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By Dan Grunebaum

Rip Slyme

Metropolis catches up with the hip-hop group in advance of two upcoming gigs

Ryo-Z (l) and the members of Rip Slyme

A number of Japanese takes on hip-hop will be on display at next weekend’s Rock in Japan Festival. Among them are leaders of the scene, Rip Slyme, who celebrate a decade since their debut with the release of a retrospective, Good Job, at the end of August. Rip Slyme’s Ryo-Z, 31, talks about his group’s laid-back approach, which owes more to the party vibe of collectives like De La Soul than it does to the ego-driven boasting of solo stars such as Eminem.

Why are there so many group hip-hop acts in Japan, as opposed to the US where there are more individual rappers?
Japanese are weak-spirited (laughs).

What first drew you to hip-hop?
The appeal of hip-hop to us was the ease of doing it. You don’t have to know how to play an instrument, and you don’t have to sing. You just say what you want to say.

Did you ever imagine hip-hop would get so big in Japan?
We were surprised, but at the same time we were average folks who liked hip-hop, so it wasn’t so strange that other average types would come to like it.

What do you think is behind your popularity?
I think young people like us because we sound fresh, and like we’re having a good time, like we don’t mind letting it hang out and showing our individuality.

What was it like to play the Budokan?
No hip-hop bands had played there before, so we wanted to be the first. But the sound is awful. We still get nervous before playing in front of such a big crowd. Sometimes we forget our lyrics [and] on our homepage our fans note our mistakes. We’ve played in Finland, and also Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan. The audiences there weren’t strictly hip-hop audiences, so they didn’t seem to know what to make of us. But as hip-hop makes its way to Asia more and more, I think the response will improve.

What are the differences between rapping in Japanese and English?
In English you say what you want to say at the end, whereas Japanese is the reverse, so the challenge is to make it sound natural. But if it doesn’t approach the feeling of English hip-hop, then since hip-hop is after all based on English, I’m not satisfied. I think the advantage of Japanese is that you have the ability to fit a lot of meaning into a few syllables, it’s easy to evoke an atmosphere or nuance in Japanese.

Since you’ve become successful, aspiring young hip-hop artists must approach you for advice. What do you tell them?
As long as it’s fun and sounds good, I tell them it’s OK. And also to try and put meaning in it, and to aim for something uniquely Japanese.

Rip Slyme play the Rock in Japan Festival on Aug 5 and Summer Sonic on Aug 14. A best-of album, Good Job, is due on Aug 31. See concert listings for details.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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