A-THUG from the street of Kawasaki South Side. The rapper talks about skateboarding that shines as strong as a gold chain.
[ JAPANESE / ENGLISH ]
Interview, Structure and Words_Dai Yoshida
One of the members of a hip-hop unit Scars, A-THUG is a rapper who spread the Kawasaki South Side to music fans across the country. He had spit out his tough experiences in the streets with raw words. From early 2019, he started posting photos and videos of himself skating on Instagram.
He continued skating in the streets of Kawasaki and in skateparks. He seems to be shining in a different way, not the hardcore image he's known for. Now, there's been some kind of change in him and what changed him might be skateboarding. We sat down with A-THUG to talk about skating and where he's at in his life. We'd like to thanks Carlos Hiroshi who made this happen, and send out respect to graffiti writer Yamadamaru and A-HIGH crew.
One late summer day of 2019. The location A-THUG told us to meet up at was a residential neighborhood in southern Kawasaki. Maybe the hustler who has constantly been chased by cops doesn't reveal where he bases himself. Our tension rose as the time got closer.
Despite our anxiety, A-THUG arrived on time with a good vibe. With a few of his crew, he was almost bouncing on the ground as he walked. We proposed him to do the interview at a cafe but he came up to us and said...
"No, let's go to my place."
We walked into A-THUG's crib in Kawasaki. The smell of dope is in the air and we see skate videos and magazines from the '90s like FTC Finally..., 411VM Vol. 01 on the dining table along with a stack of hip-hop and graffiti stickers. Next to quality dope, we see gold chains, rings and watches that haven't been used for a long time. A hardcore skater who's never afraid of slamming on the ground tend to grow out from them. A-THUG is no different.
"I'm stoked that you're asking me about skating."
He pours green tea in a paper cup and shows us friendly smile. Then he slowly started talking about his memories of his skating.
A-THUG (A)： I was born in '80 and my older brother bought a skateboard when I was in the 5th grade. I guess it was popular among their age. My brother quit skating and he gave it to me. I went to Daishi Park (※1) and got to know older skaters there. I was in 6th grade and they were in junior high or in high school. There were not many kids back then like now. Kobo (※2) from Goldfish was a year older but he was already skating. We knew each other since elementary school.
(※2) Kobo: Hiroshi Otomi. Skater representing Kawasaki who has been supporting the community by helping build Daishi Skatepark. He was the owner of Goldfish that unfortunately closed last year. He's currently a DJ.
VHSMAG (V)： I heard you were skating a lot back in elementary school.
A： There were a lot of good skaters around me like Haru (Haruhiko Sekiguchi) and Kobo. I entered contests a few times. I made all the tricks at Murasaki Sports contest in Kawasaki and got first place for the first and last time. I was skating Eric Koston's rasta color board. I also had Girl's soccer team deck. Those days. Back then Girl team came to Japan and I saw Koston having JanSport backpack and wearing Timberlands. People who were rocking those stuff were dancers, DJs and hip-hop heads. Looking back at that, that was super cool.
V： Pepe Martinez used to rock Timberlands. Speaking of Hip-Hop, Zoo York's Mixtape comes to mind.
A： Mixtape came later than that. Harold Hunter who were smoking a fat blunt in the movie Kids were in it. He was in skate videos before he got famous. Stevie Williams was like a crazy kid and now he's so dope. He was a little kid back in the day (laughs).
The young A-THUG was influenced by 344, a local skate crew in Kawasaki led by Haruhiko Sekiguchi. At the "office" they hung out at, A-THUG started to absorb all the latest news in skating, music, fashion, and also street manners.
A： There was a skate crew called 344. Haru's family had a shop and we used to hang out there a lot. There'd be Haru and all the other guys and they showed me a lot of videos. I'd watch World Industries Love Child, New World Order, and 101 Promo. Adam McNatt had the first part (laughs). I also used to watch a lot of New Deal videos. I liked Japanese videos too. NewType and Candy series... those were fun to watch. I kept my eye on the same generation like Spencer Fujimoto and Daniel Castillo. Colin McKay and Danny Way were too good and I couldn't mimic or really relate (laughs).
A： Skaters back then were dope. So I got really influenced by the older generation. 344 crew and all the older guys took good care of me. They let you know not only about skating but also music. They had good taste and style. They'd give me clothes too. I was hyped... Green Day and Bad Religion were popular. I was all about the music I hear in skate videos though. So I'd listen to The Beatles too. Also hip-hop, Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest for example. I remember playing the Beastie Boys during lunch time from a broadcasting room in elementary school (laughs).
V： Did you mainly skate at Daishi Park?
A： Yeah but we'd go skate other places too. We didn't have money so we'd just buy the cheapest train ticket and get off wherever we wanted. I realized that I only needed ¥140 to go anywhere from Kawasaki (laughs). Skating at Daishi was the shit but I was young so I wanted to explore. I wanted to meet new people and skate together. I went to places like Akihabara and Setagaya Park. T19 was big back then. Yoppi (Yoshifumi Egawa) and Akira Ozawa were fashionable. Jesse Kawada was writing graffiti at Murasaki Sports in Harajuku. There's a lot of graffiti writers in skate community. And then NewType guys. I remember thinking skate world is crazy. That was the days when I was skating.
As A-THUG got into skating, he gets hooked with hip-hop culture that changes his life later on. It all happened from the skate videos he watched at 344. Being at Daishi Park, which was one of the most important street spots in Kawasaki in the '90s, was a big thing for him too.
A： When I was skating, hip-hop started to be used in skate videos. For example, Richard Mulder used Das EFX song and Menace used Method Man. In Daishi Park, there were dancers and DJs and it was a spot with a lot of culture. People around me started playing records as DJ too. I was skating and checking them out; that's how I got interested in hip-hop. I started dancing. CAP from ZOO taught me how.
V： Were you fully into dance?
A： I wasn't into it that long. Maybe a year or so. I went to NYC because I wanted to dance but... Well, I got hooked with dope right before I stopped skating (laughs). So I went to NYC to dance and ended up hooked with the "street." I got to know guys living in the projects and they were selling weed and had gold chains and stuff. I got interested in that and quit dancing. That was '96 or '97. Right when Notorious B.I.G passed. Right when Mase got popular. Beef between the west side and east side! Biggie is dead! Bad Boy was going up. Those days.
V： Didn't you skate at all in NYC?
A： Back then I was completely into hip-hop... And this guy in the project told me that skateboards are for white people. Looking back, there were a lot of black people who skated. Guys in the project had that kind of mindset back then. So I figured it's better not to say anything about skating. I mean, now I think it was wack that I even thought that way. I should've told them that I skate no matter what. I'd say that now.
A-THUG became a hustler through living a street life in NYC. After he came back to Japan, he starts his rap career along with his underground hustle. He formed a hip-hop unit called the Scars with bay4k, Sticky, Seeda and Bes, and become to be known as an important figure in the '00s Japanese hip-hop scene. Their first album The Album released in '06 is known as one of the classics. As a rapper and hustler, we can only imagine his life back then was a crazy one. We wonder if he even had time to enjoy street culture. And how did he start skating again?
A： After I quit skating, I was unconsciously looking for a skate spot. Like looking at the entrance of an apartment and thinking, "That looks fun." It was like that always. Then after I came back to Japan, I got locked up. I had all the time I wanted there so I was looking at skate magazines that I bought or my buddies sent me. Then all these memories came back (laughs). I'd imagine myself skating before I'd go to sleep in the solitary confinement cell. I'd do nollie tailslide in my dream (laughs). I guess I'm a skate head after all.
V： So you started skating again after you got out?
A： After I got out, I released a solo album (Bright Son!!) in 2011 and started working with DMF. I had made an album (Streets Is Talking) with a trackmaker name DJ Kenn in Chicago. I went to Chicago around then and they had good skate scene and had a best trick contest at a shop or something. One guy does a trick and the next guy has to do the same trick. Something like that. I remember some guys skating a ledge at a skatepark and remember wanting to do the same. But I never went back to skating yet. Of course I wanted to skate but when you have money there's so many things you can do. But the situation changed a little bit ago. I had a lot of personal issues and stopped doing drugs, so I was broke for a brief time. I only had like ¥2,000. Then all you can do is skate. That's when I contacted one of my skater friends name Yoshiki Takahashi, who had been pushing me to skate again.
V： So it was super fun when you started skating again?
A： Of course. Not only that, I got over all the things including the fact that I had no money. People around me were buying Rolex and brand new car but that made no sense to me anymore. My mindset was like, "Pushing through the streets is way cooler than a rich guy or a hustler in Rolls Royce waiting at the signal." I mean, skaters are dope even though they're not wearing the most expensive gear. I used to admire Range Rovers and Benz, that's a fact (laughs). The reason I post skating on Instagram is because I think me skating is way doper than those showing off expensive watches and cars.
V： You weren't relating to the other rappers anymore?
A： In a way, yeah. Rappers are like actors, you know. They're like Jay-Z and Steven Seagall, you're marketing yourself. That's fine but skaters are cool just the way they are, skating around.
V： How did you start having that mindset?
A： When I got back in skating again, Yoshiki gave me a DVD. That's when I found out that Haru's older skate buddy E-san (※3) had passed away. I had skated with him several times when I was young. E-san was skating at this exhibition place for luxury cars. He was skating with long hair and wearing flannel shirt. That looked so cool. It transcended all the money and luxury cars. I think that's when I re-realized how dope skaters are.
A-THUG is currently concentrating on his wear brand A-HIGH. He's been working on it for the past ten years but had just released new gear back to back. The change might have to do something with the fact he started skating again.
A： I'd been working on a brand as hobby for ten years now with the notion of "creating with various people." It's better to make things we want to wear rather than paying money to big street brands. It wasn't fully intentional but this idea sounds skater-ish. Right now A-HIGH has Yoshiki as skater and myself as rapper. Designs are made by graffiti writer name Yamadamaru.
V： So it's a team. Which feels true to you? Working as team or individual?
A： Skating as individual is important but team has its beauty. That's the same with everything else. There are many people with good taste for example. It's just that not many people can imagine how to make things happen and sell them on your own. But when it's a team it becomes possible. I want to keep skating like that, surrounded by people. I want to create stuff and have fun in the streets. I want to live like a youth forever. I really liked Blind and when you look back on the things they were doing, they were probably just having fun just like every other young people.
V： So you're not chasing a big dream, rather you want to stay grounded and humble in the hood?
A： No, not at all. I currently do live in Kawasaki and I'm thinking about buying a Civic. That's simply because that feels comfortable to me at the moment. Getting luxury cars like Benz and Ferrari like Nyjah is fine. As a matter of fact, I sometimes want to get a Rolex. If I become super rich I might move to a tower mansion. I'm not denying material obsession. It's just that I think the idea of wanting girls, cars, money and power, that can fuck up your mind. I'll always remember that I'm from Kawasaki no matter what and even if I become rich and lived in a tower mansion, I'll always to go to the local liquor joint to drink (laughs).
V： For the things you feel fun and cool, what people think or say doesn't matter, right?
A： Yeah, I want to be flexible. I'd keep rapping even if it doesn't make me rich, I'd skate and dance. Of course you need money to survive but you don't have to chase it. Money might be something that comes along as a result of doing your thing... Well, I'm going out of track here (laughs). Any style works in skating. Mohawk and dreads, nerdy skaters... every style is good. There might be police and yakuza in skating too. Well, whatever... If the skating is cool everything is okay, you know?
A-THUG wasn't into skating that long when he was young. It was only between late elementary grades to mid junior high, just a few years. But those days had a major influence in his life. A-THUG is all about skating and now he's back on the board. To wrap up the interview, we asked him a straightforward question. "What kind of influence do you get from skating?"
A： That "you need to make it or it's not gonna count." You put your mind to it and you get better. But whatever you do, you really need to put in time. With that said, you should do what you want and learn from it. I learned a lot through skating. It takes time to get better at skating and you also get hurt. The reason you can't stop is because you love it. Shawn White both skates and snowboards. He slams hard and still goes for it with a bloody face. That spirit is dope. Crazy and beautiful, you know?
V： You can do it because you love it and put in time to make things happen.
A： When I was in elementary school, people kept telling me I'm no good. I was like, "I don't understand," so I ignored. But in skating, there's all these things I wanted to do, so I never did sports in Junior high school and kept skating. I stopped eating dinner at home and just skated with the older guys and ate snacks. My grandparents were worried... But because of that experience, I learned that I don't necessarily have to follow rules in school. Well, I guess I was just thinking that's way cooler (laughs). I got hooked with skating and got over it. I was struggling with tricks and once totally quit. later on I got into drugs, quit, lost all my money, started skating again. Now I can't stop skating. I wanna get better and enjoy skating. I was watching footage of Guy Mariano the other day and thought maybe he went through the same thing. Not that I'm saying I'm as good as him but... (laughs). It's the same as hip-hop. Skating is life itself.
V： Can you give an advice to kids that are being fucked up?
A： I want them to follow your heart and pursue the thing you like. It can be anything. And never betray the thing you love. Never lie or make excuse. You can start things as fashion at first but don't stop there. Try to see the important thing that's in the road ahead of you. Skating, you give your best and practice in the morning at times, right? Then you land the trick and you get super hyped. You go on to try the next trick and that's how you progress. But in order to do so, you need to continue. Whatever it is, you need to do it at least for a few years to get better. And if you continue doing it, you'll never forget it... Well, that's enough for today. Let's go skate (laughs).
Whatever it is, you can learn from it if you really work with it. A-THUG is a rapper and hustler. We can only imagine all the things he gained through tough experiences in the streets. But when we look back on his history, everything started with skating. A-THUG seems to gained a lot from the short period of his skate life. Like Guy Mariano, he got deeply into partying, got in many troubles, lost almost all his money. And the thing that saved him was skating and the knowledge he gained from it. He came full circle. Here's something he said as we went to a skate spot after the interview. It still lingers in my mind.
"I found a photo of a skater having his foot on the truck and reaching out to a street sign to put a sticker on. That was so cool. The action was shining like a gold chain. I'm seeking that kind of dope thing."
A rapper from Kawasaki, Kanagawa. After living in NYC, he formed a hip-hop unit Scars with bay4k, Seeda and Bes. Recently he's been pursuing a solo career along with his other project DMF.