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Thursday, March 15, 2012

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Feelin' fine: Chinza Dopeness (front, left) and the Doping Band have put out an album that sounds different from a lot of the other hip-hop offerings in Japan right now.

Rapper teams up with Doping Band on a genre-bending ride

Chinza Dopeness puts out some good vibes

Special to The Japan Times

"Just listen to the album about three times and you'll realize how good it is," pleads Shunsuke Yano, a Japanese rapper better known as Chinza Dopeness. "It's like pork ramen — an acquired taste!"

It has been almost three years since 31-year-old Chinza released his debut album "100%RAP." Now he's back with "Daibu Kimochii ne" ("Feelin' Pretty Good") and he's joined by a four-member band consisting of former musicians from defunct rock/reggae group "Inu Shiki," and female artist Chanmika, who provides some vocals.

Speaking to The Japan Times at EMI's headquarters in Tokyo, Chinza is joined by Doping Band percussionist Izpon.

"Chinza has already established his own way of rapping and he also has great singing skills," Izpon says. "So all the band had to do was just make the tracks more funky by doing our own thing. The chemistry was good and it ended up being really fun to discover Chinza's hidden talents while we were recording."

Chinza nods his head in agreement: "It is much easier to sing when I'm with the band. I think I'm better suited to performing with some backup. I feel more support and sometimes I surprise myself with the results. I'd definitely call this an album of self-confirmation."

Fans of "100%RAP" may be surprised at what Doping Band was able to pull out of Chinza. The 13-track release contains a nod to U.S. rapper Biz Markie on "Just A Tomodachi," but otherwise the group delve into a variety of genres including 1970s soul and Jimi Hendrix-style psychedelia — it's a sound more likely to come out of Haight-Ashbury than Florence-Normandie. The experimentation works particularly well on the catchy "Wakattenai noni," in which Chanmika sings a standard Japanese pop melody alongside Chinza's drawn-out rhymes, and Doping Band's accompanying guitar veers close to '90s alternative.

"Daibu Kimochii ne" is also structured to sound like a radio broadcast, complete with station identification and ads, giving it a similar vibe to Blackalicious' 2002 "Blazing Arrow" album. It's a welcome break from the general lean toward '90s-style hip-hop that tends to prevail in Japan, and as Chinza said, it's an acquired taste.

The rapper doesn't seem to worry about how the album will fit into the country's hip-hop scene. In fact, he sees the project as something that could grab him a few fans from outside it.

"I love Japanese rap," he says. "But when I made the album I didn't think about how the album would impact the J-rap scene or anything like that. I don't even stick to the idea that I should make my 'own' music, I only try to make music that sounds ... omoshirokakkoi (a made-up word having the nuance of being a mixture of intriguing and cool)."

Chinza isn't abandoning hip-hop on "Daibu Kimochii ne," just playing with it. The album features guest spots by rappers Illreme and Sabo on the lo-fi-sounding "Nabe," and Bun Bun the MC joins songstress Leyona on "Mogu Mogu." Chinza also works regularly with electronic-music duo Hifana, and the track "Mode -Doping Band Version-" on this album is actually a revamp of a track he originally did with them. The original, titled "Mode," helped gain Chinza some mainstream recognition and is still sometimes heard on TV ads.

But the rapper has also taken to YouTube as a main creative outlet for his freestyling over the past three years. On Nov. 17, he released a free digital album under the name of Kakato (a duo consisting of him and emcee Tamaki Roy), on which the pair rap over popular J-pop songs at karaoke. Chinza says this kind of performance is appealing to him because it's less stressful. With an album he says there is a finality to it, everything has to be in place. YouTube is a place where you can joke around and that makes it a little more fun. The result is that YouTube's Chinza is faster and funnier, while the Chinza on "Daibu" is a little more calculated.

Don't confuse "calculated" with "serious," though. Chinza's rhymes contain a healthy dose of humor — another thing that sets him apart from his Japanese peers. He intentionally avoids serious topics and keeps the mood light (the radio spots on "Daibu Kimochii ne" are filled with comedic skits), placing more emphasis on the sound of the lyrics than their content.

"There are so many weird things going on in the world, I just want to send out some good vibes," Chinza says. "I'm just doing what makes me feel kimochii (good). I hope listeners feel it, too."

"Daibu Kimochii ne" is available in stores now. Chinza Dopeness will perform with Tamaki Roy at the Shibuya Fashion Festival After Part at Sound Musem Vision in Shibuya, Tokyo, on March 23 (11 p.m.; ¥4,000 in advance; [03] 5728-2824). For more information, visit www.chinzadopeness.com

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