interview by Spence D.
DJ Krush is Japan`s preeminent mixmaster. His wicked smooth
turntable technique is much in demand, thanks to the slammin`
remixes he has hooked up for Gangstarr frontman Guru and modern jazz
guitar icon Ronnie Jordan, as well as his wild collaborations with
DJ Shadow. In his native city of Tokyo, Krush has not only worked
with a variety of popular Japanese jazz musicians but has also
weaved together lush hip-hop soundscapes for television and film
soundtracks. While technically a DJ, Krush actually operates more on
the scale of a hip-hop composer, mixing and orchestrating programmed
and sampled beats, blending them with live instrumentation to create
swingin` hip-hop jazz suites. It is this fondness for incorporating
hard bop, swing jazz and hip-hop elements into his music which have
caused him to be labeled as one of the progenitors of the global
hip-hop and acid jazz scene. To put it bluntly, DJ Krush is a
heavyweight amongst the international hip-hop set. Earlier this year
Krush made a rare visit to NYC and spence d. was able to interview
him via fax, tape and interpreter.
spence d.:What is the significance of your name, DJ Krush? How did
you get that name?
DJ Krush: I didn`t choose this name. It was given to me. When I was
starting out in my career there were these two black artists who I
knew in Tokyo, at that time I was working with my brother, and these
guys said "Uh, you guys are a little off..." Those guys gave me the
name Krush and my younger brother was called Bang. So it was
Krush-Bang. Sounds like a car wreck, but that`s how I got my name.
sd:What first drew your attention to hip-hop?
Krush: Ten years ago there was an event held by Wildstyle in Japan.
They came to Japan and took over an entire floor in a department
store. I was just amazed by them.
sd:Who and what are your influences?
Krush: I listen a lot of different types of music. You know, rock,
jazz, in addition to hip-hop, but what seems to connect with me the
most is hip-hop. So primarily my influences are what people now call
the "old style" or "Old School" of artists, like Kurtis Blow. Those
were my first influences. In terms of DJs, there`s Grandmaster
Flash, and DST. I think those were my first impressions (of hip-hop)
and my first influences. Also my father listened to a great deal of
James Brown and Miles Davis, so I`d been exposed to them from a very
early age, so there are those influences, too.
sd:What was the first hip-hop record that you ever bought and when
did you start scratching and mixing on the turntables?
Krush: Sugarhill GangÕs "Rapper`s Delight" was the first hip-hop
record that I ever bought. After I saw that Wildstyle performance
event that I mentioned before, the next day I went to an instrument
shop to purchase a turntable, mixer and a sampler and started
scratching and mixing on my own. So the day after the Wildstyle
performance in Japan was when I began DJing. That Wildstyle
performance was about 10 years ago, so I started scratching and
mixing on turntables about 10 years ago.
sd:Why have you chosen to explore the unison of hip-hop and jazz?
Krush: Well I`ve always done this. I`ve always been interested in
jazz and using jazz elements in my music. It`s just that it wasn`t as
popular as it is now, this was before the whole boom of "acid jazz"
and this whole popularity of it. But I`ve always been doing this,
it`s just that now people are recognizing it.
sd: How would you describe your sound?
Krush: Well it`s just that I`ve listened to a lot of music over the
years and I was raised in Tokyo and combining all those elements is
expressed in my sound. It`s that simple. What is expressed in [my
music] is a result of those various influences. And hopefully my
personality is infused in it. You know, the whole thing is just a
combination of a lot of different elements that are me.
sd:What images and emotions do you want your music to invoke in the
Krush: What you`re asking is what the person is thinking as they
listen to my music? Well I think some people might listen to it,
like hear my music and think "Wow, it`s really great." But there
might be others that think "Wow, it`s really weird." But someplace
in-between, in some aspect or another, I hope that people appreciate
it and like it.
sd:What do you look for in a beat?
Krush: What`s important is not just the individual beat itself, but
the total groove. That`s very, very important.
sd: Can you break down the Japanese hip-hop scene for me? I`m
familiar with the Japanese dancehall artist Chappie, and Microphone
Pager and SDP & Takaji Kan. Are there other Japanese hip-hop crews
that we should be aware of? Who are the major players?
Krush: In addition to the individuals that you mentioned here,
another Japanese rapper who is also in the popular charts is a group
by the name of East End. They`re very popular. Other than that there
is a just a plethora [of rappers and groups], I mean
six-of-one-half-dozen-of the other. [There`s so many] you can`t
really compare them. I think that these people [rappers] might be
popular in Japan and with the people who appreciate them, but then
if you take them out of Japan and put them here in America, the home
of hip-hop, well then I think they might have some problems. They
might hit a wall [so to speak]. So until they cross that wall and
are acknowledged by the American hip-hop scene, they are just going
to live and die in the tiny, tiny hip-hop scene that is in Japan.
sd: How do you feel that the Japanese hip-hop scene is perceived
outside of Japan? Is it taken seriously or seen as a passing fad?
Krush: Sometimes I ask myself, "Is there a hip-hop scene in Japan?"
The most interest comes from kids in high school. I mean there are
these guys in the pop charts and they`re doing OK, but I don`t think
it will last. It`s like breakdancing. There was this incredible
interest, almost infatuation, and it soared, then it peaked, and
then it just disappeared. Boom!, just like that.
sd: I once read about Japanese youth who go to tanning salons to
darken their skin and others who don black-face masks so as to
appear more like the black rappers from New York. Does this type of
thing occur in the hip-hop scene? Do you see this assimilation of
black culture as a tribute/form of respect or as an insult?
Krush: Yes, it does occur in the hip-hop scene. And not only in the
hip-hop scene, but in others. Not only do they put on black paint or
dark, dark foundations or go to tanning salons, they also have their
hair done in dreadlocks. And I find this offensive, I really hate
it. People who are doing it think it looks good, but I think it`s an
incredible insult. It`s the younger people who are doing this. I
mean I have black friends who have told me that Japanese hair is
perfectly nice hair, [and they wonder] "why do you go out of your
way to change your hair and go to these tanning salons and burn
yourself?" It`s ridiculous. I mean why? You look perfectly good the
way you do. Accept yourself. It`s only young people who do this
because they care about the externals of hip-hop, not the internals.
They think if you have the external [the look] thatÕs enough. Unless
these kids perceive that they just can`t go around imitating and
carbon copying these people [black rappers], the Japanese hip-hop
scene is not going to grow.
sd: Even though your music is primarily instrumental what are the
major themes explored in Japanese hip-hop? Does it follow the guns,
ghetto, and pimp imagery commonly associated with American gangsta
rap or does it adhere to a more socio-political/afrocentric theme?
Another, more simple way to phrase this question is What do Japanese
rappers rap about?
Krush: Well, you know, initially they did follow the guns, ghetto
and pimp imagery, because, once again they were just focusing on the
externals of rap and it was sort of ridiculous because you look at
these kids and they have no history, or no exposure to violence or
pimping or the hardness of ghetto life. They were Japanese kids just
imitating the externals. But now, little-by-little, bit-by-bit you
have these Japanese kids who are just rapping about their own
socio-economic background and their own normal Japanese lives,
things they are familiar with. I think all young people just imitate
the externals when they first become infatuated with hip-hop and rap
and they just get obsessed with the externals. When I was younger I
just imitated that too. It`s just a matter of when you perceive that
the externals have nothing to do with your own reality, it`s just a
matter of when you perceive this and grow out of it.
sd: How did you hook-up with Guru?
Krush: When Guru came to Japan there was a concert and I was a big
fan of his. So I went backstage to visit him and I gave him a
present, it was this hard to obtain record and that was the
beginning of our friendship.
sd:Who would you like to work with in the future?
Krush: I have the good fortune of working with the people I want to
work with in the future right now. After that, well, I haven't
thought that far ahead. The people I am working with right now, who
IÕve always wanted to work with, are CL Smooth, Big Shug, The Roots,
DJ Shadow and Solar of Headrush. And of course Guru.
sd: How have you overcome the Japanese - English language barrier?
Krush: By great good fortune I have a magnificent interpreter, so in
terms of interviews, I have no problem. But when I`m in the
recording studio I can get a lot done with facial expressions. When
I`m working with someone, we may not speak the same language but I
might make a weird face or frown, so they know it doesn`t sound
good. If it`s good, you know, thumbs up and I smile and it`s good.
While I`m in the recording studio I`ve also picked up a few words
and phrases. But when I was younger I had no idea that I would be in
this line of work and working in English, so it`s a problem. I
regret now, I should have worked harder in school to study English.
I shouldn`t have been playing so much mahjong, shouldn`t have been
sniffing glue (sly grin, followed by laughter), I should have worked
harder. I think English will become more and more important for the
Japanese, so I want my kids to study English and will make sure that
they study English very hard. I feel really frustrated because I
would like to speak to people about detailed issues and I know what
I want to say, but I just can`t say it and this is really
infuriating. But IÕm going to work hard and little by little I`ll
pick up the language a little bit more and this way I`ll be able to
express myself. But I`m really scared because as I get older my
memory is shot and my memory fades, so maybe I won`t learn the
language. So that could be a problem.
sd: Do you see your music as a universal language?
Krush: Well I don`t know if I would use the term "universal
language" but if people listen to my music and they like it and get
good feelings from it thatÕs all that matters.
*much thanks to DJ Krush, his magnificent interpreter and Janet over
at Instinct for hooking up the interview. Remember, hip-hop ain`t
just about East Coast or West Coast, it`s gone straight worldwide...