KOHH, the new figurehead of Japanese hip-hop
With the release of his latest album “Dirt II”, the Japanese rapper KOHH has become the figurehead of a generation of multi-talented artists ready to smash the codes of a timid Japanese hip hop scene. An encounter.
Made in Oji, Tokyo
It all starts here for KOHH. The keystone of a musical career inspired by his life in Oji, a northern district of Tokyo where he grew up in a dismal ambiance marked by the death of his father when he was just three years old. It took a few years before he launched himself seriously into rap in 2008 when he revealed his dead father’s name and changed his own from Yuki Chiba to KOHH. Along with his producer at the time he released an album entitled Monochrome inspired by Japanese rap legend King Giddra: “The first time I listened to King Giddra I must have been 11 or 12 years old. I couldn’t believe it, it gave me the goose bumps. The songs were so powerful, talking about their reality, the hardships of their everyday life. I couldn’t help but identify with them and that’s how I got into hip hop.”
In 2015 he released two follow up albums, Kuchinashi and Dirt, moving from a very literal hip hop to an angrier, more hostile rap with an edge of Atlanta trap. KOHH’s influences evolved, his field of possibilities broadened in a Japan that was just starting to accept new musical genres and the denunciation of the hard life. It was the right moment to go stateside through collaborations with American artists such as OG Maco and more recently the notorious Franck Ocean on his latest album Blonde. Things moved fast and numerous encounters were made everywhere, echoing his “splintered” creative process. KOHH confirms, “I write all in one go. Fast. I accumulate all the tracks which are more of less different and then I look for a theme that brings some of them together.”
Dirt II : sweat, blood and tears
A transgressive sound, verbal volleys with a violent impact, intonations that sound come close to scream, this latest album features a much more visceral and raw dimension than the last two. But KOHH offers little explanation for this musical shift: “It’s a manifesto from my dark side, guided by anger.” The young man with his patchy discourse when it comes to talking about his art, functions much more through intuition than reflection. With this album he invites immediate abandon, just like the concerts where he pushes audiences to lose it and react freely to the music. The singer continues, “Not long ago the Japanese public would never react at a concert, they would barely even nod their heads. But with the rock and grunge scene making headway and the introduction of pogoing the crowd finally got moving.” A rock and grunge scene that has clearly influenced him with the young artist frequently citing Kurt Cobain, the Sex Pistols and Japanese punk band The Blue Hearts. Influences that helped construct his sense of daring, his refusal of established codes and above all his freedom to try all art forms.
“I'm not a rapper, I do art”
With the release of Dirt II in Japan, the limited edition album contained not only a ticket to see KOHH in concert but also access to his art gallery, created especially next door to the venue where he was performing. His two passions – art and music – are rarely disassociated. Whether it’s his drawings inspired by Marcel Duchamp or Joan Miró, sculptures and collages imbued with surrealism, the young artist has created numerous art works soon to be exhibited. Last June he organised a show of eight artists at the Tokyoïtes Art gallery in Paris where the graffiti artist du jour, Gucci Ghost reinterpreted his portrait. A love for art and creation he also wears on his skin with numerous tattoos including Duchamp’s very famous L.H.O.O.Q across his throat and Nikola Tesla’s portrait on his arm. “Before I started rapping I’d wanted to become a tattoo artist. I started at the age of 12 or 13 and my first tattoo was my name, which I covered up in the end.”
An ornamentation that goes perfectly with his clear sense of fashion. The artist who cites Prada and Alexander Wang in his songs plays on with the gangsta style he’s been sporting since his youth when he first brushed with the fashion world. “One of my friends was in a gang, and he wore the whole American outfit, big gold chain, baggy basketball top, cap, I loved that look instantly.” Today KOHH is more seduced by the sartorial styles of Jacquemus, Toga and Facetasm, for whom he’s already modelled.
In a nutshell this is one versatile character, someone who sows his irreverence and love of art wherever he goes, guided by a singular determination, “I want to be a living legend”. And why not?
Par Chloë Fage.
KOHH “Dirt II”, available on Apple Music.