Hip hop has asserted itself as a global movement by reaching out to all corners of the world. One of the places to have etched itself onto the hip hop grid is Japan. This became evident in the collaboration between U.S. rapper Mos Def and Japan’s own DJ Honda on the classic hit Travelin’ Man. That particular song encapsulated the advancement of hip hop in terms of geographic spread as a unified movement.
Awich (Pronounced as “Aye Witch”), who is a Japanese femcee known for carrying out her all round artistic vision and lyrically holding her own. Born and raised on the island of Okinawa, she naturally embodies the embracement of multi-culturalism, which comes from being a native of Okinawa – which was a satellite colony of the USA. Having been influenced by a dynamic of cultures has given life to the phrase of the “Asia Wish Child”, in which Awich has been taught independence and donning the ability to create something of and on her own.
We had a Q & A with Awich and asked about her origins, her thoughts of the state of hip hop in the world and in the Japanese music industry, her future projects and other things.
Lavatory Records: Describe AWICH to those who don’t know you?
Awich: Awich (Born Akiko Urasaki; “AWICH” is short for “Asia Wish Child,” which is the meaning of my name: 亜希子 Akiko), an artist, poet, and director…. Whatever else it takes.
LR: Where are you from and where did you grow up?
Awich: I am a product of an intensely mixed history and culture. Born and raised on the small island of Okinawa. Although it is now part of Japan, it was once the independent kingdom named Ryukyu. After WWII, the US governed Okinawa until it was returned to Japan in 1972. Today, Okinawa is under political pressure between Tokyo and Washington D.C. It has been a target of both fascination and discrimination amongst Japan and surrounding Asian nations for years because of its exotic culture and hybrid transformations.
LR: When did you discover your love for Hip Hop?
Awich: When I discovered Tupac.
LR: What made you to pursue music, specifically Hip Hop, as a career?
Awich: I always was writing poetry. My oldest poetry book that I still have is from when I was 9. So I loved poetry first. When I first met Rap I fell in love, but I don’t think my career is in hip hop. Over the years, what hip hop has taught me is not to become a “hip hopper” but to create something on my own; something that the young people can be proud of and have fun with.
LR: How would you classify your style of Hip Hop?
Awich: Tribal, Tropical, Trap.
LR: What would you say makes you stand out from other artists who have the same type of style as yourself?
Awich: I move through different realms- from fashion, politics, arts, and economics. And also where I’m from is a subtropical island called Okinawa, which is a part of Japan that is not like Japan. The culture of Okinawa draws from different background such as its history of being an independent kingdom, experiencing multiple battles and wars, to being under colonization of America. That allows my craft to be out-of-the-box.
LR: The names of female emcees hardly come up in most people’s ‘top 5 emcees’. How do you feel about that?
Awich: In hip hop, all a man has to do is to be “the man.” But for a woman she has to be “the woman” and “the man.” It’s not easy. But to me Lauryn (Hill) was everything. She was EVERYTHING! So we see it’s not impossible.
LR: Which artists influence your music?
Awich: I gather inspirations from all kinds of artists.
LR: What collaborations, in studio and on stage, have you had that you are most proud of?
Awich: I have gone in the studio with Wise Intelligent from Poor Righteous Teachers. We made two songs that have not yet been released. They are just sitting in our HDs (Hard Drives) somewhere for a while. Also a collabo’ with Manami, an Okinawan female artist just like me who was discovered by Pharell Williams, is a product of pure friendship. I have so much love for her and she always supports me no matter what. Oh, I have a song with me, Manami, and Rino Nakasone, an Okinawan dancer who choreographs and tours all over the world. That was based on spontaneous fun. We were just being comedic and artistic at the same time. We even shot a video for it lol. It’s so much fun. But it’s sitting in the HD somewhere too. Hopefully we can release these gems someday.
LR: Which producers or artists would you most like to work with, time and money permitting?
Awich: I want to work with all the talented people from Asia especially from subtropics. I think we share the same type of issues and blessings of living in this part of the planet. If we can come together to create music that we all can identify with, that would be the movement.
LR: Japan is not known much for its music, educate the masses about the Japanese state of the music industry?
Awich: The biggest sales are in “idols” market. Like AKB48 and all of its 400 girls members and any boy groups from Jonny’s Jr. Just go listen to them and you will see what the Japanese music industry is like and why hip hop is not in the mainstream here. Japan is known for its Anime shit. And music is no different. If you look at the top chart music in Japan, most of the time it’s a girl group singer in school-uniform-looking-outfits or boy group singers who look like they came straight out of a teens’ love comic. That’s what sells in Japan.
LR: How big is the Hip Hop industry in Japan? Is it a viable career?
Awich: No. It’s not big at all. In fact, any genres of music other than J-pop are small. If you are in Japan and are a true artist or musician in any non-J-pop music, you have to consider selling to international markets.
LR: Do you have any upcoming projects you are currently working on that people should look out for?
Awich: I’m working on my album, videos, and tours and a fashion collabo with a local brand. I also am art directing the World Youth Uchinanchu Festival 2016 in October. It’s a festival that tours around the world for youth of Okinawan heritage. This year is the homecoming, so as a representative of Okinawan youth, I’m directing and performing at the festival.
LR: What do you get up to when you are not working on music?
Awich: Sending invoices. ^皿^. I do a lot of businesses; a lot of designing and direction works. I love working with people.
LR: Are there any special mentions you would like to shout out?
Awich: Peace to my daughter Toyomi; my best friend who taught me love.