A decade on from grime’s ascribed genesis we – and the world – are celebrating its renaissance; with no.1 albums and the world’s most popular artist, Drake, as its unlikely foreign ambassador.
But grime and UK rap as an export is relatively recent, and you only have to look at the off-shore reaction following Giggs’s More Life feature to understand that it isn’t always warmly received or really understood outside the UK.
So while the UK grime scene is arguably in its golden era, it’s perhaps surprising (considering the huge language and cultural discrepancies) that more hype is gathering (from online forums to giant brands’ marketing meetings) about an emerging scene in Japan. This grime remains mostly niche and underground but has been simmering for the past six or seven years.
From Croydon to Tokyo, Grime is being sonically adopted in Japan and with U.K MCs performing in Tokyo and Japanese MCs on UK community radio stations; the respect appears to be mutual.
I met with Japanese Grime MC’s, Pakin and DJ Sakana, to explore how such a distinctively UK and mainly London sound has been fostered in the streets of Shibuya.
How were you introduced to UK grime and how do you think Japanese grime differs?
“There was a magazine called BMR and it basically had an interview with Dizzee Rascall so it started there really.
“There are many differences between Japanese and UK grime, mainly with the lyrical content. For example in Japan there’s not that much crime, there are no guns – so there’s no gun talk or no real knife talk.”
“The general amount of it differs in that it’s a small scene – there’s a lot of people mixing grime into their DJ sets and stuff but for people actually doing grime as their main thing – there are only few. There are also a lot of people who don’t play any lyrical stuff.”
On the topic of lyrical content, does Japanese grime have distinct themes?
“There’s a big counter culture element, a kind of rebellious element I suppose. Japan has a lot of societal problems so it tends to be quite societal in tone, mainly political talk.”
“I think I would say the themes are more about your personal life; the work culture out here is quite tough, people work incredibly long hours so there’s a lot of talk about that.”
“There’s also a massive hip-hop scene here and grime can be quite vocally critical of that.”
Also a massive linguistic difference is that your grime’s in Japanese – do you, like in English grime, have / use particular slang?
“It’s not as developed in that sense – it tends use words more from hip-hop, so ‘dope’ or whatever. There are a few words in Japanese which can mean a variety of things. So something that means ‘dangerous’ can also mean ‘sick’ but that’s not confined to grime.”
I read that there are different styles of Japanese Grime and Osaka and Tokyo have their own sound. Would you agree with this?
“It started with Osaka and they rap extremely fast so yeah that’s the style there.”
“I think it’s too new to say. Of course some people have been running the grime scene for a long time, but Japanese grime as a scene/culture was only born recently so I don’t think you can really notice styles yet. Really there’s only Tokyo and Osaka and everywhere else is more one person so not an area/style. It’s very much in its early stages.”
Which Japanese MCs do you think everyone should know of?
“Everyone. I have respect for all the Japanese MC’s because they’re struggling hard to do their passion out here. It’s hard and we don’t get money or shows, so I respect them all.”
Giggs performed in Tokyo on Friday and both Skepta and Stormzy were here last year, how big are UK grime acts in Japan?
“(Referring to the Giggs show) A lot of the draw for the that gig was Kohh, he’s a really good Japanese hip-hop artist, so it’s hard to tell how popular Giggs is and whether people went to see him or Kohh. Another point is when these events are put on and and grime acts are booked they’ll book the foreign MC’s and not the Japanese ones.”
“When Stormzy came over people were queuing from 2:30pm and it was completely packed, so British grime does seem to be popular, but you won’t find the same fans at the Japanese grime events. You’ll only find them at the clothing or other branded grime events. The Giggs one was produced by Places and Faces and when Stormzy was over that was with Adidas, so the two markets are separate. That said, we did play a music event with AJ Tracey and Novelist and those events were busy (but not as busy as the branded events).”
You’ve had UK support on community radio and blogs. Do you consider this support important to the Japanese Grime scene?
“Yeah, Double Clapperz has a regular show on Radar Radio and sometimes plays us. We had a lot of support from Rinse and Reprezent and at first I think that was just a case of ‘this is crazy’ but now it’s more normal and it’s sort of adding something to the scene. But we need to move things onto the next stage which I think is making more of an effort to build the scene here . Less on the DJ side of things more on the MC side of things, so it’s less of a ‘novelty’ and more of an established scene.”
Translated by: Frankie Waring @FranklySick
Words by: Georgia Devon-Spick