A new wave of women are making their presence felt in J-Pop, and they are doing it by incorporating elements of rap music into their sound.
Over the past two years, rap in general has enjoyed a resurgence domestically, pushed forward by MCs such as KOHH, who has been tipped by Hikaru Utada and Frank Ocean. Yet he, along with many other male rappers, tend to just embrace American hip-hop trends, more interested in recreation than finding a different perspective. Female rappers, though, have been finding new spins on the style, and producing the most exciting pop-rap hybrids of recent times.
This isn’t a totally new development. The duo HALCALI took hip-hop delivery to pop in the early Aughts, while performers such as COMA-CHI and MARIA from the group SIMI LAB have offered traditional takes on the style. Even Namie Amuro had a “hip-pop” portion of her career. But a new generation of women have stepped up to offer their twist on hip-hop, and have started getting expanded attention in Japan. Here are some of the names to watch:
The 18-year-old rapper Chanmina burst onto the scene in 2016, with the song “Princess,” a rattling number subverting perceptions of women while also fully displaying her vocal chops. Since then, she’s shown off her aggressive side on hard-hitting cuts such as “FXXKER” (below), while also displaying range on the softer “LADY.” Her debut album Miseinen came out in March, and features lyrics about activities most wouldn’t expect an 18-year-old to do (well, at least to people who missed the last decade of pop music) along with her fierce vocals.
One of the first outfits to get this new scene going was electro-rap duo Charisma.com, who broke out in 2013 with the pulsing “HATE,” a song about being angry at life’s small annoyances. In their early years, the duo of MC Itsuka and DJ Gonchi zeroed in on this theme, creating pounding songs about the annoyance of riding the morning train or working in a Japanese office. They branched out a bit on this year’s not not me; an album featuring some of their best pop hooks and zippiest rhymes to date.
Technically a trio, Wednesday Campanella (Suiyoubi No Campanella in Japanese), shines because of lead vocalist and whirling dervish KOM_I, the only member to be in the spotlight. And she makes the most of it, as she is known for dashing all around the stage and scaling up whatever is near her (food trucks, scaffolding, speakers). This frantic-ness extends to the music, where she hop-scotches between singing and rapping, often over house-inspired tracks. She’s a pure force of charisma, transforming songs about Japanese folklore or Greek myths into dizzying pop numbers centered around her. The group delivered one of Japan’s best albums of 2017 so far with Superman, a whirlwind set showcasing KOM_I at her best.
Calling young MC iri and her delivery “smooth” is accurate, but also kind of misses the point. She often sings and raps over music that is more on the jazzy - at-times funky side - the sort of tracks that offer plenty of space for the voice to come through. And iri takes advantage of it, as the numbers on last year’s "Groove it" sounded laid back, but allowed her to show off the full range of her voice. This year’s “Watashi” might be even better, a bouncy tune where her monotone delivery completely captures attention.
“Whisper rapping” has grown in popularity over the last few years, and none do it better than Fukuoka’s Izumi Makura. She creates heartfelt, often downtrodden songs delivered in a hushed voice that makes every line feel like a secret. She opens up come the chorus — recently, she’s started singing outright — but the bulk of her songs find her navigating the pain of becoming an adult via a more intimate delivery. Izumi Makura has gotten a lot more attention lately, and even scored a Uniqlo ad earlier this year.
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