Japan is usually seen as a safe, clean, and wealthy country. Although that’s relatively true, it’s not a complete picture. Just ask ralph, a rapper from the outskirts of Tokyo, who knows exactly what it’s like to grow up in the shadows of the city’s neon-lit streets. The stories his music depict are dark and cold, told with an aggressive, monotone delivery.
With a deep, gravelly voice, his sound is similar to London’s Headie One or the late Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke. But ralph’s flow is more hurried and dense, complementing the skittering high hats dotting the album. His lyrics, which are mostly Japanese but peppered with English, punch through the crisp soundscapes. Rapid-fire bars are punctuated by alternating octaves and deliberate, unrushed sections.
Listen to select tracks below:
大众印象中，日本是秩序井然、低碳环保的发达国度，但现实总与你的想象背道而驰，这一点 ralph 心里比谁都清楚。这位来自东京市郊的说唱歌手，将常年匿藏于背街小巷的故事和盘道出，以咄咄逼人的冷酷腔调，讲述着东京不可示人的传说。
ralph 的声线低沉且克制，乍听之下神似伦敦的 Headie One 或已故布鲁克林说唱歌手 Pop Smoke。但他的 flow 要更急，歌词见缝插针在歌曲的 hi-hats（高音镲片声）之中。通常以日文为主，偶尔穿插几句英文。舌齿谈吐如同高速的机关枪，游刃有余地穿梭在不紧不慢的节拍中。
His recent album, 24oz, is often tense and curt, replete with rough basslines and icy synths. Take “Roll Up,” one of the bleakest tracks on the album. It’s stitched together by orchestral swells, haunting choir samples, and an outright paranoid hook, with ralph spitting in Japanese: “Wake up / It’s clear that something is different / A warning that never stops ringing / Unexpected payback / Hands up.”
It’s not a suffocating album by any means though: perky keys, pitched vocal samples, and aspirational synths keep listeners above water when air is needed. “D.N.R.” offers a surprisingly danceable moment amidst all the claustrophobia, while “Window Shopping” is a bouncy cut about streetwear propelled by big, rubbery bass drums and a stuttering flow.
在他最近的专辑《24oz》中，张力与逼迫感此起彼伏，粗犷的低音线条与冰冷的合成音填色其中。以专辑中风格最为冷峻的曲目之一《Roll Up》(卷一根) 为例，全曲由管弦乐、合唱团人声采样萦绕心头，狂想般的副歌锤打听众的耳朵，ralph 唱道：“当黎明伊始／所有一切都太不真实／闹钟正在警示／那是始料未及的对峙 。”
专辑并非一味的让喘不过气来。干脆利落的节拍、清澈见底的人声采样以及愉悦舒适的合成音，都为整张专辑的氛围上色。例如，《D.N.R.》惊喜地融入舞曲律动；而《Window Shopping》(隔窗购物) 则是一首关于街头服饰的明快曲目，以粗粝的低音鼓和说唱 flow 推动。
At 12 years old, ralph fell in love with rap. He first looked up to Japanese artists, which eventually led him to the American and British rap scenes. He harbored dreams of making his own music for years but didn’t actually try until he was much older. Once he decided to turn his hand at the craft, he wrote lyrics in notebooks for two years before recording anything. His first time in the studio was the 2017 collaboration with Double Clapperz & EGL on “Sha Ni Kamaeru,” and he performed the song for his first-ever live appearance. His verse on the track was a creative breakthrough, one that provided the momentum he needed.
ralph 早在十二岁时便迷上了说唱。他最开始只关注日本本土说唱，后来才慢慢开始将视线移至英美地区。多年来，他一直梦想创作自己的音乐，内心考虑了很久之后，才真正放手尝试。加入说唱圈后，他花费两年时间不断在笔记本上创作歌词。他第一次进录音棚，与 Double Clapperz & EGL 合作了单曲《Sha Ni Kamaeru》。这首创作于 2017 年的作品在当时对 ralph 来说是一次全方位突破，也给了他不少前进的动力。
Raised by his Japanese mother and grandfather in the suburbs north of Tokyo, ralph doesn’t know much about his father other than he was Indonesian. He grew up in the danchi, which are Japan’s social housing projects, largely home to elderly and immigrant populations. The danchis are often the only place for immigrants and minorities to live since they face significant housing discrimination. According to one real estate agency, almost nine out of ten private apartments in Tokyo refuse “foreign” renters.
ralph 打小跟母亲和祖父在东京以北的郊区生活；对于父亲，他知之甚少，只知道他是印尼人。他从小在“团地”里长大，这是日本的社会住房项目，大部分居民都是老年人和移民人口。团地也往往是移民和少数民族唯一能住的地方，因为他们面临严重的住房歧视。据一家日本房地产公司称，在东京的私人公寓中，有 90% 的本地住户都对“外国”租客持有抗拒、抵触的态度。
Life in some of these housing blocks can be difficult. He says the kids aren’t looked after properly, so they tend to cause trouble. “There was a lot of fighting, vending machine thefts, and burglaries,” ralph explains. “Rudeboy Needs” describes life in the danchis with visceral imagery, describing oppressive architecture, drug addicts, crime, and even suicides.
He faced racism from a young age, being called gaijin regularly and was bullied non-stop. “There were other mixed-roots children in my danchis and I played with them,” he says. “But the relationship between Japanese and non-Japanese was extremely delicate and intense.” By middle school, he frequently got into fights with kids who, mistakenly, thought he’d be an easy target to bully. “They were nasty fights,” he recalls.
This was around the time he started to understand discrimination on a deeper level. “It wasn’t just useless violence; it was a denial of identity,” ralph says. “Knowing deep down there’s a difference between foreigners, half-Japanese, and Japanese.”
The authorities discriminate too: “Police stop and search me so frequently,” he says. “I’m sure it’s because I look like a foreigner, even though they don’t say that’s the reason. If you’re at work or in a hurry and try to refuse their request, they block your way and force you to respond.”
These experiences deeply influence his music. “I’ve always felt so isolated, like I have no home,” he says. “I feel like it’s easier to just be alone.”
In “Villains,” he touches on being vilified because of his heritage. “Friends’ parents listen / Don’t play with that girl anymore / In front of the sea due to the difference in blood that cannot be buried.” At the end of the track, he reveals how much it hurts, rapping: “It’s important for her to be struck by the wind of Hama / Pain is like a ship running in the sea with poor visibility / It always appears and disappears / It’s like a night fog.”
团地里的生活并不那么美好。ralph 指出，那里的孩子往往没有良好的教育，经常惹事生非。“打架斗殴是常有的事儿、自动售货机盗窃和入室盗窃事件更是时有发生，”ralph 解释说。在歌曲《Rudeboy Needs》(野男孩之需) 中，他从压抑的居住环境、瘾君子、犯罪、自杀事件等角度，赤裸地回顾了那些年在团地的真实生活。
ralph 从小就遭受种族歧视，经常被人叫作“gaijin” (外人)，受尽凌辱。他说：“我住的团地里还有很多混血儿，我们经常一起玩。但日本人和非日本人之间的关系非常微妙和紧张。”到了中学，他经常和那些误以为他好欺负的小孩打架，“那时候打架打得很凶，”他回忆道。
Thriving on Black British musical inspirations, ralph is one of the few rappers in Japan exploring the sounds of UK drill, borrowing its flow and slang. “D.N.R.” was an ode to 90s UK garage as well, something that’s increasingly common in the Japanese scene. But he’s most fond of grime, a highly digitized style of rap from London from the early 2000s. On “Selfish,” which draws on the genre’s charged vocal delivery and hyperactive hi-hats, he calls the local haters out, saying they’ll learn to like it: “Not possible in Japan? Well, sure / You can’t do it with all your excuses / I can do it, I can make it / Get ready for the flip-flop (Selfish).”
Although he’s speaking about grime, it’s a line that could clearly apply to the long list of people who’ve doubted him—ralph has finally made it and there’s nothing the haters can do about it.
ralph 深受英国黑人音乐启发，是日本为数不多以英国 drill 为主的说唱歌手，他沿用了这一音乐流派的 flow 和俚语融入进自己的创作。除此之外，他还有一些致敬 90 年代英国车库舞曲 (Garage) 的歌，譬如单曲《D.N.R》。但他最喜爱的还是 Grime，一种从车库舞曲衍生而来的说唱风格，出现在千禧年左右。在《Selfish》(自私) 单曲中，他以 Grime 招牌的说唱方式，喊话身边对自己风格带有敌意的人：“你说日本没有入口／这全是你的借口／我要做到，用我的舌头／与你的自私和傲慢来场搏斗。”
To ralph, success isn’t about being rich and famous; he’s actually ambivalent about these achievements. He appreciates the money he’s making and loves to see his fans pressing up to the stage during performances, but these are not ends in themselves. As he raps in “Selfish:” “Stack yen, I can’t get enough / I’ll write mandala in my head until I die.” He’s laying out what he feels in an imaginary mandala, a symbol representing a dreamer’s search for fulfillment. For him, being rich won’t bring peace. He doesn’t want to flex the wealth he’s earned and still wants to remain in the shadows—to the extent that’s still possible. “Money makes me comfortable, but I’d rather let the facts speak without exaggeration,” ralph says. He’d rather seek out peace and ignore what others think.
对于 ralph 来说，成功并不意味着腰缠万贯，他对金钱与名声并不感冒。能通过演出挣到钱、受到越来越多乐迷的拥趸，这固然是好事，但并不是他的目的。就像《Selfish》歌曲中唱的那样：“小心跌入金钱的漩涡／创作永无止境，是场曼陀罗”，他借用曼陀罗的概念，暗示只有不断追寻梦想，人才能够得到内心的满足，这种满足是多少钱都无法衡量的。ralph 不想过奢靡的日子，生活对他来说，还匿藏于东京不看光亮的地下，在市郊的团地，他说道：“钱的确会让你过得舒服，但我宁愿保持真实的自我，而不是浮夸表象。” ralph 就这样生活在内心的平静之中，他从不在乎别人的看法。