Sample Snitching

One issue that I’d like to avoid in my work analysing Tokona’s work is ‘sample snitching’. DJ Premier has previously called out people who put out mixtapes of the original works and pictures of hip-hop artists who ‘sampled’ the original and also given his opinion on bloggers who reveal samples in his music. I’d love to have written about songs I suspect may have been sampled or just sound similar, but I don’t really want to be a ‘snitch’. Though would I really be a snitch? I don’t actually know if those songs (I’d talk about) were sampled or not and sometimes I can’t find out if the sample (that’s if there even was a sample) was declared or not. I’ll have to sleep on it and really think about how I want to go forward.

A big part of the music for me, is looking at how samples have been used and what they bring to the track. Seeing as this was done in Japan and the parent label is Def Jam, I don’t think I’d be highlighting anything that wasn’t declared. Aside from that, similarities to other works are probably not intentional and I have no actual knowledge of, nor would I be alleging that anything was sampled that shouldn’t have been.

For me, this is a big thing. I’m not a fan of snitching on artists for their samples and I really respect DJ Premier, his work and his opinions. This struggle that I’m having with myself speaks to the culture of Hip-Hop and Rap music. It’s a culture that’s about building on the past. I don’t think Premier is against paying people what they’re due, but as he says, there are artists he’s sampled that don’t like or respect Rap music, so those samples have to go in under the radar. This is a conflict between a culture of sharing and collaboration against a culture of ownership and theft. I suspect that in Japan, all of the samples will have been meticulously cleared as that’s the culture there. But then, we’re talking about Japanese artists involved in Hip-Hop. I’d guess that they’re more in tune with the culture of the music they’re creating than with the ‘establishment’, so you never know. I’ll definitely be looking into that aspect of the culture in relation to Japan, but for now, I might just keep my opinions about samples that I think I can hear to myself.

Small Body of Work

Perhaps one of the problems with talking about T-X and proclaiming him as one of the best Japanese rappers, is his relatively small body of (solo) work. When ranking the greatest rappers, you must think about not only their ability, but also the amount of times and how consistently they show that ability.

Tokona-X has only one solo album, but he has done a lot of work with DJ Hazu (DJ 刃頭) and performed with his group M.O.S.A.D., so we can still get some idea of his true ability. Even so, there’s no telling where he could have taken his music, both in a positive and negative sense.

For me, his album, Tokai X Teio (トカイxテイオウ) is such a great piece, that it would be really difficult to beat. In a way, I feel it was in part poetic justice that he died after he recorded it. Not because I want him to be dead, but because it’s so good that maybe it was the best he could have done? It’s a really worthy album of such high quality that I think every rapper is trying to reach that level. Tokai X Teio is his ’88 album. We must ask ‘could he have done better?’ And ‘where could he have taken his career from there?’

Akemi in Let Me Know Ya?

Is it Akemi Kakihara (柿原朱美) that takes the starring role in Tokona’s video ‘Let Me Know Ya’ along with Klassy Nikoff? I watched the video after a long time of only listening to the track. The song itself seemed to be Tokona talking to a girl, trying to ‘chat her up’ and the video turned out to be the visual representation of this. What I didn’t count on discovering is the identity of the girl in the video.

Akemi Kakihara

Akemi Kakihara

As with most youtube videos, the one for Let Me Know Ya has comments below the video itself. I had a look at them and noticed people were mentioning someone called ‘AK’. This mystery ‘AK’ became the mystery (to me at least) Akemi. People were saying things like (to paraphrase) ‘she looks so young’. I did a search on her and discovered that she’s now an almost 50 year old singer! That means she would have been in her late 30s at the time of recording the video for Let Me Know Ya.

Looking at the pictures of her, she hardly looks any different now in comparison with her appearance in the video. I know that with (East) Asian women, you have to apply the ten year rule and assume they’re ten years older than they look. Even so, I still find it hard to believe that I’m seeing the same woman, or that she’s almost 50. It’s even harder to believe that she was in her late 30s in the video as she appears to be in her 20s; like Tokona-X was.

Akemi is based in the States and has been for some time now. That would explain why she seems to have a good grasp of English, which I would guess is as a result of her spending time in New York. This makes me wonder why she’d take part in a seemingly sexist video featuring the dialogue it does. She seems disgusted and looks away when he says ‘what’s up bitches?’, which makes me think she can understand what’s being said. Perhaps that was her way of being in the video and showing her disapproval with that particular chat up line?

From the comments and doing a bit of research myself, I do think it’s Akemi in the video. I’m just surprised that she looks so young. I also wonder why she didn’t get a featured artist credit, unless that’s not actually her voice in the song? She’s not even mentioned in the song credits, as they go to Tokona-X, Kalassy Nikoff and Subzero (the producer). Despite this, in the video at least, Akemi Kakihara took the starring role.

Understanding his Lyrics Through the English Translation

When I went away to Japan, I could only understood basic things in Japanese. After my four years living there, I still can only understand basic things. When I left England, I stopped listening to the music I’d enjoyed in England; the most I’d done was try to rap along at Karaoke, but I soon stopped that! On my return, I had a listen again to those same tracks, but with a new perspective. Naturally, I started to think about the lyrics of Tokona’s album Tokai X Teio. I wondered about the deeper meanings I was missing and how long it would take me to uncover them.

Listening again to the music I had (not just Tokona, but other artists) was a very interesting feeling. I could now understand the odd word and if I concentrated, I could get some real meaning from parts of some tracks. As was the case before I went to Japan, I could follow the Japanese lyrics while listening, even if I couldn’t understand. I used to just follow using the Hiragana between words, but now, I could read some of the Kanji also. I guess those hours singing karaoke (pop and enka, not rap!) are paying off at last?

The version of Tokona’s album that I have came with an English translation of his lyrics. I thought I’d like to read the translations serval times, so to keep the lyrics in good condition, I made a copy of them to refer to later. I didn’t make a copy of the Japanese; probably because I had no hope of understanding them at that time. For a while, I couldn’t remember where I’d put them, but I had another look recently and managed to find them hidden away in a plastic wallet in one of my draws.

I was really excited about finding them after such a long time searching, so I decided to listen to Tokai X Teio again straight away. It made me feel happy that I was able to follow it with the English lyrics. Those English translations were especially helpful for me to understand the Japanese words he was using. The difference being that after living in Japan, I now had an idea of the words and sentences in Japanese that matched the English. As I followed along with the lyrics, I could now understand the words he’d use in Japanese to say “I was born and grown up in Yokohama” (Where’s My Hood At?) and see that the translation was right; although I might have worded it differently. I could also hear that the translation “Can I take two please” (二つバカ頂戴) (Dirty Go Around) is not very accurate at all! Because I now had a more concrete idea of what he was saying from my experience of speaking Japanese.

Even though I have a translation, it will still be good to do a translation for myself; especially as I know that there are inaccuracies. There are certain points that I think could have been translated better and other places where lines haven’t been translated (presumably because they’re quite impolite). The translated lyrics will make a good guide for me to work on and help me to make unassisted translations better. I look forward to finding some hidden gems in Tokona’s lyrics and sharing my discoveries with you all.

10th Anniversary Year

The coming year will be the 10th since Tokona-X left the world without showing us everything he could do. I expect there will be some special events in Nagoya to mark the occasion. I’ll be on the look out for anything scheduled and be sure to write about it here.

It’s now my job to make sure I do my best to get his name out there and work known to a bigger audience. I’m going to use this milestone as motivation to do the best work I can and make 2014 a great year for T-X.

Hopefully you’ll be along for the ride and enjoy it every bit as much as I enjoy his music. Let’s prepare to say goodbye to 2013 and hello 2014, starting it as we mean to go on.


9 Years Ago Today

Tokona-X was born on 20/10/78. He died on 22/11/04. For me, those two dates are very important. Not as important as they are to his friends and family. The love and joy felt by his parents when he was born. The pain and anguish felt by everyone close to him when he died. For me, those dates are important for a different reason. I look at them as being the bookends. Between them stand several books on different subjects with many different chapters chronicling the life of Tokona-X; legendary Japanese rapper. On the 9th anniversary of his death, I’m here to tell the world about Tokona-X. I’d like to write about his work so that I can introduce him to an English speaking audience. Through this site, I will fill in the gaps between the bookends. His music has brought me a lot of joy over the years and I’m sure that you will enjoy it as much as I do.