Interview by VHSMAG, Photos by Junpei Ishikawa
VHSMAG (V)： Let’s start from the days before you became a rapper. You were one of the Alpine ski racer candidates to represent Japan in the Olympics, right?
SHO (S)： Yes, it wasn’t official yet. It was before Torino 2006. I was competing in European Cup but I couldn’t even make it to the World Cup, which is the previous step to the Olympics… I was representing Japan but I only made it to European Cup.
V： I heard your career as a skier ended due to injury.
S： I dislocated my hip in Austria and I got let go from the Japan team. I recovered from the injury and came back for a year to return the team. I won JAL CUP and FIS race but I couldn’t get back to the Japan team that year. I wasn’t financially well-off and I thought I didn’t have a future. That’s how I stepped away from skiing.
V： It sounds like ski scene is pretty harsh.
S： Very much. You need to be competing in the World Cup if you want to survive… Well, there are people who are wealthy enough to continue but I wasn’t like that… I lost my father when I was freshman in high school and I had to support my mother from there.
V： Didn’t you have any sponsor to support your career?
S： I did. Alpen’s Japan was my sponsor and they supported me with gear and expedition. It’s just that I didn’t have any income. I had to win races and get cash prize to make a living.
V： And that got you away from skiing and you decided to become a rapper. Did you have Hip-Hop in you when you were skiing?
S： Of course. I went to a CD shop with little money I had in the year when my father passed. I bought Tupac’s album and it was super good. I was sharing a small room in a dorm with two other students and it was pretty rough. I had just lost my father and I was going through a difficult time… The Tupac’s album became my tranquilizer and helped me out a lot. So I can say that I became mentally strong because of Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop back then was hungry and positive, you know? That got to my heart. So I loved Hip-Hop when I was skiing.
V： How did you start rapping?
S： My older brother had a turntable. I’d sneak into his room, put a cassette tape in to the player, and recorded an hour-long freestyle using a shitty mic I bought. That was the start. I was skiing until 21; this was when I was still skiing.
V： So Tupac was your main influence?
S： I liked 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Nelly, T.I…. I also liked the southern sound like Young Jeezy. Of course Nas and Biggie too.
V： Now you’re widely known maybe due to your YouTube channel. Did you go through any struggle?
S： I was never under the influence of any Japanese rapper so I had learn everything on my own. I respect rappers who made it in Japan but I started rapping under the influence of American rappers. I sucked at what I did and couldn’t get any result. I released my 1st album in 2007 and had three albums by 2010. They were distributed but I had to sell them in the street on my own. I didn’t have fans and my shows were empty. No one knew my songs. I went to America, got connected with The Game and I represented the label in Japan, but people were like “He sucks. Who the fuck is he?” I was selling my album in the street so I got back what I had invested but that was it. I wasn’t making money. So I struggled business-wise.
V： Did you have a tipping point as a rapper?
S： I was making “Yakubutsu Ha Yamero (Stop Doing Drugs)” and it got featured in “TV Tackle” and got a little recognition but that wasn’t the tipping point. In 2010, I was trying to figure out how I can get a huge hit and decided to film myself freestyling 365 days straight and get it up on YouTube. Just rapping wasn’t enough so I need to do something simple. I thought uploading my life in the streets on YouTube was a good idea. One day, I sang “Stop doing drugs” while getting a stop-and-search from the police and got it up on YouTube. Then a random girl tweeted my video without my permission saying “You stop.” The that got retweeted like 5000 times… that was in 2015 and it was definitely my tipping point. Also I got featured in another TV program “Atsushi Tamura’s Chijoha Deha Dame! Zettai!” and that showed my life story, which helped me out a lot too.
妹尾ユウカ (@yuka_seno) 2015年11月2日
V： How did the “Yakubutsu Ha Yamero (Stop Doing Drugs)” come about?
S： Everything started with me working on O.T. Genasis’ “CoCo” remix. I changed the “I’m in love with the coco” part to “Yakubutsu ha yamero (Stop doing drugs).” That got featured in “TV Tackle” and I thought “Shit, I’m gonna get sued for copyright infringement.” So I had the track remade and changed the lyrics.
V： The content of the lyrics are completely the opposite.
S： That’s right, so there’s nothing to be sued about.
V： So a girl tweeted your video and that got you famous. Were there any troubles or chaotic incidents?
S： Everyday. I mean, I got a really bad personality. I was an athlete and I’m very competitive. I need to be the best. I need to feel special. To be honest, I’m not a friendly person who can be like “What’s up!” When I was skiing, I’d put my headphones on and be like “I’m a rapper.” You know, The Game was like that. But I got stressed out being like that all the time… People came to me and gave me shit for my “Yakubutsu Ha Yamero (Stop Doing Drugs)” song. But every time I get that, I can’t be fighting with them saying “Weed is natural so it’s not a drug, but can you take responsibility when a kid gets influenced and starts smoking weed and gets arrested?” If I said that, we’d get in a huge beef and get in a violent mode. That’s a waste of time so I change everything to comedy, an entertainment. So I change my mode depending on what I’m doing. Tupac was saying that he had seven personas; I can say that I had several personas as well. I can act like I’m on drug when I’m sober, I can be a cool guy. Like today, I can be wearing grills and pretend like I can’t speak smoothly even when I’m getting interviewed.
V： I see (laughs). As you know many rappers are getting arrested recently with weed and drug. What do you think about this, considering that you’re sending out a message “Stop doing drugs?”
S： In America, weed is legal in certain states. I feel that Japan is getting more like America. I don’t know, if they’re showing their life like it’s a show and they’re okay with getting arrested, maybe that makes sense as a rapper. It’s just that my message is “Stop doing drugs,” so I’m on the other side but I respect the way others live. What they’re thinking after they get arrested… that’s something we can’t see. Maybe there’s a meaning behind it.
V： By the way, When you say “drugs,” is weed included?
S： Weed is natural so I don’t think it’s a drug. But some one influential can’t be promoting weed as a cool thing because we can’t have kids getting inspired and arrested. The consequences are too brutal in Japan.
V： Let’s talk about YouTube. You mentioned earlier that you’re not a friendly type. Wasn’t it tough to expose your non-rapper side on YouTube? I mean, I haven’t checked all of your videos, but…
S： No, I understand. I have over 1000 videos on my channel. Yes, it was pretty tough but my goal is to win the Grammy. To make it happen, I have to change myself completely.
V： How do you come up with the ideas?
S： It’s all freestyle. The stop-and-search is something that’s happening in my life and I just get my iPhone out of my pocket and film so that’s sporadic. But when the traffic gets low I do something completely crazy and try to get more views.
V： Balance is the key (laughs). Then which one of your episodes stick out in your mind?
S： The one where I’m running from the police. That was fun. I’d accept the stop-and-search from the police all the time but I thought to myself “What happens If I ran?” So I tested. I think that was the smash hit of the year.
V： Skaters get stop-and-search a lot too. When do they stop you?
S： I get stopped before shows and when I’m heading to an important meeting. It’s annoying.
V： Maybe that’s because they see that you’re feeling a little tense. What do you think is the best way to avoid it?
S： The best way is to stay home.
V： But you have to go out sooner or later (laughs). What’s the quickest way to get it over with?
S： If it’s in Shibuya area, they stop searching me when I show them my “#Stop doing drugs” sticker because they know who I am. It’s impossible to avoid it normally though. They get suspicious if you refuse… the quickest way is to accept it and have them do whatever they want. But the most quickest is to just run. I found this after testing, but I slowed down when I ran. If you run full speed, you can definitely get away. If you’re a skater, you can get away 100% since you guys have your skateboards.
V： I see (laughs). Let’s talk about your rap style. How did the style of repeating a certain phrase come about?
S： Well, I was always yelling “Stop doing drugs” when the song got famous, because hundreds of people asked me to say it every day… I guess I went crazy because of that.
V： Is that right (laughs)?
S： And I got so crazy and I guess that’s how “Bouzu Ni Hige (Shaved Head and Beard)” was born.
V： I can’t get that song out of my head (laughs).
S： I do have songs where I’m repeating certain phrase, but the other songs are also important part of my work.
V： When I checked YouTube comments on “Bouzu Ni Hige (Shaved Head and Beard),” I saw two different types of comments, saying it’s a joke and absolutely cool. What’s you’re take on that?
S： As for “Bouzu Ni Hige (Shaved Head and Beard),” my mom was visiting me about four days before I made the song and I took her to a museum in Ueno. There, I got inspired by a Picasso painting. I was kind of hesitating to do something that wasn’t done before, but I felt that Picasso was never afraid to do his thing. Then, I thought that I wanted to make a song only using the words “Bouzu (Shaved head)” and “Hige (Beard).” People say I’m only using these two words, but actually playing around with them. “Bouzu ni hige, bobobobouzu ni hige,” “Bou, zuzuzuzuzuzu, Bouzu,” “Hi, gegegegegege, bouzu…” I’m really playing around. I wanted to make an art with the words. That was the thing that I wanted to express as a rapper.
V： Is it the same with “Louis Vuitton” and “BABABABALENCIAGA”?
S： With “Bouzu Ni Hige (Shaved Head and Beard)” I wanted to make an art but as for those brand songs it was all business mode. If a Japanese rapper is rapping about brands, they might take notice and could be a big thing overseas. That could be a great opportunity.
V： I see. Now can I ask you a bit about skating too? What do you think about skaters?
S： I have a skateboard. My image of skaters is “Super cool.” I used to visit New Zealand every year when I was skiing and there was a mini ramp in the mountain. There was a skate shop too. I bought my first board when I was in high school. I got into skating but I had pump up for skiing… My buddies could ollie over color cone standing up, but I could only ollie it lying down on the ground… My body was heavy so it was hard but I think skaters are cool.
V： Skating will be in 2020 Tokyo Olympics. What do you think about that?
S： I was wearing super tight suits when I was skiing so… During expeditions overseas, I used to watch skaters go to bar with girls… with kind of a street vibe. I thought that was so cool. So I think skating in the Olympics is a good thing but I want the street vibe to be there because that’s the part where I think skaters are cool.
V： So your new album “365” is going to be released, yes?
S： It’s a double disc, 19 songs in CD and 18 songs in DVD. Songwriting and music video shoot go hand in hand so DVD comes with the CD. I used to have a certain concept for my albums, but for this one I just put together songs that I made during tours. So the concept is “organic.” Something like “coexistence with the earth.”
S.TIME STYLE RECORDS
V： After the album is released, what’s next for you?
S： Winning the Grammy. My dream was to win the gold medal in the Olympics so I’ve always wanted to be the best in the world.
V： Lastly, message to skaters please.
S： Stay cool, keep the street vibe. That’s the type of skater that I always admired.