The counterattack of Japanese music [Shockwaves in Contemporary Music and Fashion] Vol. 16

 When we look at the relationship between music and fashion, as well as between fashion trends and youth culture, we get a clearer understanding of the times we live in. In this series, Tsuya-chan, an up-and-coming writer, analyzes current cultural events by examining contemporary music with a focus on Japanese hip-hop.  

The protagonist of this installment is LEX, a Japanese rapper who had the most remarkable year. Through analyzing three brands who showed their collection at Tokyo Fashion Week, I’d like to discuss LEX’s brilliant and unique creativity, which he fostered by the influence of foreign artists his age. 

The relationship between Japan and abroad as seen in yoshiokubo, White Mountaineering, and kolor collections 

LEAt the end of September, LEX released one of the most promising albums of 2021, LOGIC. Even though his album was received with enthusiasm, the rapper’s work hasn’t been analyzed so much. I’d like to get to the main point by identifying creators in a different field who showed similar movements at the beginning of September. With that said, this isn’t a detour. To reveal what makes LEX a standout, I’ll start with a somewhat distant topic.

By “creators in a different field,” I mean a few fashion designers who showed at 2022 Spring/Summer Fashion Week Tokyo, which was held under a prolonged state of emergency about a month before the release of LEX’s LOGIC. Among several intriguing collections, what stood out was how domestic brands returned to Tokyo once again due to worldwide changes. For instance, yoshiokubo, which returned from Milan for the first time in five years, took on the challenge to reinterpret Japanese clothing based on the notion of a warrior.

yoshiokubo 2022 Spring/ Summer Collection Film Directed by Oudai Kojima

One brand returned from Paris for the first time in nine years. White Mountaineering used women models, a rarity for the brand, to present a stunning show in the natural environment of Shinjuku Gyoen. Their endeavor to use black—a key color in fashion history that domestic brands have valued—while utilizing contemporary high-tech materials as in the past drew attention.

White Mountaineering | 2022 Spring-Summer collection

Like last season, kolor held their show in Tokyo instead of Paris. The brand’s individuality was heightened with a hybrid patchwork approach while simultaneously adding spice to our everyday life by taking over the Keikyu train. 

kolor Spring Summer 2022 Runway Show

Like last season, kolor held their show in Tokyo instead of Paris. The brand’s individuality was heightened with a hybrid patchwork approach while simultaneously adding spice to our everyday life by taking over the Keikyu train. 

The innovative spirit of LEX: sublimating American trends into his rap

Allow me to lay out some quotes regarding the good traits of LEX, who’s been getting both praise and criticism. “[LEX is] filled with songwriting talent at a young age,” “A representative of artists who started on SoundCloud,” “A rapper with a flow that surpasses the rest in the country,” “Reminiscent of rap trends in the U.S.,” “Influenced by Lil Uzi Vert.” Each description is scarily accurate. Let’s take it one step further; the following is about his technique of incorporating current American rap into Japanese rap: 

“With LEX’s !!! And OZworld’s OZWORLD, there are Japanese words mixed with English words, and even foreign people could listen to their music like, ‘This song sounds English, but there’s another language in there too.’

“They frequently use vague-sounding vowels and go from an open syllable to a closed syllable. They’re making their pronunciation close to English at a consonant and vowel level. I think 5lack and LEX, who I mentioned before, come from that lineage.” 

Masashi Yoshida, “The frontlines of Japanese Rap; The current state of hip hop in Japan, as predicted by trends in 2019” Part 1 (ele-king)

On “Nandemo Icchatte feat. JP THE WAVY,” the biggest hit LEX has released, he raps in a very neutral way, which is uncharacteristic of him. But this is just one type of flow among his diverse library of flows. As mentioned above, LEX fundamentally uses “vague-sounding vowels and go from an open syllable to a closed syllable,” while, at times, adopting American rap trends and rearranging Japanese words. There’s no doubt this is his approach.

LEX – Nandemo Icchatte (feat. JP THE WAVY)

“Nandemo Icchatte,” on “stranger,” by LEX, Only U, and Yung sticky wom, which gained popularity on TikTok, the way they reinterpret Japanese words is striking. For instance, in “Fuku wo nugasu (take your clothes off) / Teineini, teineini (carefully),” the “i” vowel is erased. Instead, it sounds like “Fuku wo nugasu/ Te-ne-ni, te-ne-ni.” On “V.I.P,” a song off LEXBEX, an EP LEX made with BEXEY from London, the “i” vowel is gone: “Keitai ga naru (the phone rings)” sounds like “Ke-ta ga naru.” Moreover, on “Loyalty,” “Omae ga neteru timing (when you’re sleeping)/ Ore wa genki (I’m good),” “omae ga” clearly sounds like oh my god. 

LEX, Only U, Yung sticky wom – STRANGER

The vowels fall through the crevices of the rough surface of LEX’s uniquely coarse voice—reminiscent of birds like chickens and geese quaking. His controlled use of language via Japanese words that sound like English and the aggressive omission of vowels is evolving. LEX is leading the Japanese rap scene with innovation. 

The sparkle of emotion seen in a controllable aspect  

On LOGIC, LEX’s distance from the Japanese language shows a different side. Although on “Venus,” he pronounces “ore no (my)” as oh no, and says “nori dake (vibes only)” instead of “nori de akeru (start with a vibe),” he extends the vowel sounds alongside his violent breaths. This song, which has his inhales between words recorded, creates a physicality that’s usually not seen in his controlled flows. Additionally, the repetitiveness of “Woah, woah, uh, uh, yeah, yeah” accentuates the vowels.


LEX manipulates vowels with finesse in the opening song of the album, “GOLD.” In this song, which he sings with more intent than ever, LEX repeatedly sings, “Motto ikitai ue (I want to go higher)”. Surprisingly, after disciplining himself with the technicalities of omitting vowels to imitate English sounds, he clearly and powerfully repeats the “ue” sound, with the desire to, indeed, go even higher. 

LEX has grown the seed he planted in “GOLD” throughout his recent music. Let’s look at KM’s “STAY feat. LEX,” a popular song of 2021. Can you understand the verse of this song clearly? LEX raps the following: 

“Runway wo aruku model to date (a date with a runway model)/ Sugunisa kakete iPhone (call my iPhone now)/ Taiwan, South America no (from Taiwan and South America)/ Tomodachi to asobu (hang out with friends)/ Model satsuei shinaito (need to have a model shoot)/ Sonano heiki, heiki (that’s alright)/ Tamani get high hitori (get high on my own sometimes)/ Dareka no seini, seini (blame somebody else)/ Shite hajiketa rain (the bursting rain)” 

KM – Stay (feat. LEX)

In this verse, which completely deviates from the sound of the Japanese language, the word that stands out is iPhone. With this as the keyword, LEX’s signature controlled English-sounding Japanese develops into something thrilling. He emotes in Japanese more emotionally than before, riding on the noisy and elegant production of KM, which expands and bounces.

Sukina mondake wo kisetai (I want to dress you in clothes only I like)/ Tamani aruyo shikatanai (It happens sometimes)/ Koto tokamo koeteku ai (a love that goes beyond)/ Sonano heiki, heiki (that’s alright)/ Tamani get high hitori (get high on my own sometimes)/ Dareka no seini, seini (blame somebody else)/ Shite hajiketa rain (the bursting rain)”

In this hook, LEX rhymes “kisetai” and “shikatanai” with “ai” and then adds “heiki,” “high,” “seini,” and “rain.” The vowels are smartly used as the climax, triggering an explosion of emotions. At the core of the song is “ai” (love), which connects to “iPhone” in a vowel exchange. In his discography, he connects words with closed syllables. This sort of corniness in “STAY” has a significant meaning.

Although LEX’s skill in overlaying English onto Japanese with ease is excellent, his appeal is even more accentuated when he goes beyond the controlled aspect and leans toward emotion. It’s in the vowels that draw out with emotion and in the breaths that abruptly come in. In KM’s “STAY feat. LEX,” that contrast is executed beautifully, and in “GOLD,” it comes to fruition. In a way, the roots of LEX, who sang “Flower” sentimentally with a tender voice on SoundCloud, are being revived.

LEX is sometimes criticized for simply translating American rap and its flow into Japanese. However, having generated his distinct sound of Japanese by erasing vowels, he’s now innovatively experimenting with modern colloquialism, using vowels with more emotion than anyone else and taking breaths to express his physicality. As I listened to his sticky, raw pronunciation of such vowels, I was reminded of the ingenuity of a few Japanese fashion brands. The counterattack of domestic creativity is steadily advancing everywhere. LEX is fighting with his body at the forefront.

Illustration AUTO MOAI

Translation Lena Grace Suda


Tsuya chan

A culture writer,they write various essays. In January 2022, published a single-authored book, "I Decided to Do Rap: A Critical Theory of Female Rappers.