Shinichi Osawa & RHYME’s RHYME SO Raise Questions Through Music With ‘IAFB’ Album: Interview

Shinichi Osawa (MONDO GROSSO) has had a profound impact on Japan‘s music scene through his musical sensibilities, focused on the newest and most creative dance music and his collaborations with a wide range of artists. RHYME is an Australian artist (poet, performer, DJ, and beatmaker) based in Japan. These two contrasting creators, with their differing backgrounds, nationalities & musical careers, make up the dance music duo RHYME SO.

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They debuted in 2019 with the 88rising single “Just Used Music Again.” Then in the spring of 2020 they dropped “Fashion Blogger.” The music video featured MILK, who rose to popularity on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and the song’s title itself, “Fashion Blogger,” is deeply intertwined with the RHYME SO concept.

Osawa: “I think it was back in 2017, when I was getting my hair cut, I saw some video on my iPad of this woman overseas talking about the outfit she was wearing that day. When the interviewer asked her what her job was, she said “fashion blogger.” I don’t think she was actually writing a blog, but she was making a living sharing her fashion on Instagram. That came as a bit of a surprise to me. The internet and social media permeate our society, but there are a lot of things that we take for granted that make me think ‘Is this really an everyday thing?’ I think it would be interesting to use music to pose questions like ‘What do you think of this situation?’ Not as criticism, just as questions. That’s the concept behind RHYME SO.”

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RHYME: “RHYME SO sounds like ‘I’m so.’ ‘I’m so happy,’ ‘I’m so sad,’ ‘I’m so hungry.’ I, I, I… Sometimes that (showing off on social media) is a positive, but sometimes it’s not. That’s one of the statements that RHYME SO is making.”

RHYME had been exposed to Japanese culture since she was a high school student, and she was an avid MONDO GROSSO listener. You can see this in a line she sings on MONDO GROSSO’s song “BIG WORLD,” “I saw MONDO GROSSO back in high school, I used to cry listening to life.”

RHYME: “I listened to MONDO GROSSO’s back catalogue and watched videos of his live shows. It stirred up all kinds of emotions. I’m Osawa’s pupil, and he’s my teacher. It’s an honor to be able to make music with him.”

RHYME SO has continued to release exciting music. It’s a unique group, set apart by its genre-spanning production and its cynical and poetic lyrics about modern society. In November 2023, it released its first album, IAFB.

The first thing to note about the album is the rich diversity of its production. It freely flits between genres and decades, touching on everything from acid house, industrial techno, and trap to Eurobeat, making it a microcosm of Japanese culture and society.

Osawa: “I did have Japan in mind when making the songs. However, I didn’t really think about current trends. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m even good at identifying them. It even feels a little like I’m ignoring them.” [Laughs]

RHYME: “RHYME SO’s sound is a fusion of dance music, new age, post-punk, electro, para-para, festival music, and more. That, and word play.”

The core of RHYME SO’s concept, bring up questions about modern society, is highlighted even more vividly on the album. The first song, “ACT THE SAME,” is the antithesis of the music scene, which places so much value on doing the same thing as what’s already being done by other hit songs.

Osawa: “It’s become a fundamental part of the music industry to assign artists to create music that sounds like what’s already out there, based on the existing market. And that’s not a current development. But is that really what we should be doing?”

RHYME: “Doing the same thing as everyone else is the safe approach, but that’s not art. The people who sing songs like that aren’t artists, they’re more like puppets. What’s even the point of doing that? That’s what the song is about.”

“UNFOLLOW YOU” samples Seiko Matsuda’s “Akai Sweet Pea.” It puts a modern twist on the lyrics of the original song, “I will follow you,” turning it into a song about following influencers and popular artists. At its heart is the idea that “Instead of following trends and hype, shouldn’t you be following what you truly like, and what you think is genuine?”

RHYME: “I used auto-tune on my voice, which I don’t normally use, for a bit of irony (because it’s not even my real voice).” [Laughs]

Osawa: “‘UNFOLLOW YOU’ started out as a remix of ‘Akai Sweet Pea’ for Kayokyoku Night, an event put on by photographer tajjiemax (Issei Tajima) and my friend Toba. When I first made it, it was just for fun, but then when I listened to it with RHYME, we were like ‘Wouldn’t this track make a good RHYME SO song?’ However, the lyrics make fun of the modern music scene and culture, so we decided to send out letters to Takashi Matsumoto and Yumi Matsutoya to get their permission. I thought it would be hard to get, but the person at the record label that was the go-between got their willing permission right away. It went surprisingly smoothly. I’ll bet nobody has ever sampled ‘Akai Sweet Pea’ before, and nobody has sampled it since us, either. Of course, Seiko Matsuda isn’t actually singing on it. That’s me on the vocals.” [Laughs]

The song “I AM FUCKIN’ BRILLIANT,” from which the album title, IAFB, was taken, is an up-beat tune with a 90s alternative rock feel. Osawa explains that “this song represents the whole album.”

Osawa: “The theme of the song is the need for recognition from others. It’s something that we’ve always had, but with the widespread penetration of social media, it’s become even more pronounced. Now, it even feels like you’re forced to express an even stronger desire for approval. Back in the day, you could just go home and pet your cat and feel fulfilled. If you helped out an older person, you would feel fulfilled, thinking ‘I did something good today.’ In other words, we all knew that we were the coolest.”

RHYME: “I think there are people who are happy when they’re outside but who feel down when they’re at home. There are a lot of people who are pretending or just putting up with things. When that happens, we’re saying ‘Imagine you’re the only one in the world.’ This is my favorite song on the album, and I want to make it a global anthem.”

The album also contains “SHIBUYA PARAPARA,” a para-para song whose theme is Shibuya at night, along with “SILENT” and “PICTURESQUE,” which feature Seiko Omori. The album art, showing a woman in traditional Japanese garb taking a selfie with her smartphone, also vividly reflects modern Japanese society.

RHYME: “The next thing I want to do is live performance. I want a big stage, a gorgeous set, tons of dancers, and, if possible, figure skaters. [Laughs] I want to put on an amazing show. I’d love to tour the world with great Japanese artists. Dongurizu, Seiko Omori, Kazuo. There are a lot of artists I’d like to introduce to overseas audiences, to show them ‘JAPAN POWER’. I want there to be a shock factor to everything I do. I want to start a revolution.”

This interview by Tomoyuki Mori first appeared on Billboard Japan

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