience that I’ve ever had. That place is always in my heart to this day. That experience gave me so much inspiration for this album. I remember everything, like people in the streets, buildings, nature, and the air. What attracts me to 90’s New York rappers is how they were so conscious and poetic. Their rap cadence and delivery were just so crazy that it inspired me to mix their styles with my original style on this album.
“The World In My Hands”, “Run The Streets” and “Fiend” are three tracks that Real Japanese Hip Hop listeners have particularly appreciated. What makes them unique to you?
I produced every beat on this album, and I’m proud of every single song, but I think those three songs successfully showed my love for this Hip-Hop culture. I read and watched many interviews about how my favorite producers made their records. DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor… I learned a lot from them about how to make my original sounds and inherit their legacy.
“Run The Streets” consists of 10 tracks. Is there a specific song that presented challenges during recording or holds a particular significance for you?
Suddenly was the one that I needed to challenge myself. My rap flow on the first version was totally different. I needed to rewrite my verses when 11 put her vocals on Suddenly’s demo cause I thought my rap wasn’t on her level. I just tried to make my rap smoother and faster than the past ones. Because of that, you’ll hear a lot of wordplay on Suddenly.
You exclusively rap in English. What led you to choose English as your language of artistic expression?
Even though English is not my native tongue, the majority of the music that I listen to is American music. Therefore, it was only natural for me to make music in English. I even felt this way when I was previously in a rock band. At first, I just wanted to make music that I could love, not go global or anything like that.
How was the collaboration process with R&B singer 11 on this album? What did she bring to your music?
The process was so smooth. First, I sent her the “Run the Streets” and “The World In My Hands” demos. Then she did her vocals and sent them to me. Those vocals just blew my mind. I remember the time and place when I first heard her vocals. I laughed to myself because I soon began to notice how amazing this album would be. I was like, “Where on earth has she been?” I was looking for the last piece to make my album perfect, and that was her. She could feel the beauty and pain in everyone and in everything. She brought a bright light to my songs and just made them beautiful.
“I love 90’s Hip-hop, but I also enjoy the current hip-hop being made.”
Rap lyrics are often said to reflect the artist’s reality and personal experiences. Is this also the case for your album “Run The Streets”? Are there tracks that are mainly connected to your own life experiences?
A.O.: Run the Streets is the song that connects to my life experiences. My mom always told me to get the money cause she wanted me to have the life she didn’t have and to avoid some unnecessary struggles. And I’ve got some soldiers that I really trust in this game, so I also dedicated this song to them.
Hip-hop is often used as a platform to address certain topics. Are there specific themes that you tackle in your album?
The message of this album is to love your life. You’ll never be happy until you love your life. People are always posting their lives on SNS, and some compare themselves to others and try to front, but it means nothing. Love what you have cause it’s the universe’s way for you. As J Cole said, “Love Yours”.
Do you have any hip-hop artists or groups that particularly inspire you? If so, how have they influenced your music?
East Coast rappers mainly influence my style, but I love rappers from the South too. In no particular order, I love Rakim, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Mobb Deep, The Lox, Dipset, DMX, Wu-Tang Clan, LL Cool L, Big Pun, Run DMC, Lil Wayne, OutKast, UGK, Pharrell, etc. They taught me about wordplay, storytelling, flow, cadence, and delivery.
What are your plans as an artist? Do you intend to continue exploring 90s hip-hop, or do you have other influences you would like to incorporate into your music?
I love 90’s Hip-hop, but I also enjoy the current hip-hop being made. While rap culture is forever evolving, hip-hop tends to stay true to its roots, which is the main reason why I love this. I’m planning on making my next project primarily trap music. I plan on showing more than one side of myself.
Thank you, A.O, for this interview. We’re excited to discover your future projects. If you could convey a message to your fans, now is the time.
Thanks always. This album wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you guys. I’m nothing without y’all. Peace.