This album was really unique, to say the least 😛
Hello and welcome back to another J-Music Exchange/Rate post! In case you’re not familiar with what this is: basically, me and my good friend/Japanese music fan Leap250 give each other some albums from our libraries, listen to them and later write a review on our own blogs. This is a fun little segment we’ve been doing for a few years now, as it allows both of us to discover new stuff within the Japanese music scene. Plus, we hope that these will allow you, the reader, to find some new music to listen to as well!
We’ve been doing these for a few years now and this month’s reviews are our first ones of 2022! Which is a great segue to our topic/theme for the month, as suggested by Leap himself. Since the new year began, he thought it’d be cool to pick an album based on our New Years resolutions in regards to Japanese music (i.e. wanting to listen to a certain artist/genre more, etc). I really liked that idea since there are definitely some styles/bands that I’ve been wanting to get more into, and a new year seems like the perfect opportunity to do so.
That being said, here are our choices: Leap went ahead and recommended Zutto Ikite ne by Takayan, while I tossed over HoneyComeBear’s 2021 release HappyEND.
Let’s jump right into it!
Takayan (たかやん) is a Japanese rapper, producer and songwriter who got his start by posting original songs on YouTube. He uploaded his first original song, “Expansion”, on July 21st, 2016 and since then, he’s released numerous singles, EPs and albums, some under the Hentai Gorizal Records label. His usual genres consist on hip-hop/rap with a combination of J-pop and electro, all while conveying pretty heavy topics within his lyrics such as mental health, sexuality and identity.
Takayan – Zutto Ikite ne / ずっと生きてね
- Daijoubu / 大丈夫 (Be Alright)
- Takayan Katsutan Shika Shoukougun / 勝たんしか症候群 (Love you syndrome)
- Antithesis / あんちてーぜ
- Nakitaku Naru yo / 泣きたくなるよ (Want to cry)
- Mannerism! / マンネリ！
- Sayonara / さよなら (Goodbye)
- Tsunagaritai no / 繋がりたいの (Want to connect with you)
- Yami Yami Monogatari / 病み病み物語 (Depression story)
- Ari no Mama / ありのまま (Don’t need to change)
- Aishiteru / 愛してる (I love you)
Leap’s thoughts on Zutto Ikite ne:
My Japanese Music New Year’s Resolution is… to listen to more male vocalists (XD) Now, it’s not like I *exclusively* listen to female vocals, but the disparity is such that it warrants being mentioned. That being said, I do have male artists in my library as I mentioned, and of them is Takayan here.
Takayan is… a bit of a character, as was (and, well, is) his claim to fame (check out the PVs to some of his songs to see what I mean), but one thing that made “Zutto Ikitene” interesting for me (and what was the primary reason why I checked this album out in the first place) was the sort of paradigm shift that it represents for Takayan’s work. Before he was mostly known for satirically dark rap songs about depression and self-harm but at some point his music turned a corner and all of a sudden his lyricism became more optimistic and overall just positive in nature. Whether or not that was the plan all along is beyond me, but I thought it was kinda neat that it ended up like that. The album ends up being a bit of a fun little pick me up of tracks as a result, and I’d recommend “Zutto Ikitene” to anyone looking to jump start their day.
Well, there were definitely a lot of surprises when I first listened to this album (lol). So I figured, let’s list ’em out and go through all of them in some detail!
1) The Hip-Hop/Rap Style and Its Familiarity
When Leap brought up this album, he told me he’s been wanting to listen to more male artists/vocalists, which is why he picked it for this month’s review. I can definitely relate and I would say this Takayan album is a great choice for a resolution like that. But what caught most of my attention is the overall genre of Zutto Ikite ne, which is hip-hop/rap.
I could be wrong but I feel like hip-hop and/or rap aren’t all that prevalent within the Japanese music industry, at least from what I’ve seen. I know a couple of artists that display that specific style in their music but other than that, I can’t say it’s something that is shown within the general J-music mainstream. And I find that especially interesting since I’m so used to always hearing rap songs here in the United States. So to hear a Japanese-based artist perform this type of music is honestly pretty cool and even feels somewhat refreshing.
What’s even cooler is that Takayan seems to really know his stuff and his sound is pretty reminiscent of the kinds of hip-hop/rap you’d hear in the states. Now, I have VERY little knowledge about American rap; lemme just make that clear (lol). However, I happened to listened to some hip-hop throughout the years, even at a young age, and some of the tracks on this album definitely reminded me of certain songs, types of beats and overall styles. “Antithesis / あんちてーぜ” is a track that stood out to me the most since the beats and instrumental felt like something that was inspired by early 2000s hip-hop. I can’t tell you specifically which artist it reminds me of (if anything/off the top of my head, I noticed that it was somewhat similar to the Eminem/D12 song, “My Band” lmao) but yeah, a few of these songs had an old-school vibe to them which is pretty impressive, given that it was done by a Japanese person. There were even some tracks that had a bit of a modern touch to them such as “Yami Yami Monogatari / 病み病み物語”, mainly with the faster vocals and beat production.
Other than that, I think Takayan also did a good job of still expressing a ‘Japanese tone’ with some of the other tracks on this album which, going back to my point about familiarity, felt similar to other Japanese rap songs I’ve heard in the past. It’s probably because he implemented some J-pop into them and that’s why they felt very upbeat and in a way, ‘up-to-date’ with the overall atmosphere of the current day Japanese (indie) music scene. Songs like “Nakitaku Naru yo / 泣きたくなるよ” and “Sayonara / さよなら” had that kind of vibe.
2) Its Surprisingly Short Length (and the Overall Composition)
Zutto Ikite ne has a total of ten songs. Can you guess the overall duration of this album?
If you guessed 17 minutes and 23 seconds, you’d be right!
For real though, I was very, very surprised how this album was only 18 minutes in length. The fact that most of the songs are under two minutes (with the exception of the first track, “Daijoubu / 大丈夫”, being only eight seconds over the two minute mark) is something I’ve never seen. And despite having a short length, this collection of tracks felt very well-produced and had a lot of content in them. Every song was unique to each other and felt satisfying to listen to, and I think that just goes to show how talented Takayan is as a music producer. I honestly didn’t even notice that these songs were short until I actually looked at the times for each of them, and I thought I was just listening to another typical full-length album.
I dunno, that might not be something important for other people but I personally saw that as an interesting aspect of this album. Plus, I enjoyed some of the smooth transitions between a few songs.
3) The Lyrics Are a Lot Darker Than I Thought
Interestingly enough, the first time I heard a Takayan song was from TikTok. One of the songs from this album, “Takayan Katsutan Shika Shoukougun / 勝たんしか症候群” was actually a trending track that a lot of people used in their TikTok videos. So being a foreigner who doesn’t know a lick of Japanese, I just assumed that it was on the brighter side of things, judging by the overall sound. But once I actually read the lyrics of a lot of his songs… my perspective certainly changed (lol).
I feel like this is kinda similar to when everyone (more specifically, non-Japanese people) realized that YOASOBI’s massive hit “Yoru ni Kakeru” wasn’t as fun as it sounded, since the lyrics depicted themes of suicide. With the songs from Zutto Ikite ne, there were a lot of perspectives being shown such as a girl being overly obsessive about a love interest and wanting him to only care about her (“Tsunagaritai no / 繋がりたいの”), a person ‘not giving a shit’ about how other people negatively perceive them as (“Antithesis”), or even a song about the struggles of depression and even living (“Yami Yami Monogatari”). As I said earlier, Takayan seems to enjoy expressing heavy scenarios, and while I still am an amateur at understanding the lyricism of Japanese music, I feel like he does it well. A lot of these tracks had a great amount of emotion from what I read and some of the lines definitely made me feel… uneasy (‘Want you to recognize me, want you to read my comments. / Want every girl cuter than me to disappear. / But you’ll hate me, so I hide myself. / Another day for the heart to skip a beat! Start another day staning you!’ – “Tsunagaritai no”).
4) Takayan’s Vocals Are Fantastic
Takayan is very good at rapping, at least based on my standards. His flow is smooth, he’s definitely able to rap at a fast pace, and there are even times where he sings in a higher pitch which fits well with a lot of his songs. Like I said earlier, Takayan seems to know what he’s doing and has a good amount of knowledge regarding the hip-hop/rap genre, and that absolutely translates to his vocal work/skills. And his voice sounds great, overall.
I also really enjoyed how much emotion/tone he expressed with his voice in order to maintain the general atmosphere of some of his tracks. Like in “Antithesis”; that song is very loud and aggressive, and Takayan perfectly replicated that mood with how he sang. Same with the softer, acoustic-sounding “Aishiteru / 愛してる” where he rapped in a much more mellow and almost melancholic tone. Stuff like that certainly helped convey the intended ambience, which I thought he did accurately.
If I’m being honest here, Zutto Ikite ne by Takayan might be the best hip-hop/rap album I’ve heard from a Japanese artist.
The authenticity of Takayan’s vocals and beat production was really impressive to hear, and he just did a great job taking inspiration, not only from American hip-hop/rap but also general Japanese doujin pop. This combination is so interesting to me since I’ve never seen it before, yet it works extremely well. The amount of emotion he expressed through his rapping and lyrics was intriguing to hear and read about, and even if you don’t listen to the rap genre a lot, I feel like a lot of Japanese music fans (especially the doujin lovers) would still have some positive thoughts about this album. Plus… it’s only 18 minutes long so you could take a quick listen to it.
Well, that was one heck of an album. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts about it!!
And as always, go ahead and check out Leap’s review for this month where he talked about the album I gave him, HappyEND by electro duo HoneyComeBear.
Lastly, if you didn’t know, I’ve been collaborating with Leap on a thing where we’ve been having a chat about the idol anime Selection Project. If you’re into idol anime and/or you’ve seen that show, definitely go read our conversation about it! Click here to check out part 1!
Thanks for reading and we’ll see you for February’s review!! 😀