Japanese-American rapper Kazuo is a ball of energy that can't be contained – physically, musically and culturally.
It's been a minute since we've been this excited about a musician who can spit, write, mix, and produce this well. And let me just say, I'm no expert in music – I just like what I like. Similar to newer artists like A-F-R-O and Paw Paw Rod, or OG's like Gift of Gab and RA The Rugged Man, Kazuo is not for everyone. That's part of the allure that makes him must-see-tv (shoutout to the 90's).
Let's get this out of the way first – he's half black and half Japanese that was raised in Tokyo and yes, he can speak both flueuntly as you'll see in his sick music videos. As a Vietnamese-American myself, I absolutely rolled my eyes when older Vietnamese people marveled over me speaking and understanding Vietnamese or when Americans were surprised I could speak English without an accent. In this day and age, that sort of thing gets magnified x 10 like it's some kind of magic trick, even though it feels like it should be in the rearview mirror.
From what I've read from Kazuo, the same cultural questions that were posed to me are asked of him (and countless others) all the time, which makes it extremely tiring. Irritating even (and rightfully so, I might add). What is interesting is how he addresses the situation; he's confessed many in the Black community view him as too Asian, and many in the Asian community view him as too Black – but he's all Kazuo. I don't know if there's a definition to that, all I know is that I feel a presence when he declares it, whilst not having to check off the box for a nationality or race. To me it says that he's just a musical artist that is fucking talented and enjoys what he does.
And if you haven't stopped by Soundcloud or YouTube to check out his music, do me a favor and do it now. Tracks such as Banzai, Ichiban and Watch Out! are hard-hitting tunes that best showcase his flawless flow between Japanese and English.
There's almost a certain Eminem quality about him that makes it fun hearing Japanese words rhyme with English words but can tie in feelings, thoughts and provocations that make you go "wow, that seems pretty deep." Kazuo's music more often than not highlights the difficulties of having to navigate through two different cultures where neither truly accept him, or about the difficulties of living in Japan – a country that can put extreme societal pressures in school, success and family life; things that I can totally relate to. But when it comes to the music itself, I have no idea what the Japanese lyrics mean, I just know that it sounds important.
The lyrics that I do understand can hit home like my angry mom about to beat me with a sandal. In his song "Ichiban," he raps:
"Light skinned but insensitive, its all good I hear that I’m bad but appealing to the worlds eyes like a staring contest with tear gas You're just mad that you haven’t done shit, when you look back every year passed You get on your keyboard and peep my accomplishments and call it a ‘weird brag’"
I mean, geez. That's a truism in every sense of the word, regardless if you are privileged or not.
Don't underestimate this one. The anger and agitation in his music is clear, but it's that embrace of emotion that makes him a very compelling musician. He turns it from something negative into a very creative hook, placed on top some very underrated beats or collaboration with other talents like KIL and ZEDSU. You're not getting some musician that fits neatly into some predetermined box, and that's a good thing. Just sit back and enjoy.