Japanese rapper JP THE WAVY may not have been one of the most media-covered names at this year's SXSW, but he certainly has a decent following among Japan's younger generations, especially after his song "Cho Wavy De Gomenne," went viral with its catchy title phrase. As a matter of fact, the rapper may have more Instagram followers than almost every band who attended SXSW 2019.
The night before my interview with JP THE WAVY, I went to see his first show in America at Cheer Up Charlies, a famous local venue that usually hosts the most anticipated artists during SXSW.
Despite being the first performer of the showcase a gang of fancily dressed guys and girls still managed to gather around the stage for the opening DJ before the young rapper made his appearance.
JP THE WAVY wore a hoodie and a pair of diamond-inlay sunglasses the whole night. I never saw his face clearly but one could tell that he had the "swag," or, in his own words, was "wavy" enough to pull it off. The crowd was electrified.
The next day I asked JP THE WAVY what his secret was to getting audiences stirred up like that, to which he responded, "I'm a creator of tension and vibes."
We met with JP THE WAVY and his two managers at the lounge of hotel LINE. He showed up in a baseball cap that said “STYLE,” an oversized camouflage hoodie, and a pair of Fear of God sneakers. Without his sunglasses on, I was finally able to observe him closely, in the light of day. He had very fair skin, almost pale, with big, limpid eyes and thick eyelashes, which made him look more delicate than aggressive. He was a man of few words but I could feel his unique charisma.
Our conversation started with him telling me that he was planning on releasing his debut album this summer, but a concrete release date is yet to be set. So far, JP THE WAVY has released an EP, "Wavy Tape," and a number of singles with the majority of these being collaborations with other rappers. A debut album would be a step-up, especially when most people still knew him from the hit "Cho Wavy De Gomenne."
"Cho Wavy De Gomenne" triggered a heavy use of the buzz phrase, "Cho something de gomenne," on the streets of Tokyo in 2017. As my Japanese translator told me, "You could hear high school kids saying it to each other all the time." However, the song gaining popularity among teens did not seem to have that much of an impact on JP THE WAVY.
"I did not have any consciousness on it. I also did not see myself as in the middle of the viral trend. It was a phrase. That's all."
To JP THE WAVY, a trendy mantra is far less important than the real fashion he has been pursuing, which is apparel. He writes songs about chic outfits and his friends, who are devoted to the same kind of interests.
"I write about my daily life, and it’s tightly linked with fashion."
He further expressed this love for fashion, "Probably the only thing that matters to me is wearing some groovy outfits. My day does not start until I get dressed smartly."
In JP THE WAVY's opinion, hip-hop is all about "style," which can be interpreted as both "fashion style" and "lifestyle." "As a matter of fact, having a rad style is essential for all music."
In the past, the beat and the flow of his songs were the only things he cared about but recently he started, consciously, to put what’s really going on in his life into words with rhythms. For him, music inspires his outfit and his outfit is a representation of his music. Although his lifestyle does not equal "fancy clothes," and, apparently, his outfit is not the only thing he talks about in his music.
"I want to show my audience the proper way to live. You should always do what you want to do. Japan has a lot of rules and people are restricted by them, but what’s the point of these rules anyway? People should chase their own freedom -- what to wear, what to say, and what to do."
When people talk about the Asian hip-hop scene, while they see a lot of potential in its growth, the common impression is that Asian hip-hop is not as "hard-core" as American hip-hop or British grime. JP THE WAVY sees this as a natural thing, "The cultural environments are different, thus the music is different. However, it’s never about being hard-core. It's about being good, right?"
I told him that in China the hip-hop / rap community faces censorship which could be seen as an extreme example of the cultural influence he mentioned. Pondering for a while, and shook his head saying, "I hope these Chinese fellow rappers could have a relatively free environment to create music and be able to share their real thoughts."
"At the end of the day," he said, "the best rappers, who have everyone's admiration and recognition, they rap about things that all generations can accept, empathize, and appreciate."
The music industry is no longer like what it was before, especially after online "influencers" hit the scene. As someone who has an active presence on social media, I asked JP THE WAVY how his online persona differs from who he is in real life, and how he is influencing his followers, but he clearly doesn’t see his online self as some kind of "persona," per se.
"What's on the Internet is who I am in my daily life. With that being said, I do know there isn’t always a line between what is real and what is fake on the Internet, but those people who are obsessed with building perfect images online need to reflect on themselves and figure out what they really want in their lives."