Melodies from Japan and AAPI Artists, Vol. 6
Updated: Sep 12
While hip-hop has been a mainstay in American music for a long time, the genre has never been mainstream in Japan. In Tsutaya or other record stores, the artists headlining the aisles and advertisements are almost always pop or rock artists. But away from public view, the underground hip hop scene of Japan is bustling, taking much inspiration from American hip hop but also having artists arise with their own style. This month, I’m highlighting a few great artists in hip-hop who have criminally flown under the radar.
We are not sponsored by any of the bands mentioned in these posts, and all opinions expressed are of myself, Brian Hsieh!
Image from NakamuraEmi’s website
At first glance, NakamuraEmi does not come across as a rapper. Many of her songs sound like they should be pop or indie songs, but NakamuraEmi combines both rap and singing. This peculiar combination works out surprisingly well. Her rhymes help me relax more than her graceful singing, which is something I would never say about any other artist. A great example of this is her song, Newspaper (新聞), which is my personal favorite.
Why I’m a fan
I never thought “relaxing rap” was a thing until listening to her.
Her flow and rhythms are one of a kind and no other artist does music like her.
I don’t understand her lyrics, but she never fails to make me feel like I’m at a chic café.
Image from Flaunt.
Growing up alongside U.S. military bases in Okinawa, Awich first started writing poetry and rap from age 9, after listening to Tupac’s All Eyez On Me. Eventually she moved to Atlanta for university, and later decided to move back to Okinawa for music. Among the typical colorful and upbeat music associated with Japanese pop, rock, and idol industries, Awich comes in with darker, harsher beats and rhymes, occasionally reminiscent of gangster American hip hop and rap.
Why I’m a fan
Amazing flow and delivery, with low and heavy melodies that J-pop or rock doesn’t have.
Can both sing smooth R&B and rap, so she’s great for a lot of moods!
Fluent in English and has an inspiring motivation for her music.
Check out Awich on her official YouTube channel or on her label YENTOWN’s page. She is also on Spotify. I would recommend first listening to Open it Up, which showcases her great flow and rhythm, but if you’re not a big fan of rap, take a listen to her lighter hip hop song Bad Bad.
Image from Punpee’s website Summit.
Punpee is absolutely wholesome and upbeat. He reminds me a bit of B.o.B or Lupe Fiasco’s music in the 2010s - happy hiphop that you listen to for good vibes. Punpee has some wacky, creative, and colorful music videos with possibly his most famous song, Time Machine. It’s a fun animated video with English subtitles about Punpee as an old man getting up to some time travel shenanigans.
Why I’m a fan
Not afraid to have wacky, fun animated music videos.
Pop style rap which is great for late night rides.
Has great covers of popular Kingdom Hearts songs on his Soundcloud.
That’s it for now! Once again, stay safe and look forward to fall!