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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
sd: How have you overcome the Japanese - English
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
The Bomb, ISSUE #43, 1995