Golden Routes: An Intro Guide to the Rappers Featured in DJ Chari & DJ Tatsuki's New Album
A crash course on who's who in Japan's rap scene today, featuring MonyHorse, Tohji, Jin Dogg and many more
This feature is part of This Side of Japan, issue #24. You can return to the main newsletter here.
For a crash course on who’s in who in Japan’s rap scene, look no further than DJ Chari and DJ Tatsuki’s third album, Golden Route. The two club DJs play a role reserved for perhaps an earlier era of the genre as seen by the likes of DJ Clue or DJ Khaled, assembling the hottest rappers and producers to cut original tracks for their project. A real curatorial spirit exists throughout the record with rappers feeding off the energy of another, or a producer bringing a fitting sound to pair with an irresistible line-up. Tohji teaming up with Elle Teresa as well as Uneducated Kid and Futuristic Swaver from Korea for a song called “Goku Vibes” sounds like a glorious piece of fan fiction, and the actual record somehow exceeds the version that exists in the imagination.
For this issue’s Album of the Week section, rather than discuss Golden Routes as a whole, I figured it would be more beneficial to break it down track by track to highlight the key artists involved in the project. I’ll be covering seven out of the album’s 14 songs, and each song also will have a Further Listening section to point you to the latest projects by the featured rappers. Take this as an intro guide to some of Japan’s most exciting rappers to hit the scene in the past year.
featuring: Tyson, SANTAWORLDVIEW, MonyHorse, ZOT on the WAVE
“Next to me, young 2 kids,” MonyHorse raps on the album’s laid-back opening track. Behind the YENTOWN crew member are two newcomers: SANTAWORLDVIEW indulges in a verse full of juvenile antics—not the first time with MonyHorse, going on about this kind of stuff—while Tyson handles chorus duties. Carried over from his own work, best displayed on 2019’s MYSKINTERIYAKI, his stuttering delivery and Playboi Carti ad libs ensure his part stays in your brain. If not, perhaps him name-checking Haneda Airport might be what sticks.
ZOT on the WAVE doesn’t appear in the music video, but he’s featured all throughout Golden Route as one of the main beat suppliers. With his snares rolling about, the producer looks to other diverse styles adjacent to his post-trap sound: “Jet Mode” seems business as usual, though the next song, “Couch Potato,” throws in bass wobbles reminiscent of UK drill while the bouncy synths of “Goku Vibes” is one tweak away from being an early PC Music song. Once you recognize that chirpy tag, you know you’re in for a ride.
featuring: Tohji, Elle Teresa, Uneducated Kid, Futuristic Swaver
How does one compete with the bugged-out energy of Tohji? ZOT on the WAVE at least has him somewhat contained, dishing a beat as candy-dipped as the rapper’s Auto-Tune-drunk voice and with a bounce to feed his hunger to move his lanky body to the music. (It’s no surprise the song spawned a TikTok dance challenge.) His verse is as bonkers and self-satisfied: “kirari, shinin’ like I’m Ayumi Hamasaki” might be the best flex of 2020.
Impressively, DJ Chari and Tatsuki assembled acts that stand as tall as the manic rap star. Elle Teresa, who also adorns herself with neon beats for her own music, opens her verse with a hard-to-match intro: “me, I’m Bulma, yeah, OG / boys, come fuck in my ouchi [house].” The two rappers from Korea, Uneducated Kid and Futuristic Swaver, are also familiar with this shiny world; the latter’s YFGOD is basically neo-swag rap with him sporting ringtone beats and interpolating Soulja Boy’s “Kiss Me Thru the Phone.” Not here to just follow suit, the two flip the flow into a mesmerizing double time while the colorful melody practically bleeds out from their Auto-Tuned voices.
Angel by Tohji (2019)
Youngin Season EP by Elle Teresa (2020)
Hoodstar 2 by Uneducated Kid (2020)
YFGOD by Futuristic Swaver (2020)
featuring: OZworld, MIYACHI, Shaka Bose
“The Matrix” manages to find common ground between a trio of rappers from rather disparate roots. MIYACHI is the traditionalist out of the pack with his New York City origins showing in his sharply paced double-time flow. Shaka Bose’s haunted, naval-gazing trap music meanwhile stands as a foil to his brash, East Coast counterpart, and OZworld is ready to disconnect from Earth completely on his newest project, Ozkneez Fxxked Up—a post-trap opus filled with alien synth beats.
What unites them all in “The Matrix,” though, is the rappers’ love of fast, percussive flows, which each display without compromising their character. As if to counter the beat’s sleepy lull, OZworld lays down the track’s slickest verse about turning up the world's energy before hopping back to chorus duties. MIYACHI does not sound out of his element in the slightest, nonchalantly flexing about pulling women and smoking expensive weed. Tying it all up, Shaka Bose rises to the occasion with a livened verse that incorporates his knack for melody. Otherworldly is the vibe the beat of “The Matrix” goes for, though all three rappers find themselves right at home.
“Best Way 2 Die”
featuring: Jin Dogg, LEX, YOUNGBONG
Jin Dogg casts a shadow over the rest of “Best Way 2 Die” to the point the track seems built around him as the center. It’s not hard to understand, though, dealing with such a standout voice: his raps remain on edge, prone to snapping back with a bloodthirsty growl. Stomping with blown-out bass, Lil Yukichi’s beat emphasizes the mood that you set food in the wrong part of town.
While LEX and YOUNGBONG don’t get as aggressive as Jin Dogg for their respective music, they both adapt their style to the track’s lead emcee like second nature. The latter rapper doesn’t appear in the video most likely because he’s from Thailand. His gnarly verse, too, sounds like a remote dispatch, but the rough edges only ends up adding a sense of danger to his performance. LEX’s verse is even more impressive, warping his voice in different ways mid-song like he’s conversing with his split personality. Jin Dogg looms large in “Best Way 2 Die,” though his presence ultimately inspires the others to bring their best.
3rd High: Resuscitation by Jin Dogg (2020)
LiFE by LEX (2020)
Devilboyz Animegirls YB by YOUNGBONG (2020)
featuring: OGF Candee, OGF Deech
ZOT on the WAVE supplies the two members from the Only Grizzly Family crew a more sedated beat compared to what he handed them in their collaborative tape from December, Drop Out. But the mellowness only lets the percussive flows of both Candee and Deech to stand out more. The melody sugarcoats their flexes, and the juvenile Candee boasts more brash claims out of the two: “rescue crew can’t put out all this heat / that’s why we need all this VVS,” he raps in the chorus so matter-of-factly. While his partner is busy with burning cash and stealing women, the gruff Deech likens the titular burn to something a bit more sentimental. The duo come at different angles, but the point made is all the same: “smoke in the city, we’re the source of the fire.”
Drop Out by OGF (2020)
featuring: TAEYO, Aico
The artist formerly known as Taeyoung Boy has been transitioning from rapper into R&B singer since he dropped the Boy from his name last year, and the summer night groove of “Aquarius” sounds right at home in his latest Orange EP. He sparks one with Aico, who plays the smooth, level-headed foil to TAEYO’s slurry vocals, as he sings one hallucinatory scene in the chorus: “We’ll be riding the dolphins, shutting everything out,” he croons as he stares out into the ocean, daydreaming about his one and only. Under the influences infatuation and maybe some good drugs, the two let their imagination unfurl.
Orange EP by TAEYO (2020)
featuring: Yo-Sea, KEIJU
If KEIJU represents lavish daytime celebration in the rapper’s latest album, T.A.T.O., Yo-Sea is the flip side with the singer retreating into the night, crooning about his one love in his Kujira EP. “Time,” then, situates itself in the twilight hours, and the two display a personality inverse of the other as they meet each other halfway. Yo-Sea sounds more outgoing embracing the swinging, dancehall-inspired rhythm: “let me take you to the moon,” he sings with a glow to his voice, hardly trying to play coy about his infatuation. KEIJU enters a more collected zone, ready to disavow his vices and settle down with his significant other. As DJ Chari and DJ Tatsuki is about to check out, “Time” gives one last toast with a duo full of love to share.