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Critical Mass III: In the Mid

UnderMain invites you to attend Critical Mass III: In The Mid this March. In its third iteration, after being hosted in Lexington and Louisville, the conversation will now move to Northern Kentucky to be held at The Carnegie Center in Covington. The Critical Mass Series is based in a common desire to create a platform for critical thinking in the arts: including artists, art critics, and curators. CMIII: In The Mid will center on the experience of art professionals living and working outside of the major art centers for contemporary art. The panel-community discussion will also examine the role that written criticism plays in engagement of regional artists and institutions in a national and international dialogue.

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Natalia Zuluaga, Featured Panelist and second Critic-in-Residence for the Great Meadows Foundation and INhouse.

UM is partnering with The Great Meadows Foundation and INhouse and their second Critic-in-Residence, Natalia Zuluaga. During her residency she will make studio visits to a number of artists in the region as part of the foundation’s goal to help strengthen and support the critical growth of Kentucky artists.

Curated by the Matt Distel, the Exhibitions Director at The Carnegie, the focus of CMIII: In the Mid is Regionalism. His aim: to discuss questions like ‘What is Regionalism and how does it inform opportunities for artists and writers?’ ‘What are the practical concerns for artists that are working outside of major arts centers?’ And ‘What role does art criticism (and critical dialogue in general play) in the careers of “regional” artists?

This event will bring forth ideas and topics relevant to anyone who values cultural critique with a focus on practical outcomes. The format promises interaction and discussion punctuated with artist presentations, accompanied by light bites and brunch cocktails.

The goal of the event, as put by UnderMain President, Christine Huskisson, is to promote more meaningful and productive connections between people in the arts whether that be artists, curators, critics, or collectors. ‘My hope is that the Critical Mass Series, now in its third year, could become a space where we can discuss critical topics relevant to our growth as artists and develop a collective voice strong enough to be heard on the larger stage of the contemporary art world.’

Matt Distel believes the time is critical, ‘With any event of this nature we are really hoping to increase the level and, frankly, quantity of critical discourse around the arts. It’s such a vital component to the overall health of an arts community to receive and engage in dialogue around art projects and exhibitions. As mainstream news outlets drift further away from that sort of coverage, it feels like a really crucial time for the artists, writers, curators, collectors, galleries and administrators to ask what we want from the art critical conversation in this region.’

CMIII: In The Mid will take place on Saturday, March 16th at The Carnegie in Covington and will run from 10:30 AM – 2:00 PM. We hope you will join us the night before on March 15th for gallery opening of Open Source, featuring artist Sky Cubacub.

Make a reservation for free attendance at reservations@under-main.com. The Carnegie is located at: 1028 Scott Blvd Covington, KY 41011. You can reach them at their phone number:  859-491-2030.

Meet Some Featured Artists:

Sky Cubacub is featured at The Carnegie’s Gallery opening March 15th. Cubacub first dreamed of Rebirth Garments in high school when they didn’t have access to buy a binder. Rebirth Garment’s mission is to create gender non-conforming wearables and accessories for people on the full spectrum of gender, size and ability.

“I am especially interested in Rebirth Garments being accessible to queercrip youth and I’m working on creating a program for making free/reduced priced garments for people in need… In my practice, the intensive handwork makes the process the most important part and gives me inspiration. For me, everyday is a performance where I bring my body as a kinetic sculpture into the consciousness if the people I interact with in passing and on a daily basis. I embody the spirit of Radical Visibility, and Rebirth Garments is my soft armor.”

http://rebirthgarments.com/#customclothes

Lindsey Whittle received a BFA, in painting, from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2007. She pursued a master’s degree in fashion at the Scholastic’s of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2012 – 2014, studying under “Soundsuit Artist” Nick Cave, all while maintaining her position as the Master Crafter at Kiki Magazine from 2012-2015. Presently, she co-instigates and co-coordinate unique art experiences at PIQUE art gallery and bed and breakfast.

“I am a fashion/performance artist that makes colorful transformable objects as as starting point to collaboration with others. A single piece of my work often has many applications and the work functions best when those applications are in flux. It can function as an installation, on the wall, as a sculpture or on a body etc. There are elements of exploration, change, transformation, interactivity and possibility in everything I do.”

http://www.sparklezilla.com/lindsey-m-whittle

Social Circle Site specific installation at The University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash. Found objects, enamel paint, screen print. David Wischer, 2018

David Wischer  was born in Henderson, Kentucky. He received his B.F.A. in Graphic Design from Northern Kentucky University and his M.F.A. in Printmaking from Purdue University. He has taught courses in Printmaking, Foundations Design, and Digital Art at both Northern Kentucky University and Purdue University and is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital and Print Media at University of Kentucky. Through his use of printmaking, animation, video, and sound, David melds topical humor, nostalgia and social commentary with his work. His prints and video pieces usually function as an inside joke for a generation that grew up absorbing their worldly knowledge through television and the internet. David’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and he has been included in many private and public collections. His work is currently on view in The Carnegie’s Exhibition, ‘Open Source.’

http://davidwischer.com/

“I Am The LEAST Racist Person You Have Ever Met” – Harry Sanchez Jr,  2018

Harry Sanchez Jr. was born in El Paso, Texas in 1980. He was spent much of his life on the border with Mexico, bust he also lived in many parts of the country doing menial jobs such as working in construction and the restaurant industry, providing maintenance to a golf course and ushering at a movie theatre. His mobility allowed him to experience and understand life and this society from the perspective of people from different social classes and races. In his earliest works, he used the same tools and techniques he learned as a cake-decorator, but replaced the icing with oil paint. He squeezes oil with a pastry bag over the canvas to explore the relationship between painting, sculpture and abstraction. In his most recent work, Harry gas used installations, prints, and other media to make artistic statements from the position of a racialized minority in the United States. He uses his artwork to comment on global matters such as the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the double-identity of whistleblowers who are hailed as heroes or condemned as traitors, and to denounce the separation of families following the deportation of undocumented migrants.

http://harrysanchezjr.com

Make a free reservation for CMIII at reservations@under-main.com

About UnderMain: UnderMain is a Kentucky 501(c)(3) dedicated to arts and cultural affairs in the region. Our vision is to become a digital meeting space that empowers Kentucky creatives by presenting arts of all kinds, community issues, controversies, contests, events, people, and critical reviews. UM is serious and fun. We love playing in the digital sandbox and presenting vivid content to you, ad-free, as we offer support to some of Kentucky’s most talented writers, artists, and performers.

About the Great Meadows Foundation: The Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation, launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands. Named for the home that Al and his late wife Mary created, the mission of Great Meadows Foundation is to critically strengthen and support visual art in Kentucky by empowering our community’s artists and other visual arts professionals to research, connect, and participate more actively in the broader contemporary art world.

About The Carnegie: The Carnegie is Northern Kentucky’s largest multidisciplinary arts venue providing theatre events, educational programs and art exhibitions to the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati community. The Carnegie facility is home to The Carnegie Galleries, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, and the Eva G. Farris Education Center.  More information about The Carnegie is available at www.thecarnegie.com or by calling (859) 491-2030. The Carnegie is supported by the generosity of more than 40,000 contributors to the ArtsWave Community Campaign. The Carnegie receives ongoing operating support from the Cincinnati Wine Festival, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Kenton County Fiscal Courts, the Kentucky Arts Council and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr. / US Bank Foundation.

About the Featured Critic: Between 2007 and 2012 Natalia Zuluaga was the manager of foundation programs at CIFO (Cisneros Fontanais Art Foundation) where she managed the foundation’s core programs, and from 2016 through 2018 she was Artistic Director of the ArtCenter/South Florida, where she developed exhibitions, residency programs, artist development initiatives, and adult education programs. Since 2014 she has been the co-director of [NAME] Publications, a non-profit press and cultural office, and most recently she launched and is the co-editor of the bilingual online journal Dispatches (www.dispatchesjournal.org).

Savannah Wills is a Chellgren Fellow and senior at the University of Kentucky. Graduating with Bachelor Degrees in Art History and Arts Administration in Fall 2019, she previously coordinated Critical Mass II in 2018, and will be working with Under Main again to help coordinate Critical Mass III.  

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World OF Hip-Hop: MC MSZ

“The music can transmit the power of the word and dance can express the music that is invisible and, also, our emotions. For example, some people cannot hear, but we can show the music with dance. It’s a fusion of the good parts of the music and dance and I can express myself and my emotions.”

Misuzu Takashima is a different kind of MC, in that she doesn’t rap or write lyrics, but she is an event host and a pioneer in the Japanese B-girl scene, having paved the way for hundreds of female breakdancers all across Japan. Her title of MC still stands for Master of Ceremonies, but in Japanese, MC typically is a reference for event hosts and MC MSZ does this very thing for hip hop events all across Japan, mostly events that are centered on promoting hip-hop culture to the youth.

Originally from Kyoto, where she told me there are a lot of old-school hip-hop heads, MC MSZ is now based out of Tokyo. When we met in Shinjuku, she told me that, in Kyoto, she started dancing at 15 when there were a lot of hip-hop dancers practicing outside of the train stations. She learned about hip-hop through her mother, who would play the music at home, and became skilled at breakdancing by hanging out outside of Kyoto Station with friends. In 2006, MSZ and her crew won second place in the international Battle of the Year breakdancing competition.

She added that she is hopeful for the current teenage generation’s love of hip-hop and that the number of female breakdancers has been increasing since 2010. “I am from the third generation of breakdancing and, from there, the number has certainly increased. Also, there are people from the first and second generation, who are older than me, who are still active and still doing it.”

Even though she isn’t breaking anymore, MSZ, with the help of her apprentices, is still staying busy organizing annual events in Tokyo called “Girls Night”, to showcase female singers and artists. Their movement is growing more and more every time they do it and she said it is a different dynamic because it doesn’t feel like the artists are there because the music industry is trying to sell them, but they are there for the love of music.

MSZ also is the main MC for the first annual 2018 Youth Olympic Games, an international breakdancing competition that is designed to get youth interested in competition and to elevate their skills and their love of hip-hop culture.

Listen to my interview with MC MSZ here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

You can follow MC MSZ on Twitter and Instagram

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: MaryJane (Luna and Tsugumi)

MaryJane is a hip-hop duo from Tokyo consisting of two MCs, Luna and Tsugumi. Luna is 38 years-old and is from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward and Tsugumi is 37 years-old and hails from Sapporo in Hokkaido. The crew met in the Tokyo hip-hop scene and their sounds are deep in the soulful 90’s style R&B vibes. The name MaryJane is, without a doubt, a reference to their love of weed and Dr. Dre-style California G-Funk hip-pop. MC Luna started out singing when she was young and appeared on the Showtime at the Apollo amateur night stage in New York. She started performing hip-hop around Tokyo in 2003 and performed many shows in clubs around Australia and abroad as well. She quickly gained the alias “Club Queen.”

In 2008, Luna started her own label called LILBOOTY RECORDINGS and in 2013, she teamed up with producer and rapper, Tsugumi, who had gained notoriety through a group that she is in with her sister called SOULHEAD. In 2014, after collaborating for years on production as solo artists, together as MaryJane, they put out their first album called “Street Names”. Since then, the two have enjoyed lots of success, released a handful of solo releases, and, in 2016, they released an EP called “Two”. LILBOOTY also produces other artist’s music, such as Aoyama Thelma and MINMI, and Luna is currently working with hip-hop dancer, NAZUKI, to promote her original hip-hop-inspired fashion brand, ViiDA.

You can find their music on their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: コムアイKOM_I from 水曜日のカンパネラWednesday Campanella

Wednesday Campanella is a fresh, complex, and ever-changing project that combines a unique multi-genre blend of EDM, J-Pop, and hip-hop to make vibrant, catchy songs that have made a giant splash in Japan and abroad. Though they have shifted to the slower side of the spectrum these days, 26 year-old lead singer, KOM_I (pronounced Komu Ai), often raps on their tracks and producer Kenmochi Hidefumi’s music, especially on their earlier albums, has a strong hip-hop feel, which makes sense because he also made music under Nujabes’s Hydeout Productions.

The name of the group is a reference to the day of the week that they met for practice and the themes of their songs often discuss larger-than-life historical characters and concepts, for example, Napoleon, Aladdin, or The Wright Brothers. KOM_I performed lyrics are often kind of Dadaist, pun-heavy, and seemingly stream of consciousness observations about events or peoples and the group decided that, despite being a trio, that only KOM_I would perform and be present during live performances.

Wednesday Campanella began taking shape in 2011 when Dir.F, a label manager at Tsubasa Records, met Hidefumi at the yearly Design Festa Tokyo event and the two started working together. In 2012, at a house party, Dir.F met KOM_I, a native of Kanagawa Prefecture, and invited her to join the group, which she did, while still being a high school student. In 2012, the group sold their first demo CD at Design Festa Tokyo and, in May 2013, the group released their first mini-album, “Crawl To Sakaagari”. Later that year, in October, the group released their second mini-album, “Rashomon”, which was only sold at Tower Records in Tokyo.

Their third mini-album, “Cinema Jack”, came out in March 2014 and, eight months later, they released their fourth mini-album “Take Me To Onigashima Island”. Finally, in 2015, they released their first full-length album called “Zipangu” and gained the attention of Warner Brothers Records, who signed the group.

After playing their first American show at SXSW in 2016, Wednesday Campanella released their first mini-album, “UMA”, on Warner Brothers Records in June 2016 and then released their first major label full length, “SUPERMAN”, in 2017, which rapidly expanded their fan base in Japan and abroad.

In 2018, the group released the “Galapagos” EP and is heading off on a world tour to promote it, taking them to Hong Kong, France, Taiwan, and many other magical places. KOMI_I’s energetic, surreal, and powerful live performances are a sight to be seen, including her Wayne-Coyne-esque giant clear ball that she rolls around in, Lately, she has been modeling in Tokyo, appearing on Japanese television a lot, and is viewed as a fashion icon in Japan (and by GQ). You can get a taste of KOM_I’s erratic dance moves, funky vocals, and truly unique performances via their myriad vibrant and vivid music videos.

You can find their music at wed-camp.com and follow KOM_I on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: 泉まくらIzumi Makura

Izumi Makura is a rapper from Fukuoka Prefecture and the concept around her music is about being a normal girl who raps, is slightly sexual, but mostly lonely with a propensity for gushing tears. Her flow isn’t strong or weak, but is slightly monotone and purposefully normal and basic. Her videos are typically illustrated by artist Tomoko Oshima and she hasn’t started appearing in person in her videos until recently.

Starting in 2011, Izumi Makura put a song on Subenoana’s SNEEEZE mixtape and, in November 2012, released her first album with Subenoana, called “Sotsugyou To, Soremade No Utoutou (Graduation and, Dozing Off Until Then)”. In 2013, she released “My Room, My Stage” and, in 2014, she collaborated on a track with Yoko Kanno for the TV anime, Space Dandy. Shortly after, she gained a lot of attention after releasing an official remix of Lorde’s hit, “Royals” via Universal Japan.

In April 2014, she released her third album, “Ai Nareba Shiteiru (If it is love, I will know)” and, in September 2016, she released her fourth album, “Identity”, with all tracks being produced by fellow Subenoana label-mate, Nagaco. 2017 was a busy year for Izumi Makura with the January release of her album “Yuki to Suna (Snow and Sand)” as well as the release of a cover album called “TOKYO GIRLS LIFE”, featuring covers of songs from Fishmans and MONGOL800. Later that year, Izumi Makura released “5 Years”, a double-disc best of compilation, including a few new tracks as well as songs that she did guest spots on.

You can find her music at Subenoana’s website and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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秀吉a.k.a.自称アイドルラッパー Hidekichi a.k.a. Jishou Idol Rapper

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Hidekichi because not a lot of people know her true identity. She never shows her face and celebrates this by using the hashtag, “顔出しNG (It’s not good to show your face)”.

Even though her persona is a mystery, she is making quite an impact on the next generation of Japanese female MCs. Her lyrics often discuss pain and regret, but also the joys of being a woman, and her first album, “The Female Shou”, has been getting a lot of attention since it was released in July 2014 on the Village Again label. Since this album, she has done multiple features with other artists and put out a 4-track EP on Victor Entertainment in December 2017 called “Sugao”, which means “True Face”.

You can follow her on Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: ダヲコDAOKO

DAOKO is a 21 year-old rapper and singer from Tokyo, known for her proto-Shibuya-kei tones and ASMR-level whispery vocals that shift between singing and rapping. She got her start in 2011 when she gained fame for her cover songs that she would upload to the Japanese video sharing site, Niconico. She was inspired by the Japanese hip-hop group Nitro Microphone Underground to start writing raps. When she was only 15, these videos caught the attention of Japanese band Jinmenusagi, who helped get her signed to the label LOW HIGH WHO?.

In 2012, DAOKO released her first album, “Hypergirl”, and would go on to release two more full albums and a few EPs with LOW HIGH WHO? before getting signed to Japan’s fourth biggest record label, Toy’s Factory. Because she was so young, very little information was known publicly about her life or her real name and fans didn’t see the face behind the voice until after she graduated high school. Her face was first seen on the video for the song “ShibuyaK”.

Her first major debut album, “DAOKO”, dropped in March 2015, and she was nominated for the 2015 “Next Break Artist Award” at the MTV Video Music Awards Japan. In 2017, she released her second album on Toy’s Factory, “Thank You Blue”. DAOKO often collaborates with the members of M-Flo, Kenshi Yonezu, and TeddyLoid. She recently had her song “Owaranai Sekai de” chosen as the theme music for an upcoming Nintendo game called “Dragalia Lost” and often contributes music to multiple anime programs. She also hosts a radio show on J-Wave every Monday from 9PM to midnight called “Sonar Music”.

You can find her music on her website at Daoko.jp and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Sarah Midori Perry from Kero Kero Bonito

In England, particularly in London, there is a large Japanese ex-pat community and out of that world emerged the bilingual J-Pop-meets-Chiptune crew of Kero Kero Bonito (KKB). It’s important to know that “Kero Kero” is the onomatopoeia for a frog’s call and “Bonito” is the name of the tuna used to make katsuobushi. The group consists of producers Gus Lobban, Jamie Bulled, as well as bilingual half-Japanese, half-British lead vocalist, Sarah Midori Perry, who grew up in Hokkaido and lived near Nagoya until she was 13.

KKB started out in 2013 by connecting through MixB, which is an online message board for Japanese ex-pats in London. After connecting and discussing their mutual love for J-pop, the trio released their debut mixtape on Double Denim, “Intro Bonito”, with a fun mix of fat synthesizers, funky dance beats, and Midori Perry’s clear-as-day Japanese and English lyrics mixed over the top of it all. With Japanese lyrics about everything from flamingos, to parties, to doing your homework, to the importance of taking a break, KKB have gained significant popularity in Japan, which is their second-biggest market.

In 2014, their song “Flamingo” appeared on producer Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs compilation and allowed them to gain a large fan base around the world before they released their debut album, “Bonito Generation”, in October 2016. In February 2018, they released the “TOTEP” EP and announced in May that they will have a new album called “Time n Place” coming out soon. KKB was strongly influenced by Plastics, Tokyo Jihen’s Sheena Ringo, and, most obviously, the J-pop group, Perfume; ultimately, those influences are why their music feels like if Cibo Matto got trapped inside of a Super Famicom at a dancehall battle.

You can find their music on kerokerobonito.com and you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: 072 (Onatsu)

Way up north in Japan, holding down the Hokkaido hip-hop scene, is 072 (pronounced “Onatsu”). The 31 year-old MC was born in Asahikawa and raised in Obihiro, Hokkaido and, after watching the movie Sister Act 2 when she was 12, decided to start writing her own lyrics. In 2006, she moved to Sapporo and started to connect and build in the local hip hop scene. 072 has two solo albums under her belt already and collaborates with artists in Tokyo and way down south in Okinawa.

She pulls inspiration from Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse and often pulls influence from artists outside of her hip-hop framework. She also has a very close relationship with Sapporo hip-hop legend, B.I.G. Joe, and, in 2012, he helped her put together her first album, “Inquisition”, on the Lo-Vibes label. In 2013, she went to Okinawa to finish up work on her second album, “Sol Terra Three”, and dropped the album later that year on B.I.G. Joe’s Triumph Records. For this album, she worked with Okinawa-based producer, LF Demo, who has been called the Japanese J-Dilla. This album is a unique blend of the far-reaching influence of hip-hop on the far northern and southern ends of Japan.

Currently, 072 is in a group called TANEMAKE with MC Kai and 1Loop on the beats.

Check out their video for “Taiyaki”:

You can find her music at Apple Store and you can keep up with her on Facebook

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: MINAMI from Teng Gang Starr

Teng Gang Starr is a trip. Deep in the fat bass and psychedelic trap department, the group consists of two rappers, Kamui and Minami Nakamura a.k.a. MINAMI. The group initially met while MINAMI was playing drums at Tsujidou Suwajinja Shinto Shrine in Kanagawa Prefecture and shared a love for the NYC hip-hop group, Gang Starr, hence the name. The Teng part of their name comes from Tengu, which means “celestial dog” and is a Japanese folk trickster demon with an unusually long nose, who is connected to the Tsujido shrine.

Kamui and MINAMI were both solo artists and, when Kamui heard Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in a taxi, he decided that hip-hop was what he wanted to do. They started the group up in 2015, took a year off, and then in 2017 came back stronger with their track, “My Style”. The duo prides themselves on futuristic Akira-esque neo-Tokyo vibes and deep bass tones.

They haven’t released a full length yet, but they have put out some singles on Trekkie Trax and bpm tokyo and Kamui’s production (done under the moniker 3-i) has received props and attention from some major producers around the world, such as Diplo and Skrillex, just to name a few.

You can find their music on Apple Store, Spotify, Soundcloud, and you can follow MINAMI on Instagram and Twitter

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip Hop: RIN a.k.a 貫井りらん Nukui Riran

Tokyo-born RIN a.k.a. Nukui Riran (her real name) grew up in Odawara City in Kanagawa Prefecture and has been into hip-hop since elementary school. She started to explore the genre after listening to the track “Urban Grammar” by old-school nineties Japanese hip-hop crew, Scha Dara Parr.

She started hanging out with other hip-hop fans in high school and started rapping in 2014, with the help of producer K.E.N a.k.a. kiddblazz. Together, in 2014, they put together the “DRIP EP” and have since released another EP called “Eniro Nana Hengen (Glossy Colors Seven Transformations)”. In 2016, she released a full length album, “Rinne (Cycle of Life and Death)”, on Taidou Label, featuring guest spots from Ken The 390 and Meiso. She also was the feature MC at the 2018 Poetry Slam Japan competition.

You can find her music on Apple Music, YouTube, and you can follow her on Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip Hop: NENE from ゆるふわギャング Yurufuwa Gang

NENE from Yurufuwa Gang is definitely the most trippy, psychedelic artist on this list and is probably the most detached from Japan’s current hip-hop boom. The name comes from a combination of the word “yururi”, which means “leisurely”, and the word “fuwa”, which means “light” or “fluffy”.

The pair of Ryugo Ishida and NENE writes all the lyrics and producer, Automatic, makes all the wavy, pseudo-trap beats. NENE, who is 23 years-old and used to go by the name Sophiee, grew up in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward and the duo met at a hip-hop event in Tokyo in 2016.

Their 2017 debut album, “Mars Ice House”, was put out on Mary Joy Recordings and was influenced by the films of Quentin Tarentino. NENE released a solo album called “NENE” in December 2017 and the duo’s follow-up album, “Mars Ice House II”, just dropped in July of 2018. They released it with a music video for the track “Palm Tree”. They’re also getting props abroad with Diplo giving them a shoutout on Twitter and The New York Times Style Magazine featuring the duo.

You can find their music on Spotify, Apple Music, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Awich

31-year old Akiko Urasaki, from Okinawa, raps under the name Awich, which is short for “Asian Wish Child”. She often bounces back and forth from Japanese to English, which she learned on the U.S. military base. She grew up going to protests with her parents that were against the United States military occupying Okinawa and started writing raps when she was 14 and she often incorporates indigenous Okinawan dialects. Awich signed with a record label in Tokyo a few years ago, but left when they told her that she couldn’t be political.

She first got into hip-hop by listening to Tupac’s “All Eyez On Me” and released her first EP, “Inner Research”, in 2006, right before moving to Atlanta for college. Awich later moved back to Japan and, in 2017, she put out a full length album on Yentown called “8” and performed live on Abema TV.

She also runs her own company, called Cipher City, which sells local Okinawan goods abroad. As it says on her Facebook page, “Her lyrics, positions, and perceptions turn both the positive and negative aspects of her surroundings — cultural fusions, identity crises, pride and shame — into an honest craft. This process, in turn, becomes a vital part of creating a modern Okinawan sense of space and identity”.

You can find her music on her website at awich.jp and you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: DJ みそしるとMCごはんDJ Misoshiru & MC Gohan

Despite the name, DJ Misoshiru and MC Gohan is actually just one person, 28-year-old MC Gohan, from Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture. Her recipes-that-you-can-rap project started in Saitama Prefecture at Kagawa Nutrition University, where MC Gohan started making raps for her final graduating project. After her YouTube channel gained lots of followers, she released her first album, “Mother’s Food”, and signed to the Ki/oon Music, a subsidiary of Sony Music Japan. Her hip-hop influences include Pete Rock, Nitro Microphone Underground, and Q-tip and her fans lovingly call her by the nickname “Miso-han”.

Food is the epicenter of MC Gohan’s raps and, when I went to the multi-venue Yatsui Fest in Shibuya, Tokyo, to see MC Gohan perform at Club Harlem, she had everyone in the crowd throw up a pizza gesture with their hands as she rapped about how delicious home-made pizza can be. She also, with the help of Richako from the J-pop group, Vanilla Beans, stopped the show to ask the crowd what food they didn’t like and tried to suggest new ways of cooking or recipes that could make those items enjoyable. Some of the most popular answers were cilantro, Goya (bitter melon), and a little girl in the front row said corn.

MC Gohan definitely has a passion for all foods and is known to have cooking demonstrations at some of her concerts. BBC Radio recently featured an English translation of MC Gohan and her recipe for making onigiri rice balls that look like soccer balls.

MC Gohan also has had her own show on NHK called “Gochisongu DJ” since 2014 and, on her albums, her songs are about a variety of foods including the pleasures of homemade rice, asparagus and bacon wraps, sweet potatoes, shortcake, stuffed green peppers, roasted chicken, macaroni gratin, or, everyone’s favorite, cucumber butter. She just released a mini album, called “Apron Boy’s Five Fundamental Seasonings”, that is a lot of fun.

I mean, who doesn’t like talking about good food?

You can find her music on Spotify, Apple Store, and you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: 椿 Tsubaki

Tsubaki is a 27 year-old rapper and battle MC from Chikushino, Fukuoka Prefecture, and is currently living in Tokyo. The name Tsubaki is the Japanese word for the flower Camellia japonica, which is very popular in her hometown. Tsubaki discovered hip-hop through dance, then started rapping in Fukuoka, and got her big break when she was the first female MC featured on a TV Asahi show hosted by ZEEBRA called “Freestyle Dungeon”. After that, she participated in the national UMB (Ultimate MC Battle) competition and was the first female MC to win the Fukuoka qualifier. She went on to make it to the final 16 and made a huge name for herself as a dominant battle MC.

In early 2017, Tsubaki was the overall winner of the second annual Cinderella MC Battle, a freestyle battle solely for female MCs, held at Harlem in Shibuya. The overall winner of the first battle was Akkogorilla.

Tsubaki has also done tracks with MCfrog, Coma-Chi, and FUZIKO, and, in November 2017, she released her first album, “Misaki Murasaki”, which means “Beautiful Blooming Purple”. She raps proudly about the Fukuoka scene and you can see it in the video for her track “Fukuoka”.

You can purchase her music on Apple Music and follow her on Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Acharu

“Through my filter, I want to live as I want to live.”

Acharu is a singer, rapper, producer, and painter from Sagamihara, Kanagawa. Her real name is Aya and she wanted to add the word “ryuu”, which means “style”, to her name to make her MC name mean “Aya-style”. “Ryuu” also is a homonym for “flowing”, which ties into her musical philosophy that the pulse of life and the rhythm of music are eternally flowing interchangeably. Because of this, in 2017, as a follow-up to her first album in 2010, “Nasty”, Acharu named her second album “Art of Flow”.

Her grandfather is a music producer who has worked with many popular Japanese artists, including a popular enka composer and actor named Chitose Shokakuya. When she was little, she would play around in his studio and mess around with instruments, When she was in junior high school, she heard about hip-hop through a Japanese rap group formed in New York called Buddha Brand, who she describes as having “a real New York sound”. She said,” I really respect them and they influenced me to start writing rhymes.”

Acharu told me that the Kanagawa hip-hop scene is pretty interesting and she recommended a club called Flava, in Machida, to see real Kanagawa hip-hop. “Lots of farm-grown graffiti writers with high skills. Their life itself is hip-hop – there are many good vibes that you can get here.”

I asked Acharu about some of her favorite albums that have influenced her and she mentioned D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” and many songs by H.E.R. Interestingly, she incorporates recorded sounds of rivers or other natural elements in her production and she has a Okinawan-style track on “Art of Flow” that was produced using stones that she picked up in Okinawa.

Acharu also has a very active YouTube page, where she often interacts with an online world-wide community of musicians who cover songs and share their reinvented versions on their channels. Outside of the internet, she also performs all around Japan in such locales as Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, Ehime Prefecture, Osaka, as well as Tokyo and runs her own label, NaturalHighSense Productions. She is currently working on a remix version of her album “Art of Flow” and is working on finishing up the artwork, as well as a music video.

You can check out her Youtube page here, you can buy her music from her website here, and follow her on Instagram here.

Listen to my interview with Acharu here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: MCfrog

“Everybody is different in what they want to transmit, their message. Some people want to convey some good time that they enjoy, or some people do it because it’s cool, but the point is that each person has their reasons. I think, for those who become serious about music, they are the real rappers. For those who dropped out along the way, maybe they just wanted to show off.”

I interviewed MCfrog on the day of a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in Osaka that woke everyone up at 7:58 AM and stopped the trains for the rest of the day. My tenth floor Namba hotel room shook for nearly sixty seconds and literally threw me off the bed. After frantically gathering my things and running down an emergency exit staircase with loads of screaming Chinese tourists, I headed out into the Osaka morning and met MCfrog at a curry restaurant in Nishishinsaibashi to talk about her rap career and the Osaka hip-hop scene.

MCfrog is a twenty-two year-old rapper from the Hagashinari Ward of Osaka, located east of the city center. She first heard about hip-hop through her mother, who would play a variety of different musical genres in the house. Growing up, she was always listening to mostly Lauryn Hill, Beastie Boys, and Cypress Hill. MCfrog is mostly known as a battle MC, but also composes music and “would like to be a rapper that can do both.” When I asked her what she likes to talk about in her rhymes, she told me that she mostly raps about her bitterness in not having achieved her dreams yet.

MCfrog told me that the current Osaka hip-hop scene is really hot right now and it is very unique with lots of strong characters and cool MCs. The main MC Battle event in Osaka is called Enter, which is held once every three months and, if you win in the top three, you can move on to an event called Spotlight, which is the grand championship.

MCfrog confirmed that there are some other female MCs in Osaka, but not many that are very active. She said that, at first, the other MCs treated her like she was “the female rapper”, but, after keeping at it and never budging from what people say, she doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all. MCfrog received help from the east Osaka hip hop crew, NFMCS, who she says, “have taken care of me a lot and they are the people who are taking care of the humanities. Given the scary image that hip-hop has sometimes, those people are working to turn that image upside-down.”

When I asked her to tell me about a female MC in Japan that we should celebrate, she suggested Fukuoka-born MC, Tsubaki, who is now living in Tokyo. We’ll cover more on Tsubaki later on the list. She also told me that one of her current favorite Japanese MCs is Chinza Dopeness and she likes his style of music.

You can find more of MCfrog’s music on Youtube, at Castle Records in Tokyo, and you can buy her second EP, Find the Street, here. You can also keep up with her on Twitter.

Check out this MCfrog track with Tsubaku called “Furubokko”.

Listen to my interview with MCfrog here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

Lyrics to “Furubokko” by Tsubaki and MCfrog
(“Furubokko” is slang for “full” + “bokobokonisuru”, which means “fully beat up”)

(MCfrog)
Don’t take it wrong, fun and courtesy.
A quick fix will become a shame and I roam
Wherever I go, same mistakes
This stage is not that easy.

Just a mouth that asserts anything,
Cheap spirit and motivation, that is not enough.
Only a pretense, the words are light,
I don’t want even a bit of such collusion.

Time limit doesn’t give me a time to choose.
Impending, will go insane.
When it becomes complicated, try to escape immediately.
View the negative race cycle as dangerous.

The stage, to show my potential,
From this place, I can go up anywhere.
To show the hope, limitless,
Do or do not, will be a friend or foe tomorrow.

I chose this from many,
Think carefully. Take action, this site.
Too many players to sweep and throw away,
See to let them live or kill and cut off the chain.

Ordinary is not any different from general.
Social reform, a maverick, an extreme, a worthless rascal.
Find your value, polish yourself,
No mercy, until the day that we meet at the high point (stratosphere).

(Tsubaki)
Do not touch, danger, it’s scary if you lick it.
There is not a tepid awareness, nor a sense of crisis.
Try furiously and sometimes a poor shot hits,
A suspension bridge of dream, check your steps.

Blindly nervous, open microphone,
As soon as I get off (the stage), flattering, boring.
Preach needs love.
If not, using armed force, dragged out and cross-examined.

Mouth is evil, I am fully aware of it.
Disgorged poison and virtue fall upon.
Your problem resolver is not helpful.
At last, what is questioned is my own value.

Sowing, watering, growing lyrical,
Shine with the inner growth,
Don’t misunderstand the meaning of being selected and standing here.
If you just want a flower, go to some other place.

I chose this from many,
Think carefully. Take action, this site.
Too many players to sweep and throw away,
See to let them live or kill and cut off the chain.

Ordinary is not any different from general.
Social reform, a maverick, an extreme, a worthless rascal.
Find your value, polish yourself,
No mercy, until the day that we meet at the high point (stratosphere).

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Kagura Sunshine

“Since I was little, I was physically big, so I was always like a big sister character and everybody always came to me to consult with them about their problems. So there, I realized the power of words and, even if there was a negative situation, the way of thinking can convert it to a positive.”

Kagura Sunshine is a rapper and a poet from Miyako City in northern Iwate Prefecture, currently living in Kanagawa Prefecture. The name Kagura Sunshine was inspired by her uncle, who was a Shinto priest, and often danced the Kagura dance, which is part of a religious ceremony. After he passed away, to pay tribute to him, she took the MC name, “Kagura”. In 2011, after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami destroyed the majority of Sendai and Kagura Sunshine’s hometown area in Iwate, she wanted to “become sunshine” for the displaced people from her region, so she added the name “Sunshine” to her MC moniker.

She first heard about hip-hop during her second year of high school and started listening to Japanese R&B and hip-hop artists like Sugar Soul and ZEEBRA. After graduating high school in Iwate, she moved to Kanagawa Prefecture and took her music with her. About her writing process, she told me, “I’m always searching for the beat that matches to myself and my voice and, when I find something that matches to my voice, I get the words that are suited to my emotions at the time from the drawers of my emotion.” She told me that, originally, hip-hop artists in Iwate had a complex about being rural country people, but, after they lost so much during the 2011 disaster, they have become stronger and hip-hop artists are putting more emphasis on building homegrown scenes and improving their lyricism.

Kagura Sunshine’s latest release, a 7-inch record with rapper Aruma called “Stay With Me”, came out in May 2018 and the beat was made by Yakkle, who often works with popular Japanese hip-hop artist, Shing02. The song was originally about the 2011 Tohoku disaster and she told me that it was the first time that she felt like she could write about the devastation. However, when she found herself singing on the track, she felt that it wasn’t a sad song, but a song of love, so she rewrote the lyrics and the rest is history.

Even though she currently lives in Kanagawa, Kagura Sunshine spends most of her time working in Tokyo but she has noticed that the Kanagawa scene is very confident and the artists love celebrating their local areas. She often performs at Club Family in Shibuya, in Tokyo, and around the Kansai area, near Osaka. She’s also producing new music now for her third album, set to come out on her label, Far East Bay Records. She started the label in 2015 and her husband, Towa, does most of the artwork for her projects, in addition to his live painting performances.

Some of her favorite current producers are DJ Premier and DJ Krush. When I asked her what she wished that our English-speaking audiences knew about Japanese hip-hop, she said, “The power of the word: in English, words have a groove to them, but in Japanese, they don’t. But in Japanese, our words have a soul and I want them to feel that.”

You can find her music on ITunes and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

Listen to my interview with Kagura Sunshine here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

Lyrics for Kagura Sunshine x Aruma – Konya wa PARTY MAKER
Beat by CHIBA-CHIIIBA, Scratches by SPIN MASTER A-1
(Aruma)

I got older, my body is now heavy.
Don’t worry, party tonight.
Popping rhythm and a song like this,
Dance, shout, entirely high.
If you get tired, just sit down,
Go home without being found.
Cool arrangement! Cheers! Tequila!
1 shot, 2 shot, Sunboy Killer!

If you have ears and eyes, should be fun.
Dancer, dance relying on them.
Rapper, DJ, let them listen,
This is the world HIP – HOP, no doubt.
It is not outright, such a flow-master,
Avoid it if you are not interested, for today.
Yes, I guess that’s the way it should be,
Break down like this, take care of it.

That clerk at their part-time job
Has a discriminating ear and seems really good.
Create a local technique and fight it out,
Just a few seconds of chance time, a-ha!
If you can speak, you can dive at the fastest speed,
I have a discriminating nose, groping in the dark,
Rhyme is a coup d’état,
Operating the time, it is a PARTY MAKER!

Yeah yeah, you tell me it’s a fun time,
Leave it to me, I’ll rock the floor.
Try to check meaningful words,
Try to detect your heart beating fast.
Check it out, yo! How are you feeling?
No worries, tonight is the party.
It’s not outright, this kind of flow,
blow up blow up, get high!

(Kagura Sunshine)
I am speaking from a humble place,
The outstanding low voice female in Japan.
Even on the B-side, there won’t be any slip-ups
A-Spin, the master is blowing.
A black donut changed my life.
What it will become? I achieved my dream at that time.
Not an dimwit any more, tough tortoise,
A cool Future is in this hand.

My soul is a non-flattering yellow,
This clown is flying, betraying expectations.
Every time, people want to dance.
2 Turntables, leave it to the DJ.
Wanting this original world as well,
Really shy, but l am an invincible girl.
This verse blows me away,
Lock on your heart, lock-on.

Tonight all ages and cultures in the house, yo!
Everyone has their own roots,
Black disk magic.
To your identity, bi-bi-bi-bi,
To extraordinary days, rigorous and gallant,
Surely everyone is a lyricist.
Rhyme is survival with vinyl,
Yes, that’s it! PARTY MAKER!

Yeah yeah, you tell me it’s a fun time,
Leave it to me, I’ll rock the floor.
Try to check meaningful words,
Try to detect your heart beating fast.
Check it out, yo! How are you feeling?
No worries, tonight is the party.
It’s not outright, this kind of flow,
blow up blow up, get high!

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あっこゴリラAkkogorilla

“We all have our own different ways of expression, but what we have on the bottom line is all the same: to put importance on individual personalities. So many times we hear the line that “female rappers are good” or “who is going to be the best of the females”, but we are just individuals. It’s personal; it’s different.”

Akkogorilla is from Tokyo, or, as she clarifies, she is from Planet Earth. She first heard about hip-hop when she was ten years-old, in elementary school. When she first learned about Japanese hip-hop artists RIP SLYME and Kick the Can Crew, she was influenced to start writing her own lyrics. At first, she started just writing rhymes to play with rhythms, just for fun, but after gaining confidence and becoming a full-time rapper later on, she has been more influenced by other artists and her unique and vibrant style, juxtaposed in a world of J-pop monotony, has manifested brilliantly.

She first started out playing drums in a two-piece pop-rock girl band called Happy Birthday. During Halloween shows, she would come out on stage dressed up as a gorilla and would play drums behind her friend. At home, she would practice writing and recording and finally took her raps to the stage in 2015. After talking with Ken the 390 and soliciting advice for getting more shows, he encouraged her to participate in local MC battles. At first, she was scared and nervously threw up before most battles but, eventually, she won a few battles and gained admiration from fellow MCs. At the time, much like her friend MC Frog in Osaka, she was one of less than ten female battle rappers in Tokyo but she feels like the number is increasing these days.

The name Akkogorilla came from when she was still a drummer. As she said, “without thinking very seriously about it,” she named herself that because she learned that gorillas communicate through rhythm and thought it was cool. In 2016, Akkogorilla released her first mini-album, “Tokyo Banana”, on Kamikaze Records and it features a track called “Donkey Kong” that sampled music from the Super Nintendo game, Donkey Kong Country.

The gorilla motif continued in November of the same year when she quickly followed up this release with an EP on 2.5D Production called “Back to the Jungle” and, for the video of the title track, Akkogorilla traveled to Kigali, Rwanda. When I asked her how the experience in Africa was, she said,” I can’t say much about that trip except that I had some of the best moments of my life and also some of the worst moments of my life.” The beat for the song, made by HirasaWonder, samples Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Akkogorilla told me that this song really represents her transitional period out of rock music and into the realm of old school and new school hip-hop. She is a big Public Enemy fan and, right now, she told me that she is digging the new Anderson Paak and Princess Nokia tracks.

In early 2017, Akkogorilla released a number of singles on 2.5D Production leading up to the release of her EP, “Green Queen”. In April 2018, Akkogorilla released the “Tokyo Banana 2018” EP as well as her first major label single with Sony Music Japan, called “Yoyuu (Margins / A Cinch)”. The song is really a reflection on her last 3 years figuring out how to be a rapper and gaining the confidence that she can do it and do it in her own unique style. She is also working on her first major label album for Sony at the moment and, when I asked her if she had a title decided yet, she said,” I haven’t decided the title yet, but it’s very clear what I want to say and what I want to do. I’m just looking for the exact words to express those.”

Currently she is organizing annual events in Tokyo called “Donkey Kong”, that blend a multi-genre variety of rock, rappers, beat-makers, and others artists assembled in a unique way that only Akkogorilla can put together. If you check out her Instagram, you’ll see that fans often bring bananas to the show and hold them up to show her their support.

When I asked Akkogorilla what female rappers should be celebrated in the world, she mentioned a transgender Japanese MC named Fuziko, who was born a female and recently married a woman. Akkogorilla glowingly added, “She is the real cool rapper that we can be proud of.” Akkogorilla has a song about gender fluidity called “Ultra Gender” and, she said that, when she met Fuziko, she thought of the song and said, “Wow, it’s real.”

You can find this song and all of her releases on Spotify and, for more information on Akkogorilla, visit http://akkogorilla.yellow-artists.jp/

Listen to my interview with Akkogorilla here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

Lyrics for Akkogorilla’s “Yoyuu” (which literally means “Margins” or “A Cinch / A Piece of Cake”)

A cinch, (say it) it’s a cinch, a cinch!
While reading the surrounding atmosphere,
Life is finished in an instant.
Before someone says something,
I’m making a comeback to myself.

“What are you doing,? Hey!”
“Who is imprinting?”
“Remember your place!”
“It’s beyond your ability!”

If you move before hearing the voice, the world can be changed.
It saved me; it was not a man,
It was not a prince.
The heart to believe in yourself is king.

(I wonder) why at that time
I did that?
Just remembering it,
I shouted it in the bathroom.
If I repeat being out of place,
After some years,
It would become “normal”.

You can repeat it multiple times,
And live life like a lie,
But before looking down on yourself, reach out a hand.
Fully experience today and create your real self.
A Cinch, (say it) it’s a cinch, a cinch!

Actually it’s not a cinch
Lean, lean and mean, mean, everyday.
I have come to understand, because I have been running,
That the ultimate result is just a cinch!

Although the self-esteem is low,
Nurture the pride.
Getting a laugh only by self-degradation.
I was bound, bye bye!
What about it was frightening?
Someone let me borrow a ruler to measure.
Is it a cool style?
That judgment, I want to make by myself.
Defense mechanisms are abundant
But now: how to, how to,
Check 1. 2.
Alright?

Many of you are laughing,
You have weapons,
But my magnum
Is ultra-gigantic.
Laughing with the voice volume that is twice as big,
Let’s raise the volume of your inner voice!

It’s really a cinch,
A piece of cake,
It’s a cinch, if you do it.
It’s a cinch, you can do it!

Follow than the natural inclination and smartness.
It’s more important for the heart
to say you like what you like.
Are you ready?

You can recover yourself multiple times,
And live an awesome life like a lie.
I want to live everyday properly,
You, who save yourselves, are invincible!

A Cinch, (say it) it’s a cinch, a cinch!

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コマチComa-Chi

“This is just my way of thinking, but I think those who are seeking the real hip-hop, they are not looking for just fashion but they are looking from the bottom of their soul.”

Coma-Chi is a Tokyo-native rapper, singer, DJ, and mother, currently living in the bay area of Hay