May is almost coming to an end, but we still have the entire month of June to fill this playlist up full of rare goodies from the niche within a niche that is Asian Pop music! I picked Spotify to share the playlist, but I’m finding that when it comes to Japanese songs, Spotify definitely falls short, most likely due to Japan’s strict copyright laws. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t work within my restrictions to share some dope Japanese tracks that are criminally slept on!
Hop on the Jinjja Cha Music train and settle in for another week of #MMMPlaylist! Round 3 of 10!
Crystal Kay-Haru Arashi (Spring Storm) (Universal Music Japan)
Crystal Kay! What more can I say? She is beautiful and perfect in every way-and if it rhymes, that means its true! Fun and jokes aside, it would’t be sincere of me to make this J-list without including Crystal Kay.
Crystal Kay Williams is a recording artist of African American and Korean descent who is based primarily in Japan. I first discovered her music when I was 17, when her album Almost Seventeen came out and was all over the Japanese music blogs. From there I had to go back into her archives to find her older stuff and I fell in love with her as an artist. Crystal Kay is a slept-on artist in general. She’s been out since the late 90s and has worked with some of the biggest names in JPOP but still only has one number one album under her belt (which wasn’t even her best album). I picked Haru Arashi (Spring Storm) because the song itself came as a surprise to me. I had bought the Delicious Friday single from iTunes and Haru Arashi was the B-side track included with it. As soon as the intro kicked in, it became one of my favourite Crystal Kay songs of all time. The lyrics are about remembering the past every time the wind blows. In this case the past has been quite rocky with highs and lows-just like real life I guess. Read the full translation here and let us know what you think of Haru Arashi!
MFLO loves Double-Life Is Beautiful (Rhythm Zone)
Mflo have worked with EVERYONE in the Japanese music industry and are well respected for having lasted over 20 years as a group. MFLO is: DJ Taku Takahashi, MC Verbal and vocalist LISA. They broke a lot of ground in the late 90s early 00s with their unique brand of Japanese R&B/Hip-Hop and Dance music, think Black Eyed Peas when Fergie joined but y’know…actually good. In 2002 LISA left the group to pursue a solo career which did give us a few bops, but she definitely seemed to lose a bit of what made her special when she left the group. MFLO however, continued to work with artists all over Japan putting out hit after hit and this is how the ‘MFLO Loves…’ series of collaborations came about.
BoA fans will know this gave us the iconic Love Bug single amongst many others, and in 2004, MFLO released Astromantic, which was one huge collaboration album featuring all the songs they had released the year before and new ones that would carry us well over into 2005. Life Is Beautiful is the best song on that album, hands down. It’s a Jazz-R&B-Hip-Hop fusion featuring sweet vocals by R&B songtress DOUBLE and is a mixture of English & Japanese. Seriously, go and listen to this song! You won’t regret it!
Lecca-愛&lie&wine (Avex Trax)
When talking about the leaders of Asian Reggae music; Japan will always be number one. This is because I find that when Japanese artists make music of a certain genre like Reggae for example, it generally tends to be because they were trying to become real fleshed-out Reggae artists. This involved them visiting Jamaica for Sumfest (previously known as Sunsplash) which is a music festival held every year featuring the biggest artists of that year and legends in the game.
There was a time (early 00s until around 2010) where you could always find Japanese singers like Minmi and Lecca or famous dancers like Junko Kudo in Jamaica turning up amongst the locals and eventually, going on to perform with Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae artists. What I’m saying is, when they like something in Japan, they go ALL IN. It wasn’t just a ‘Reggae concept’, this was their entire lives at one point, especially for people like Lecca, Minmi, Mighty Crown and Junko Kudo.
Lecca’s single, 愛&lie&wine was released by Avex in 07/08 and comes from the City Caravan album, which I still love to this day. This song is usually the song I play to people when I want to showcase the sheer range that can be found in Japanese music. Lecca does a wicked job of singing and rapping (toasting) over the dancehall riddim and I highly recommend this song to anyone trying to go back into time to get into Japanese Dancehall Reggae music. Also, please just follow Lecca as an artist in general because she’s dope and deserves more love! Other songs I recommend are: City Caravan and Snow Crystals.
AI & Miliyah Kato-Stronger (Universal Music Japan)
Original A.I was Japan’s answer to Missy Elliot in so many ways, from their chameleon style, to production skills, to the fact that they could both sing, dance and rap their asses off. If there was a dope hip-hop song out back then featuring a female MC, it was most likely Original A.I. This woman has done it all and worked with some of the greatest artists in Japan. She even had a collaboration with Amuro Namie on the Suite Chic project that helped revive Namie’s dying pop-career in 2002 and brought in a new R&B era for Namie.
Her collaborating partner, Miliyah Kato had been out for some time and was known as the Post-Utada Hikaru when she first debuted due to her age in 2004 (she was 16) and due to her R&B-pop styles. So it was only right that in 2010, for AI’s 8th studio album, The Last Ai that they team up for the single, Stronger.
Stronger was popular enough to hit number 26 in the Oricon Weekly sales but with 7,000 copies sold, it didn’t make enough noise to enter the top 5 which is a real shame because its a great song lyrically and musically. This song came out at the height of my Uni studies and provided a great source of strength for me because the lyrics are about knowing that no matter what happens, you can always be stronger! Young Girl Davis definitely needed to hear that in multiple languages! Check the song out and let us know if it touched you~
Utada Hikaru-You Make Me Want To Be A Man (Bloodshy & Avant mix) (EMI JAPAN)
If you’re looking for the Princess or Duchess of Jpop then look no further, it’s obviously Utada Hikaru! Some would argue and say she’s the Queen of Jpop but I think that title rightfully belongs to Hamasaki Ayumi-yeah I said it!
Utada Hikaru is probably more well known amongst western audiences for her Kingdom Hearts songs like Simple and Clean or the Japanese version Hikari which gave us the infamous dish-washing video, but its actually not that well documented that Utada has three full-length English language albums. The first one was released in 1998 under her original stage name Cubic U, then in 2004 she gave us Exodus, which had the awful Eazy Breezy song, and You Make Me Want To Be A Man, which is a decent song in its original mix, but once producers Bloodshy & Avant remixed the song, it became one of my all time favourite Utada songs.
Lyrically, I found that Utada would talk more openly about her marriage (to her first husband) more on these English tracks and I wonder if it was because she felt much more free during the writing and recording process. She would then go on to detail the demise of her marriage in her third English-language album, This Is The One which came out in 2009. In 2010 I would finally see Utada Hikaru on stage and in 2012, a year before I moved to Korea, I met Utada on a train in London and I was finally able to tell her how much her music meant to me. Yes, she was incredibly wonderful and gracious and it made me a bigger fan of hers. Check out the song and listen carefully to the lyrics. I definitely can relate, can you?
Minmi-Japanese Wine/Sha Na Na Feat. Machel Montano (Victor Entertainment)
If you’re an anime fan you might already know Minmi for her song Shiki No Uta (Four Seasons Song) which was the theme song to Samurai Champloo. Minmi is another one of those Japanese Reggae/Soca artists that are about that life. This woman has been part of the culture for decades and has worked with Reggae and Soca artists and performed all over the Caribbean. Minmi was so inspired by Trini Carnival that in 2007 she made her own Soca song as a tribute to everything that Carnival is about; fetting, wuk-up, waving flags and having a good time. For the bilingual version of the song, Minmi teamed up with Soca LEGEND Machel Montano to give the song that extra Soca seal of approval and he helped take Sha Na Na/Japanese Wine to the next level. Honestly, I find the song better in Japanese as there’s an authenticity there that gets lost in translation, however, she managed to keep the same energy in both and I hope you get to jump and wave to this fun Japanese Soca song!
This entire post is full of Japanese artists culturally appropriating genres like R&B, Reggae, Soca and Hip-Hop. Pretty much everything we do in our daily lives involves some sort of cultural appropriation so I’d really love for the negative connotations of that word to die off. It’s a word that describes what humans naturally do when they’ve been mixing with people of other cultures. The issue I have is when people use other people’s cultures to mock, denigrate, spread propaganda, or to straight up copy and profit from the culture they are appropriating without putting back into the culture they stole from. I tend to be a bit softer on very specific Japanese artists that do Dancehall simply because I’ve seen them go to Jamaica and participate in concerts, festivals and put back into the culture via dancers like Junko Kudo or soundsystems like Mighty Crown. There is an entire Dancehall scene in Japan that of course, is heavily mimicking the scene in Jamaica-the MCs even speak Patois! So when Japanese artists perform Dancehall, they make it known that the origin of the music is is from Jamaica, same for Hip-hop and R&B. So no one is denying that this is cultural appropriation, it definitely is. There’s just levels and nuances to this game that a lot of people are missing these days in the race to scream that everything is being appropriated. Everything has been and will be appropriated but not everything has to be stolen from its origins and picked apart so much that its origins become lost and reduced to simply being part of mainstream culture. Everything has an origin and its roots should be respected.
Catch us next week for another round of #MMMPlaylist!
Credits: Universal Music Japan/Victor Entertainment/EMI JAPAN/Avex Trax/Rhythm Zone