Sidenote: Each chapter is focused on certain area of my life, and all the things that influenced that particular area. This chapter of course covers all the various things and events that have influenced the musical area of my life. The final story in this chapter though will focus exclusively on Japan, and some the musical happenings that I experienced while there. OK, let’s get back to it.
So I hopped on that plane to Narita, thinking about all the interesting people I would meet, the places I would go, the things I’d do. It was too unreal; like the entire experience, from January 3rd to August 1st, never happened. But there I was. First time out of the United States. No language experience. No cultural background beyond the few animes I watched when I was younger (like that helped). I was back in the womb again, but when I arrived in the brand new world there would be no mother to take care of me.
Of course there was support from the university, dorm managers, and study abroad peers. But even all the preparation and orientations couldn’t prepare me for actually experiencing Japan. Two years later, living here still feels weird sometimes. I started out by writing about my experiences in a blog for Temple University. I wrote everything I experienced to a certain extent. Culture shock, friendships, trips outside of Tokyo, etc. When I wasn’t writing a blog I was always writing something else though. I typed up the three or four songs I had been working on into the notes section of my iPhone. I also uploaded a few hours worth of instrumentals. It was too crowded during those Tokyo commutes to try to write rhymes in a book. The iPhone I couldn’t use to make calls outside of the U.S. became my new rhyme book.
The first three to four months I was writing verses. In the morning while squeezed between sardines of salarymen, I wrote on the train. After my night class, I picked up wherever I left off on the train. Those same salarymen now falling asleep on me. All the while I was keeping an eye out for anything music-related. A show, open mic, event, anything which would give me a chance to show my skills in front of a crowd. I met people, DJs, Engineers, and party goers; but no success.
One night I was out with my friend Aron at Coins Bar in Shibuya. I was wingman for him in a double-date we had with two lovely recent college grads. We went there because we heard the drinks were cheap. From outside the entrance I could hear the familiar sounds of boom bap. The Golden Age. We had arrived home.
The drinks were flowing, shots were getting downed. We were having a good time with those girls. But periodically I would zone out into one of those “This is my song!!” moments. I would immediately dip out of the convo and go vibe with whoever might be having that same moment. It had been so long since I heard boomin’ bass, and spitfire lyrics. Up until then, the only clubs (besides Harlem) that I went to were places that strictly played Top 40. I was so used to going to DJ SYLO parties back home, where pretty much anything was up for grabs. I missed that spontaneity.
Aron knew I liked to freestyle, but he had never heard me spit. So being the go-getter that he was, he had this grand idea to introduce me to tonight’s Master of Ceremonies.
“Yo bro let’s just ask him if you can get on the mic for a bit!”
“Nah man, chill,” I joked with him, “This is his event and I don’t want to interrupt what he’s got going on.”
Of course, I wanted to freestyle. But I get really uncomfortable when asking favors of people I don’t really know. What if this guy was very particular about his hosting duties? I was (and sometimes still am) concerned about someone else’s feelings and not putting mine first. If Aron wasn’t there…my Hip-Hop adventure would have played out much differently in Tokyo. Ten minutes later I heard Shux on the microphone.
“So we gotta few emcees out tonight who wanna drop a freestyle or two. Let me get The Malchemist and Hiro up to the front. Hiro, Malchemist, where you at?”
I was coaxed up to the DJ booth by Aron and our dates. I dapped up the other rapper joining me and Shux, the host. The DJ dropped a beat.
“Uhh, uhh, check it, 1, 2…” Hiro went in. I let out a sigh of relief under my breath. My heart was beating like crazy. I hadn’t freestyled in over four months. I was writing during this time, but writing and freestyling are two totally different things. I could sense when Hiro was ending his verse. I had no first bar prepared, I only planned to pick up with whatever rhyme Hiro finished his verse with. The DJ scratched and transitioned into J. Dilla’s “Strugglin’”. That’s when I felt it. That alien energy rushing all throughout my body and up through my head. That same energy that came to me at the Gathering, at the Bell Tower and now in a cypher at a bar in Tokyo. I was back in my element. All these things seemed to happen at once: the end of Hiro’s verse, the song transition, that alien energy.
“Yo, yo, yo, check it…” I went in. I rode that energy for as long as I could, until the alcohol washing over my membrane slowed down my processing speed. I was a little rusty, but damn it felt good.
When it was reaching midnight, Coins Bar was preparing to close and we were getting ready for the next half of our night: Roppongi. I was on such a natural high from that freestyle that I decided to buy Aron and our dates a round of shots. It was going to be a good night. I dapped up Shux as we left and we exchanged contact info. He explained to me that the hosting he does at Coins Bar is sort of an off and on thing. He invited me to Premium Lounge, his very own Hip-Hop event.
That’s when I started to notice the coincidences. I had came across Premium Lounge very recently while doing a Google search for Hip-Hop events in Tokyo. We had been to Coins Bar maybe once before, and had never seen Shux, or many of the people we met that night. The only reason we came to Coins this time was for the cheap drinks, seeing that we were broke undergrads in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Another, more minor coincidence was that Shux swore that he met me before. To be honest I felt the same. But where we met, I couldn’t put a finger on it. The next major coincidence happened at Premium Lounge.