By Dan Grunebaum
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 weekends 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 Slymes Ryo-Z, 31, talks
about his groups 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
dont have to know how to play an instrument, and you
dont 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 wasnt 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
were having a good time, like we dont 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. Weve played in Finland, and also Shanghai,
Hong Kong, Taiwan. The audiences there werent strictly
hip-hop audiences, so they didnt 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
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 doesnt approach the feeling of English
hip-hop, then since hip-hop is after all based on English,
Im not satisfied. I think the advantage of Japanese
is that you have the ability to fit a lot of meaning into
a few syllables, its easy to evoke an atmosphere or
nuance in Japanese.
Since youve become successful, aspiring young hip-hop
artists must approach you for advice. What do you tell them?
As long as its fun and sounds good, I tell them its
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.
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