Questions answered by:

Tomo Shimizu - Manhattan Records Store Manager. Mainly handles
stocking of new records and importing from the U.S.

Makiko Okada - A&R at File Records, a Japanese hip-hop record
company. Has assisted the record releases of artists such as
Rhymester and Microphone Pager.

How and when did you first get into Hip-Hop?

I started to have interest in hip-hop around `85, `86. Back
then hip-hop was starting to catch some attention in discos and
clubs, but still they were joints that played black music in
general; they only played popular rappers such as LL Cool J and Run
DMC, along with the R&B hits of the time. It wasn`t till much later
till hip-hop started to get broader support. I started to appreciate
Sugar Hill and other after I personally began business at Manhattan
Records. I also started listening to rap music from the early `80`s.
However, to this point I have liked R&B from the 60`s and 70`s the
most, so I really started listening to hop-hop since three years ago
when we started dealing with new 12 inch releases. Obviously,
generation gaps would dictate which hip-hop era people began
listening to rap music. Some started with Run DMC and the Beastie
Boys, later kids with De La Soul, A.T.C.Q., and the Jungle Brothers,
and there is an even later generation called the "New School," which
consists of people who got into hip-hop with L.O.N.S., Brand Nubian,
KMD, etc. These generation groups basically categorize the hip-hop
audience in Japan.

*Before we continue, it is important to note that hip-hop has yet to
turn into a big industry in Japan. For this reason there are very
few artists who have signed with a major label, whereas the
underground scene has been growing consistently. A group that would
sell platinum records like Gangstarr, is non-existent. Upon this
background the following questions are answered.

Which rap groups are popular out there?

Among the ones who have signed with a major label, East
End+Yuri, and Scha Dara Parr (SDP) are the two most popular. Also
there is a singer named mc A.T., who claims to be a rapper and
resembles the style of Hammer. On the underground side there is ECD,
the oldest in the J-rap scene, who has signed with a major label
without changing his original style. In terms of sales he cannot be
compared with the previous two, but he is well-known, judging from
his long career.
Then there is Microphone Pager, whose appearance on Tommy
Boy`s Planet Rap in `93 caught a lot of attention, and is currently
the undisputed champs in the underground scene with a cult-like
popularity. Also, a group called King Giddra, who honed their skills
in Oakland have a new album on the way, they have come up strong the
past couple of years.
Rhymester is an artist that is getting support from both the
underground and the popular audience. His key to success has been
the combination of dope tracks and lyrics that portray the reality
of Japanese listeners.
Groups that are rapidly rising on the popularity chart, are
Lamp Eye, and Mellow Yellow, both with recent CD releases. Lamp
EyeÕs influence on the scene has been visible through others that
are trying to emulate his style, despite his very recent debut.
There are other groups planning on releasing their albums such as
Soul Scream, You The Rock, and these groups can be expected to come
up in the future.

Does Japan have a lot of local rappers (name some)?

Certainly there are groups that are active outside of Tokyo,
and for those that are in Tokyo, including unknown and low-profile
MCs, there seems to be around a hundred. However, we are yet to see
a local act come up with quality sound that is up to the level of

I hear that DJs are just as popular as rappers out in Japan, is that
true? If so why do you think that is?

The popular DJs aren`t always the club (mixing) DJs but are
also the scratch DJs, and their overall popularity isn`t any less
than the rappers. The trend of scratch DJ popularity can be
attributed to the Japanese audience who prefer easy-to-catch visual

What is the breakdance scene like out there?

The scene seems to have been developing rapidly the past
couple of years. In terms of numbers, they`ll outdo their rapper
counterparts, and they`re also more spread out into the local areas.
The reason for this situation may be the easier accessibility of
information through the media in the locals, compared to rap music.

How much do records cost out there?

The production cost for five thousand CDs would be
400-500 yen* each. In Japan, there are only two or three vinyl
pressing factories, and not many press vinyl for sales purposes in
those plants. Although it is hard to give an estimate, 200 to 300
records pressed in Japan would cost 700-800 each. (*note: currently
- $1 roughly translates to 100 yen -8/22/95)
The sales price for a
Japanese artist (on CD) is 2500-2800 yen, a foreign artist`s album
re-released in Japan goes for 2000-2500 yen. Vinyl by a Japanese
artist, releases by a major label, costs 3000-4000 yen. Imported CDs
cost 1400-1600 yen, 12" vinyl 800 yen, album vinyl cost 1600 yen.

Is bootleg vinyl popular out there? If so is it imported or pressed
out there?

It is never on high popular demand, but on days of
new stocks, they may sell out in a matter of few days. There are
rare instances of pressing in Japan, but in some cases record stores
place special orders to abroad and then put them on sale back home.
The reason for low record production in Japan (refer to question
above) are simply the absence of vinyl plants and high costs. A lot
of the companies place orders outside the country (N.Y., London, etc.).

How popular is vinyl out there compared to CDs & Cassettes?

In Japan, the market for cassette tapes is almost
non-existent. Only a few of the general "popular" listeners actually
own a turntable, so they naturally resort to CDs. 80% of vinyl
buyers listen to either hip-hop, reggae, or house, which altogether
fall into the club music category, half of them is hip-hop.

How is the graffiti scene out there do a lot of kids piece?

In certain areas of Tokyo, numerous tags can be spotted.
There are some graffiti artists, headed by Kazz of the CBS, but in
definition, graffiti doesn`t necessarily fit inside the hip-hop
culture in Japan. There are strict laws prohibiting tagging on
public property, which seems to severely restrict and deter active
graffiti artists.