Interview by Spence D
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DJ Krush is Japan's preminent mixmaster. His wicked smooth turntable techniques is much in demand, thanks to slammin' remixes he 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 waved 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 swinging 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: Then 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 his-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 IÍd 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 Gangs "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 have always done this. Ihave 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 IÍve 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 listener?
Krush: What you're asking is what the person is thinking as they listen to my music? Well I thin some people might listen to it, like hear my music and 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 & Takagi Kan. Are there other Japanese hop-hop crews that we should be aware of ? Who re 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. TheyÍre very popular. Other than that there is a just a plethora [of rappers and groups], I mean six-of-one-half-dozen-of 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 hp-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 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 theyÍre 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 other s 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 dredlocks. And I find itÍs 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 mice 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 hop-hop, not the internals. They think if you have the external [the look] that's 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, itÍs 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 I've always wanted to work with, are CL Smooth, Big Shug, The Roots, DJ Shadow and Soloar of Headrush. And of course Guru.

sd: How have you overcome the Japanese - English language barrier?
Krush: By great good fortune I have 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 IÍm working with some one, 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 IÍm 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 shouldnÍt 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 issuers and I know what I want to say, but I just canÍt say it and this is really infuriating. But I'm 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 IÍm 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 thatÍs all that matters.

The Bomb, ISSUE #43, 1995