Moving beyond , and the future of Young Coco

Relative to Young Coco’s previous melodious project 05:56 KOKORO, the rapper has gone the hard route with his new album, The quiet before the storm. Even after the release of this project, in which artist VERDY handles all the artwork, the rapper continues to face his music at the same pace everyday. On top of his own success, he’s continued to make sure Japanese hip-hop has its place on the musical world map.

In this interview, we asked Young Coco about his journey thus far, from stories about his new album and his introduction to rap music.

Young Coco
Rapper from Hyogo Prefecture. After starting his career in a group with WILYWNKA, a rapper known for being in Hentai Shinshi Club, Young Coco signed with HIBRID ENTERTAINMENT, the driving force of the Kansai trap movement. He has been a part of this movement with Jin Dogg and others, and has also attracted attention from overseas. In addition to his frequent releases, he’s expanded his activities from Japan to the rest of the world through collaborations with overseas artists and live performances in Asian countries.

Skateboarding as the impetus to step into hip-hop

——First, please tell us about how you first encountered hip-hop.

Young Coco: I started seriously practicing skateboarding after I picked up a board at a park that I was playing at with my elementary school friends. The background music in the YouTube videos I watched wanting to get better at skateboarding, was hip-hop. I found it so cool that I started listening to just the audio. Looking back, I those artists were probably people like Nas and Biggie (The Notorious B.I.G.).

——I heard that WILYWNKA was the catalyst that made you start rapping.

Young Coco: I met him in my middle school years. TAKA (= WILYWNKA) started participating in battles during the time we skated together, probably in his third year of middle school. When I started going to those battles, I was invited to try it out. Back then, a surfer senpai in my hometown even told me to try rapping because there weren’t many young people doing it.

——Was WILYWNKA the only person around you in your generation rapping at that time?

Young Coco: Yes. There were quite a few young reggae singers, but in my mind, the number of young rappers increased only when the “High School Rap Competition” started. At the time, I was listening to a lot of artists like Kottonmouth Kings, whose music was a mixture of genres. But then I started listening to Lil Wayne and artists associated with Young Money Entertainment, and then found out about Young Thug, Tyga, and others. I really got into the new Southern rap style of that time, and became even more heavily influenced by that culture.

From aimless days to a life with music

——Although your style has changed since you first started, that’s still your starting point, right? Have you been with HIBRID ENTERTAINMENT since then?

Young Coco: When I first started with HIBRID ENTERTAINMENT, I didn’t think it would come this far, and I never thought hip-hop would become this popular. Even my parents assumed this lifestyle wouldn’t make me a living.

——As you’ve continued on this path, how do you feel towards music now?

Young Coco: I’ve never been able to continue something this seriously in my life, so I’ve come to believe that I was born to make music. Until I found music, I was living an aimless life, but I still wanted to reassure the people around me. Although I think I felt that way because I didn’t get any support from those around me… .

——I hear that you write songs everyday now. It’s as if music and life are truly connected.

Young Coco: If I skip a day, it feels like my body is ??, or my brain is deteriorating (laughs). I don’t feel good unless I do it everyday. Even if I’m going out that day, I want to go after I make music. The act of doing it assures the creation of a unique song. I’ve talked about that with the people around me, and that gives me confidence.

An album that shook up a scene that had stagnated due to the COVID-19 pandemic

——Your new album, The quiet before the storm, was one that was born out of that everyday life you mentioned. How did you come to ask VERDY to take on the album’s artwork?

Young Coco: Before the pandemic in 2019, he did a pop-up with tokyovitamin’s Vick in Osaka, which I visited to see a mutual friend. I met the two there, and I played a show with Vick in Shanghai about a week later (laughs).

——So you hit it off right away when you met. Were you and VERDY on the same page as well?

Young Coco: He told me about how he moved to Tokyo because he was frustrated that a bunch of jobs were in Tokyo, even though there are so many cool skaters and such in Osaka. You might have assumed him to be this type if you knew that he did punk designs back in the day. My first impression of him was that he was nice because of his smile, but I felt that we were very similar when I found out about his contrarian nature. So we decided we wanted to make cool stuff together.

He thought that my album concept and title designed to shake up the scene that was destroyed by COVID was great, so I relied on his talent for the design.

The Young Coco album, The quiet before the storm, designed by VERDY

——What were your thoughts behind the content of the album?

Young Coco: My previous project, 05:56 KOKORO, was made right around when COVID started, when the whole world had a negative energy. Clubs were closed, and we couldn’t perform, so songs about drinking at the club and getting money didn’t match the climate. Instead, I decided to make music in hopes that it would brighten people’s day, even if just a little.

But once I made a song that everyone could sing to, like “No Pressure!!!”, I decided to include a bunch of aggressive songs that had a live show feel to them.

Young Coco “No Pressure!!! feat.LEX”

——After the dark mood of the NOT REGULAR EP and the airiness of 05:56 KOKORO, this new work breaks through the sense of stagnation.

Young Coco: Definitely. Back when we first started rapping, hip-hop had a very dark image. But now, I feel like a lot of the young kids get into hip-hop and rapping because they started listening to songs that are more melodic, which I’ve also put out. iTunes and Spotify hip-hop playlists are filled with glitzy songs like that. It’d be nice for some real music that isn’t any different from US hip-hop to get on these playlists so that the listeners can be like, “what is this?” That’s why I included a bunch of hard rap songs on this record. I previously released a melodic rap song, so I wanted to release straight rap tracks to figure out what my listeners like. The response was huge in its own way this time around.

Young Coco “Galaxy!”

Striving towards creating a “Japanese” category in the world music scene

——How do you personally perceive hip-hop musically, as it changes with the times?

Young Coco: It’s a music that emphasizes the importance of past people and culture, in which who says what becomes essential. I think the people who are respected by those both older and younger and make music that accepts culture are the most hip-hop. If it’s someone who suddenly shows up on the scene, it doesn’t matter how active they’ve been on the streets. If that person doesn’t have a story and just makes music to go with the glitzy stuff, that’s not hip-hop.

——Have there been any personal changes for you throughout your career?

Young Coco: I think I’ve become more inquisitive. The older I get, the more I want to try different types of music or the more I feel like I still haven’t done anything… I want to create something that’s more thorough, too.

——What about the future? What kind of artist do you want to become?

Young Coco: Let’s see… I want my music to evolve with age without my feelings for it fading. I want to become an artist that artists listen to. They’re from different genres, but I want to become like D’Angelo or Tame Impala. I also want to be able to play an instrument, because I’m really interested in rock music.

——Hm, I see. Were you always a rock music enthusiast?

Young Coco: I listened to a lot of rock when I used to skateboard. The older I get, the more I think that my guitar-centric songs like “No Pressure!!!” and “Honki!” and my more melodic songs would sound cool played acoustic. I want to try my hand at drums, too.

——What draws you to rock music?

Young Coco: I think rock is freer than hip-hop. Because rock music was always at the forefront of Japanese music, rock lyrics can be expressed without the use of words like “you”. I want to try to incorporate that kind of thing. I have lyrics that may not work in the hip-hop field but would work on a rock track.

——Do you have any rock artists you’re influenced or stimulated by?

Young Coco: I’m not influenced by them in terms of lyrics or style, but TURNSTILE is a band I really like. I think I like rock that’s sung by white people. I also like listening to four-on-the-floor and Japanese traditional pop music. And I like Shogo Hamada. People from that era have a much better sense of lyricism and expression compared to today’s kids, which is why I’m inspired by him.

——That’s unexpected. So maybe we can anticipate some Shogo Hamada-isms in your songs… .

Young Coco: That’s possible. I have an image of him elongating his words while singing, and I also often write my songs like that. I’m inspired by him in that way. It’s cool that he doesn’t appear in the media much, either (laughs).

—— In any case, it seems like your releases will continue at the same production pace.

Young Coco: We’ve been talking about releasing two or three projects at once because I have so many songs that haven’t been released. But I’m still trying to pin them down, so I hope everyone will follow along. We’re blessed that the music we like is trending right now, but if I can create an environment where kids want to do what I do ten, twenty years from now, even though there are a plethora of artists who are more famous than me, I’d be very happy. I’ve continued to work towards that, and there’s a lot to do so that this doesn’t remain a mere blip in time.

——Do you feel similarly about live shows, working abroad, and collaboration? That if there’s a chance, you’ll take it?

Young Coco: I do. If you go out into the world, there are a bunch of Chinese, Indonesian, Filipino, and Thai artists, but no category for Japanese people. That’s something I want to create. I think in the past, there was a sense of “one person winning” in the scene, but if you look at Japan’s hip-hop scene from an international perspective, it’s tiny. It can no longer be just me looking cool anymore. I need everyone’s help for the scene to grow.

Photography Takaki Iwata
Translation Mimiko Goldstein


Hiroyuki Ichinoki

Hiroyuki Ichinoki is a music writer born in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture. He started his career as a writer for a magazine specializing in hip-hop, and covered and wrote about artists for fashion and culture magazines. After that, he worked as an A&R director for an indie label and continues to write for all kinds of media as a freelancer.