The Premium Lounge was Shux’s monthly Hip-Hop event, held every last Thursday. The actual venue was The Pink Cow, which was located on an off-beaten path in Shibuya. Away from the huge crowds, clubs, and lit up department stores. Underground by nature it seemed ( well it used to be, now it’s in ritzy Roppongi). I went alone off of Shux’s invite. I told myself none my friends were free. But honestly, I just asked them last minute and hoped they weren’t free. I’m so self-conscious when freestyling around non-rapper friends. I felt more at home rapping in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know. As I walked down the quiet street, I thought I had lost my way. Then I heard the faint bass…
I walked up to the entrance. ‘Nah, this can’t be the place’ I thought. I walked away when I heard a few footsteps approaching on the street; nervous. I always get nervous as hell when going somewhere alone. Especially, when it’s the first time. I still don’t know why. I contemplated going to 7/11 and downing a 7% chu-hi to ease the butterflies. Hmm, showing up drunk just didn’t seem ideal for this kind of event. If it was anything like Coins Bar, it would be chill; not wild. Fuck it. I turned back around and walked in.
It was the vibe, everyone chillin’, loungin’ back. It wasn’t too crowded yet, so Shux instantly recognized my face from weeks prior. We dapped and chatted for a bit. Shortly after he introduced me to a few of the regulars.
“Oh so you’re from Philly? Sutekidesune!” said one of the women Shux introduced me to. She thought I had good fashion sense. That I was Philly fashion. I was far from whatever was in at the time, in my opinion. And no, I wasn’t rocking an ahki beard. Feeling a little conversational, I brought a beer to chase the shyness away. I got a seat in the lounge area and chilled out to the music while the brew warmed me up. I was about ready to go approach a random group of people until someone actually came up to me. Out of nowhere, it seemed as if every black person living in Tokyo was in the place. A group of guys I had happened to walk pass earlier in the day came through. They greeted me as if we had been friends for years. Just about everyone did. There’s something about being a minority in Japan. Especially when you are THE minority among the majority white American/European ex-pat population. You can’t help but acknowledge a black face if you also have one. We stand out without intention. Which makes us closer in a way. Once again I felt at home in a foreign land.
“Yo I see a lot of emcees out here tonight. We about to get the cypher started in a few. All emcees to the front, all emcees…” It was time. The butterflies rose up in my stomach. I had no idea how good everyone else was going to be. I was worried. I was excited. On the verge of ripping the mic to shreds as soon as I touched it. We gathered around the stage and the first rapper with a mic in hand went in. Sixteen smooth bars. Next, a rapid-fire Japanese rapper. Had no idea what he was saying; he had one of the speediest deliveries I ever heard. The Busta Rhymes of Japan, I said to myself.
I was enjoying every minute of it all. One emcee after another. Nationalities spanning the globe. But at the same time, I couldn’t take my eyes off the mic. I got ever hungrier as it was passed from one hand to the next. I just wanted to go in and blackout on the stage. Have an out-of-body experience like the one I had at the Blockley a year prior. My passion became my addiction. Finally, the microphone fell into my hand. And just like that, it drifted out of my grasp.
I rarely remember the words I say during those moments when a mic is in my hands. Like teaching a lesson I’ve done countless times before, something else takes over. My voice is simply a medium for this foreign, alien presence. Whenever I begin to lose connection with this presence, I begin to end my verse.
After the cypher was a presentation on Hip-Hop in India. DJ Sarasa, a female DJ based in Tokyo, had just returned from India. While there she DJ’d, of course. But she also was working to create a Hip-Hop educational workshop with the locals. Just like the beginnings of Hip-Hop in the 70s allowed kids in the NYC projects to get away from the hard knock life, it is also doing the same in certain poor neighborhoods of India. It makes sense that Hip-Hop culture is found throughout poor neighborhoods in the world. It’s one of the few genres that doesn’t require an instrument for creation.
At first, the only thing going through my mind was, “Damn, this chick is bad.” I wasn’t even hearing a word coming out of her mouth. But as the presentation went on, she began to seem weirdly familiar. It was the shoes.
My friend Caroline had given me a book on the sneaker culture in Japan back in December 2011; a few days before I left for Japan. The book was filled with interviews of various people involved in streetwear fashion Tokyo. Each interview was accompanied with a photo of the interviewee in their current favorite pair of kicks. As she walked off the stage, I noticed DJ Sarasa wearing a wild pair of Mickey Mouse Adidas. There was no way she could have had the same exact kicks as the woman I previously saw in that book. It had to be her.
While everyone was trying to network with Sarasa after her presentation, or trying to spit game to her, I was thinking about other things. The sneaks. It was just too coincidental to get out of my mind. I tapped her on the arm as she walked pass me. I thought for a second I might have bruised her skinny self. Too nervous for a proper introduction, small talk and a smile, I just blurted out exactly what was on my mind:
“Were you in a book about sneakers?”
We hit it off after that. It was brief, but she invited me to her next party. She was spinning an all vinyl funk set at Microcosmos next Saturday. Free entrance for me and all my friends. A godsend for a broke male college student who likes to dance. Clubs can be up to a $40 cover for guys out here.
That’s how it happened in Tokyo. Coincidences like this would occur. I’d meet friends of friends. Next thing I know I’m performing at a show. Sarasa was a dope chick who had connections all over the industry. The only regret about my study abroad experience is not taking the time to get to know her. I felt embarrassed, like she was out of my league. She was working with The Roots and touring the world while I was working off a few songs I had recorded on my iPhone. So whenever I was around her, I felt like I always had something to prove. Something to tell her about my upcoming album. I invited her to my last show in Japan, which was at the same place I met her: The Pink Cow. At the end of the night, she didn’t tell me “good job, nice show” or anything that a friend might say. She just gave me a flyer for her next show and headed out. I was drunk and pissed, and decided to go home instead of staying out with friends. I wrote rhymes ‘til I fell asleep.
Upon returning back to the “real” world, I slowly drifted away from rapping. I blame it on having work and no time. But there were other things on my mind. I had a story to share, and dreams of putting that story on a big screen. It made sense and sounded marketable: the journeys of a black kid in Japan. But as I got deeper into the script, it seemed more like a documentary than the epic, “finding yourself” adventure that I actually lived. I didn’t want to modify my true story, so I ended up scrapping the idea altogether.
Looking back, I always find a way to put my cherished love, Music, on hold. Be it the time I was managing Bey, the months I spent working on that script, or the months I’ve been spending on whatever this thing will be. Hip-Hop is always there, whispering to me from the shadows of consciousness. Or maybe it’s the feeling I get when rapping, the addictive, out-of-body experience, that keeps calling me? Why do I keep finding a way to push myself further from this voice? Everything I’ve done seems to be in response to what I think people see me as. People see me as a good writer, so I keep writing things. Maybe our minds are wired to continue to do that which we receive praise for. Even if it’s a little compliment here and there, it pushes me to keep making articles. I wonder if I’ll keep hearing this voice until I have at least tried to create something Hip-Hop. I gotta just go for it, or I’ll be forever asking, “What if?” Here’s to sweet dreams becoming realities.