- Awich, the Japanese hip hop superstar wants to inspire fans to “embrace their stories”.
- The 35-year-old has just released her first major label album Queen.
- From her move to Atlanta at the age of 19 to the death of her husband and more, her album is inspired by the many ups and downs she has faced in life.
The self-proclaimed queen of Japanese hip-hop Awich has stories to tell, from discovering rap as a rebellious teenager in Okinawa to losing her husband to gun violence in America.
Now drawing crowds at festivals and Tokyo’s most famous concert hall, she wants to inspire fans to “embrace their stories – because that’s what gave me the strength to take on the world.”
The 35-year-old singer, whose stage name means “Asian wish child”, has been rapping since her school days and started out in underground clubs in Japan’s southernmost region.
But 2022 has been a breakthrough year, since the release of his major label debut album. QueenVogue shoots and a performance at the famous Budokan in Tokyo.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, in and out of music, and there were times when I felt like giving up,” she told AFP.
“I couldn’t say I was the queen, or anything close to it, for long.
“So for me to have this chance and this opportunity right now, and for people to be so connected to my music and my songs and my lyrics…it’s just amazing,” she said. .
The title track of her album deals with moving to Atlanta at the age of 19, the death of her husband, and raising their daughter in Japan.
“The whole song is just my life, compressed into minutes,” she said. “So it’s an emotional up and down, like a roller coaster for me, every time I play.”
On stage, she’s composed but brimming with cheerful swagger, her sleek long ponytail swinging behind her as she boasts about the “different energy” she brings to the Japanese music scene.
And the rapper is no less daring when she talks about what’s important to her – she has participated in Black Lives Matter events and returns in her songs to the idea that Japanese women should be “kawaii”, or cute.
Inspired by Tupac
Born Akiko Urasaki to a teacher father and chef mother, Awich grew up in a huge old house surrounded by a graveyard.
“I was a rebel. I couldn’t sleep at night as a kid,” she said.
“Okinawa is a really spiritual place” and “every night when I was trying to fall asleep, I felt something in my room…so I was writing all night.”
At 14, she came across a CD by legendary American rapper Tupac and became obsessed, studying his lyrics while turning her own diaries and poems into rhyme.
Five years later, she moved to Atlanta for college, in part because she “grew up around American culture” in Okinawa, home to most US military bases in Japan.
Awich’s relative died serving in World War II, and his grandfather told stories of sneaking onto the base to steal cans of soup and share them with poor locals.
“Yet when you’re a kid, you hear kids playing, you see playgrounds on base, and it’s colorful, and it’s big, and the people are so outgoing and friendly,” Awich said. .
“We have mixed feelings about it. And it’s Okinawa,” she said. “Everything is contradiction.”
“Anger and Sorrow”
Awich married an American in Atlanta, who was in prison and died in a shooting when their daughter Toyomi was a toddler.
The couple returned to Japan and for two years Awich “felt alone and didn’t know what to do”.
She continued to write “to deal with anger and grief”, until her father told her that everyone in Okinawan had lost family and friends in the war, but “we still live “.
“So I felt as an Okinawan, I have to move on, and that’s the power that my father and all my Okinawan ancestors gave me.”
Toyomi – who is now 14 – raps a verse in Tsubasameaning “Wings”, which Awich released in May to mark the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan after the American occupation.
The rapper wrote it after the window of a US military helicopter fell into her daughter’s playground.
“We want to break free and fly too,” the lyrics go, describing “shadows above our heads” and “noise blocking our words.”
Awich also knows that life in a largely homogeneous Japan “could sometimes become difficult” for those of foreign descent.
“My daughter is both Japanese and black,” Awich said. “She had questions when she was younger, and we tried to answer them together.”
“All the molds we were put in in the past are losing their meaning now.”
Being a woman also means you “don’t have to be one way or the other,” she said.
“You can be a mother and you can be sexy, you can be outgoing and smart, you can be creative and erotic. You can be all of those things.”