kiLLa Is the Japanese Rap Clique You Need to Listen to Right Now
Some new Tokyo-based tunes for your head top.
Screenshot of the "SHINE" video via YouTube
A few days ago, a friend played me the video for a song called "Poser" by a Tokyo rap clique called kiLLa. Based on the opening visuals—a dimly lit tunnel with kids dressed in both goth-leaning attire and streetwear—I had no idea where this was about to take me. A few seconds in, the video ends up on a rooftop, and some dude with a fade starts chopping his words up in a manner that lets you know that he can rap his ass off.
That guy's name is apparently kZm, and, after some more research, I've found that he does this shit with ease. The song's second verse comes from a dude named KEPHA who, in the middle of his verse, adopts an uncanny Auto-Tuned warble matched in weirdness only by Chief Keef's "Nice." By the end of that first video, I was all the way tapped in. I spent until 4 AM that night diving down a kiLLa rabbit hole and successfully watched every video, collective and solo, they have online—at least every one that is available to the American internet.
The two aforementioned artists aren't even the best the group has to offer. The other three— YDIZZY, Arjuna, and Blaise—are nice as hell in their own right. That's best displayed in a track called "SHINE," the only detectable track that has each member on it. The hook lets off an energy that's more reflective of UK grime than the currently popular downtempo sound of rap in the US. It's nuts. In the video, YDIZZY opens up in the middle of Tokyo with a super hard green bomber jacket (Japanese brands always coming with that fire) and he starts losing his mind, rapping in the street. But it was the introduction of Blaise that completely fucked my head up. He'd obviously been playing the back for the majority of the video before his verse, but when he emerged, it was a black dude rocking plaits like A$AP Rocky and Travis Scott, rapping in Japanese. I lost my mind. Unlike KEPHA's laid back raps in the first verse, Blaise's deep voice occasionally elevated to a grunt. It's a tone in which I'm not accustomed to hearing Japanese spoken, and that, by nature, pulled me in.
There's a lot more to be amazed by, too. Each member of the group has their own solo material that can be found on the kiLLa Youtube channel. Considering their presentation, grasp on varied flow patterns, and diversity of rap skills among its members, it's easy to tell that they have the key ingredients of group that can reach a mass of people. And according to a recording of the group performing "SHINE" live, they are already doing that. That video shows a few hundred kids who know every word of the songs jamming out without any regard of bodily injury. The group is clearly cooking up something special. The bulk of kiLLa's group and individual songs over the past year have exceeded the 100,000 views mark and they don't even seem to have a proper body of work available yet.
This is the kind of lucky discovery that reminds you of why rap is the most powerful music on the planet. Why shouldn't a city like Tokyo, one of the world's most influential in fashion and technology, have their own group that has a tight grip on culture and aesthetics for young kids to lose their minds over? Non-anglophone rap music is entertaining just in the sheer fact that people from all corners of the world are still finding ways to alter the genre. But this isn't just a novelty; it feels like the kind of movement that could inform the world of how Tokyo's young underground sees itself. If we can get excited about what Skepta's BBK crew has been putting together in London for years, we'd be silly to not monitor what kiLLa could end up becoming. And even if they don't turn into huge stars, they already have enough music out that, if played in the right American clubs, will set a crowd all the way off.
Lawrence Burney is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.