Recently, Japanese rapper Tohji performed in a park in central Tokyo, rapping a capella without a mic as a group of teenagers jumped around and sang along, belting out his lyrics in a ringing chorus. The performance started as a free show at the Levi flagship store in Shinjuku, but the venue couldn’t accommodate everyone who showed up. Tohji didn’t want the fans stuck outside to be left out, so he moved the show to a nearby park. After just one song, the police arrived to shut things down.
Tohji isn’t much older than the teenagers who came to see him. At 22, he’s not even out of college yet, and he’s already making waves in the Japanese music scene with his DIY tactics and unconventional path to success. Even more impressive is the fact that he only started making music two years ago.
Tohji 的年纪其实并不比在场的歌迷大出多少。他的同龄人甚至还没踏出大学校门，而这位 22 岁的说唱歌手就已经引起日本说唱圈内的阵阵波澜。他独特的创作方式为成功另辟蹊径。更令人意外的是，从他开始创作至今也只有仅仅两年的时间。
Tohji first got inspired by the new crop of US rappers who had found global success through SoundCloud. Anyone could create a hit, he realized. So he set aside his studies and got to work producing beats and writing lyrics. As his local fanbase grew, he started throwing monthly parties with live rap performances and DJ sets at a popular venue in Shibuya called WWW. “I think that was the most important part of my career,” he says. “It’s unique because it was the first rap party in Tokyo thrown by kids and not adults. We started in the smaller room but have moved up to the big one now.”
This is youth culture in its purest form: it’s not music picked by corporate suits and marketed to kids. And a venue for live music is key to a thriving music scene, giving fans a place to meet and forge stronger bonds with each other and with artists.
Tohji 最初的灵感来自一批成名于 SoundCloud 的美国说唱歌手们。他们在全球范围内的大获成功让 Tohji 意识到，任何人都可以一夜成名。于是，他放弃了学业搬去东京，一门心思专注制作和填词。 当粉丝群体逐渐建立起来之后，Tohji 开始每月在涩谷颇受欢迎的场地 WWW 内举办说唱和 DJ 表演。“那段时间是我职业生涯中最重要的时光。” Tohji 说，“它之所以这么特别，是因为这是东京第一次由青少年而非大人举办的说唱聚会。刚开始活动场地还比较小，现在就大很多了。”
Last year Tohji teamed up with the rapper Gummyboy to form the duo Mall Boyz, and their song “Higher” became a hit. “Before our generation came up, everyone was copying US styles,” Tohji says. “Every Japanese rapper talked about growing up in Tokyo or Osaka, imitating US-style hometown pride. That’s not real to me. But the mall is real to me.” Their style draws inspiration from the early 2000s, often referencing pop-culture icons like the Black Eyed Peas and Pokémon that are familiar to Gen Z-ers and late millennials around the world.
去年，Tohji 与 Gummyboy 组成 Mall Boyz 二人团体，他们的单曲《Higher》在互联网上掀起一阵热浪。“在我们这一代说唱歌手之前，大家还都在模仿美国的说唱风格。”Tohji 说，“每个日本说唱歌手都在模仿美国说唱那种故乡骄傲的主题，讲述在东京或大阪成长的故事。但我觉得这不是很 real。对我来说，那种大型的百货商城（Mall）才是我日常生活的写照。” Mall Boyz 的音乐还从千禧年初期汲取灵感，常常会借鉴例如黑眼豆豆（Black Eyed Peas）和宠物小精灵（Pokemon）等耳熟能详的流行文化元素。
In the Mall Boyz, Tohji tends to rap about light-hearted subjects and feature brighter melodies. His solo work, on the other hand, is more personal and leans on darker beats. On his first mixtape, angel, he reveals a level of self-awareness and maturity that may surprise fans only familiar with his Mall Boyz persona.
The beats on angel frantically shift tempo and mood, but when paired with his lyricism and impeccable delivery, it all flows together to form a cohesive soundscape. Pop-culture references also appear, like a song named after Hi-Chew candy and another built on a sample from “Sugar, Sugar.”
轻松欢乐的主题和旋律在 Mall Boyz 的说唱中比较常见。但相比较在团体中的表现，Tohji 的个人作品则更注重自我，曲风更偏向黑暗的 trap 节奏。在他的首支混音带《Angel》（天使）中，他所展现出的自我与成熟的气质，让熟悉 Mall Boyz 的粉丝感到意外。
在《Angel》中，节奏和情绪快速切换，搭配 Tohji 无懈可击的演唱和引人思考的歌词，让所有元素一气呵成。混音带中也体现了对流行文化的借鉴，例如一首以嗨啾糖（《Hi-Chew candy》）命名的歌曲、另一首歌曲则采样自 60 年代动画片《The Archie Comedy Hour 》主题曲《Sugar，Sugar》。
Listen to some of our favorite tracks from Tohji below:
点击即可试听几首 Tohji 的作品:
Tohji’s insistence on collaboration is evident throughout his work. He worked closely alongside producer Murvsaki in creating angel. “We made it together, discussing ideas as we went. We worked on it every day here in my apartment over two months,” Tohji says. ” Murvsaki moved in while working on it because he’s from Osaka and had nowhere else to stay in Tokyo. My roommates were pretty nice about it.”
That understanding of the power of collaboration extends to the project’s videos. “Anton Reva came here from Russia and saw me perform,” Tohji says, describing how the video for “Snowboarding” came together. “He messaged me afterward, and since we really liked each other’s work, we decided to do something together. We flew him out here, got him a hotel, and got to work. I told him my concept and he made it happen, fleshing out all the details.” Tohji is now directing music videos for other Japanese rappers, such as “Black Hole” by Shaka Bose.
“合作” 是 Tohji 作品中的关键字眼，嘻哈文化亦是如此。混音带《angel》便是由他与制作人 MURVSAKI 共同完成的作品。“在那两个月的时间里，我们每天都呆在公寓里，一起创作，一起讨论。” Tohji 说，“专辑制作的时候，MURVSAKI 搬进了公寓，因为他在大阪生活，在东京没有落脚的地方。对于这一点，我的室友也都很理解。”
这股合作的力量同样延伸到了歌曲 MV 的制作上。“俄罗斯的 Anton Reva 来日本的时候看了我的演出。” Tohji 谈论起《Snowboarding》（滑雪）的 MV 制作经历，“之后他就发消息给我，我们都很喜欢彼此的作品，于是决定一起做点什么。我们邀请他住在日本，给他安排了酒店，并开始一起创作。我跟他讲了我的概念，让他来帮我实现，包括其中所有的细节。”Tohji 也开始帮助一些本土说唱歌手制作 MV，譬如 Shaka Bose 的《Black Hole》（黑洞）。
Tohji’s success represents a shift not only in the style of rap in Japan, but also the business behind it. “The Japanese music industry is very closed-minded, and labels are still doing things in very old ways. It’s crazy!” he says, pointing out that music consumption in the country still revolves around CDs, while most of the world has moved on to streaming. “Japanese artists are usually more receptive to what big labels and companies want. These companies look toward the US market and hope for English lyrics, but I want to go global naturally. We’re making deals with big companies on an equal footing but not compromising our own creative vision. I don’t just want to make money, I want to do something with cultural meaning.”
Tohji 的成功不仅代表着日本说唱场景的转变，也映射出其背后音乐产业的发展。“日本音乐产业向来比较保守，许多唱片公司还是用过时的方式来工作，真的让人很无语！”他指出，目前日本国内的音乐消费依然以 CD 光盘为主，而在世界上大多数国家都已经转到流媒体。“日本的艺术家通常会听从音乐厂牌和唱片公司的要求；而这些公司的目光都在美国市场身上，甚至会刻意在歌曲中加入英文。但我想用真实的方式来打造国际化的音乐。我们希望在平等的基础上与大公司合作，不应该牺牲我们自己的创作构想。我不只是想赚钱，那些有文化、有内容的作品才是我真正想做的。”
Contributor: Mike Steyels
Chinese Translation: Olivia Li
Images Courtesy of Tohji