TWIGY and dj honda: the Potent Chemical Reaction of RAPATTACK

 “RAPATTACK” by TWIGY. Produced by dj honda

Rapper TWIGY and DJ/producer dj honda have unmistakably led the Japanese hip-hop scene and marked their names in its history. Their collaborative album, RAPATTACK, was released this year.

It’s been about a year since TWIGY, who had been slowing the pace of his career since 2011, put out WAKING LIFE, his first album in a decade. What the rapper, who has been at the forefront of the Japanese rap scene, wanted to show with his lyrics was the beats made by dj honda, who has been taking on the world for years. This album stimulates the mind the more you listen to it; feel the heat rise in your body. 

Today, in 2022, hip-hop culture is showing no signs of stopping, and this album is worth a listen amid that. We spoke to the pair about how this album was made. 

TWIGY was born in Aichi in 1971. He started rapping in the late 80s, founded BEATKICKS with HAZU in 1987, and launched his career in Nagoya. After moving to Tokyo in 1992, TWIGY founded MICROPHONE PAGER alongside MURO, P.H. FRON, and more. In 1994, he formed Kaminari with YOU THE ROCK☆, RINO LATINA II, and so forth. TWIGY was featured in “Shogen” by LAMP EYE the following year. He converted to Islam in 1997. After releasing his first solo album, AL-KHADIR, in 1998, he made many albums. In 2016, TWIGY published his autobiography titled Juroku Shosetsu. In 2021, he released WAKING LIFE, his first album in around a decade. Further, in November 2022, he held his first solo exhibition, THINGS THAT PASS, where he mainly exhibited his paintings in Harajuku, Tokyo. He is one of the best rappers in Japanese hip-hop.
Instagram @twigy71

dj honda
dj honda was born in 1961 in Sapporo, Hokkaido. He is a hip-hop DJ and producer. He formed The JG’s, a group that made remixes, with DJ KOO and others in the mid-80s. After building his career as a DJ in Japan, he went to the US in 1992 and was a runner-up in a DJ competition in New York called DJ Battle for World Supremacy. After his eponymous first album in 1995, he released albums such as h II and dj honda IV. He has featured mostly east coast rappers and DJs such as Common, Fat Joe, DJ Premier, Mos Def, De La Soul, ESMD, and Redman. In 1999, dj honda founded dj honda RECORDINGS US and dj honda RECORDINGS JAPAN. He launched his fashion brand, h, which became a big global hit in the 90s. dj honda made KINGS CROSS with ill-bosstino from THA BLUE HERB in 2021. He is currently based in Sapporo.

What the two, who lead a real hip-hop lifestyle, can do right now 

TWIGY – RAPATTACK. All tracks produced by dj honda

——What was the catalyst for you to make RAPATTACK?

TWIGY: I had stored lyrics in my mental “drum,” and I wanted them to have a street hip-hop sound. But it would’ve been hard for me to do it, and just when I was thinking about how it’d take a long time to approach different people, I started talking about making music with (dj) honda-san. Everyone had been making songs and albums with honda-san recently, so I went to his studio in Sapporo for about two weeks to make the album. 

——How long have you two known each other?

TWIGY: Oof. A long time. 

dj honda: Since TWIGY was small (laughs). He was still in Nagoya. 

TWIGY: I was still small (laughs). I was around 17 or 18.

dj honda: I met him when I used to host this event in Tokyo. He came to my events around twice. 

TWIGY: He used to run an event called PEACE BALL.

——What was your impression of it?

dj honda: Not a lot of people back then were rapping. Even if they weren’t my friends, I knew everyone that rapped.         

TWIGY: Everyone was my senior, so I would watch them perform. HAZU and I were the youngest, and everyone else was older, so I was one of the people who would get so much inspiration from watching how it was done. Many acts like EAST END would perform at PEACE BALL, and we performed as BEATKICKS. We would go back into the audience once we were done, and one time, honda-san brought a guitar out to close his DJ set, and I thought he was amazing. He had a rock hairstyle too. But I couldn’t talk to him because he was much older. 

dj honda: True. You and me, there was an generation gap. Now at our ages, it’s like we’re the same. 

TIGHT -24th Anniversary, Since 1998- at Club Asia on December 3rd, 2022

——Did you, TWIGY-san, approach honda-san for the album?

TWIGY: Yes. I couldn’t go wrong with someone who makes real music. I knew my lyrics would match his sound, so I really wanted to do it.

——What was it like recording with TWIGY-san, honda-san?

dj honda: There’s not much to say, but I told him, “We’re going to make more!” (laughs). 

TWIGY: But I would stop (laughs).

——How long did you stay in Sapporo? Did you work on the lyrics there?

dj honda: You were in Sapporo for a week to ten days. You came two separate times. 

TWIGY: I had written down some of the lyrics, but I came up with them using my mental “drum,” so some parts and bars didn’t match. Like the word endings. I hadn’t recorded the lyrics using my voice, so I had to adjust them. I’d end up needing another verse, for instance. We also had to decide which of honda-san’s beats matched which lyrics. He produces music every day. We listened to his new beats and old ones from decades ago. The oldest one we listened to was from when? 

dj honda: Around 20 years ago? I made it around the 90s. 

TWIGY: I listened to that beat first and was like, “This is what I’m talking about. Let’s go with this one.”

TIGHT -24th Anniversary, Since 1998- at Club Asia on December 3rd, 2022

——When I listened to your album, I felt like it had a “What’s hip-hop? Let’s go back to hip-hop” vibe. Did you discuss the album concept? 

dj honda: Nah. We did what we could each day. I was like, “What can you do right now, TWIGY?” and he’d be like, “I can do this right now.” All that happened was [that back and forth] worked out. I didn’t think of making something old-fashioned or anything. I wasn’t like, “Let’s make this kind of song.” We considered whatever we could finish a song. That was what it was like every day.

TWIGY: We shared that sensibility and completed the album. 

dj honda: I didn’t ponder on anything. I’m sure you did for your lyrics, though. 

TWIGY: I’ve always existed within hip-hop; it makes me happy to hear that you felt like it had a “back to hip-hop” vibe. But the thing is, I’ve been doing this forever. 

——Do you feel like this album is a manifestation of what you continued doing in your real life?

dj honda: Yeah. It’s like my real life happened to be reflected [in the album]. This is all I’ve been doing.

TWIGY: Same with me—I’ve been doing real hip-hop. It doesn’t have to be [called real hip-hop], but that’s how I would describe it. 

TIGHT -24th Anniversary, Since 1998- at Club Asia on December 3rd, 2022

dj honda’s request to TWIGY: “Make it simple”

——What do you think is TWIGY-san’s appeal? 

dj honda: Rappers need to have individuality, you know? TWIGY has that. I discarded some of my many beats because I felt like I couldn’t use them for other people. I’m sure lyrics are important, but I listen to them as part of the music. I don’t have any criteria [for lyrics] because I’ve always been a DJ. I know what does and doesn’t feel right as I work freely. I make music based on whether or not I would play it when I DJ. When I feel like it sounds a bit off, it’s off—that’s how I judge the music. That way, I’d be able to be like, “This song is bad,” and “That song is bad.” I’d then edit the songs quickly. 

TWIGY: Which songs were bad (laughs)?

dj honda: Didn’t I ask, “Is this fine?” If a song sounded good to you, the rest was my responsibility, so I’d change and fix that a lot. 

TWIGY: He changed each song a lot. The songs improved so much, so it was a good thing. But he’d ask me, “Is this okay?” regarding so many songs, so it was a bit hard choosing which song to go with (laughs).

——honda-san, you’ve recorded with many rappers from abroad, but did you have any realizations after recording with TWIGY-san?

dj honda: Rappers from other countries and Japan are the same. They’re based in different places, but they do the same thing for the most part. TWIGY is a rapper through and through.

TIGHT -24th Anniversary, Since 1998- at Club Asia on December 3rd, 2022

——Do you have any flows you like?

dj honda: I told TWIGY to keep it simple. I say that to everyone I work with: “make it simple.” 

TWIGY: No one writes simple flows (laughs).

dj honda: I feel like if I can’t keep up, then the listener wouldn’t be able to either. Simple is better and harder. Same with instrumentals and scratching. That’s why everyone encourages each other. You might make some magic; all you have to do is try your best. I wish it were possible to make a good song every time. But it’s okay to only occasionally record a song and put that out. Of course, there are times when I can make something effortlessly. But it usually doesn’t end up being that way. That’s why it’s better to just do it; it’s all about who does it (laughs).

TWIGY: (Laughs). Let’s move on to the next question. 

dj honda: TWIGY has his reasons for being unable to keep things simple. Why not try something new? It’s an experiment. You don’t need a budget of hundreds of thousands of yen to go into a studio now. You can make music if you have a computer and mic. I mean, we experimented a lot. 

TWIGY: Quite a lot (laughs).

dj honda: We did, we did. I didn’t say, “Change this particular part!” to TWIGY or anything. 

TWIGY: I thought I kept it simple, but that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t [simple enough] (laughs).

dj honda: He was like, “You’re being hard on me!” But I was like, “Am I?”

TWIGY: He said, “You’re not there yet!” 

dj honda: I was like, “Give me more!” (laughs). 

TWIGY: I’d be like, “I might only have two lines of me shouting, and that’s it.” 

dj honda: But I’d be like, “It’d be so cool if that could work.” 

TWIGY: I’d be like, “Come on, I’ve never heard anyone rap like that!” 

dj honda: That’s why it made me excited. A song with only the chorus, for example (laughs). 

——(Laughs). It sounds like you had fun recording the album. Did getting away from Tokyo to record in Sapporo make a difference, TWIGY-san?

TWIGY: I was able to focus. Every day, it was like, “We’re going into the studio tomorrow!” I went into the studio at the beginning of April. The snow had frozen over. I thought I had to wear boots, but I slipped so much when I did. I was like, “Oh, damn it!” But the wind felt chilly and nice. 

TIGHT -24th Anniversary, Since 1998- at Club Asia on December 3rd, 2022

The merging of pure souls: the birth of a chemical reaction

——When I listened to your album, I felt like you were rapping about the present. You shouted the things you felt from living in the world today. 

TWIGY: I wanted to create a borderline between dreams and reality in my previous album, WAKING LIFE, which explains its form. honda-san says the content of RAPATTACK is complex, but I wrote it in an easy-to-understand way. There are a lot of human emotions, like fun and sadness, and I wanted the content to be closer to a real one. I wanted the lyrics to be about things you ponder on—deep things. honda-san’s clear bass tones and my earnestness; it was like our souls became one, and they matched. I wrote additional lyrics to fit the sound, which goes to show how everything worked out. It was amazing. It was as though a chemical reaction was born. 

——There definitely is a chemical reaction in the album. It made me think.

TWIGY: We don’t have music like that anymore. There are only songs about fun or love. I believe hip-hop is about defining problems, but I felt it was lacking, so I wanted to write about that. Someone who listened to my album told me they got all fired up and couldn’t sleep. 

“LUCY” by TWIGY. Produced by dj honda.

——I felt the same way listening to the latter half of the album (laughs). 

TWIGY: I wanted people to feel that way with this album. Everyone’s desensitized now. That’s why people who used to listen to my music back in the day are like, “Yeah, this is what I’m talking about.” I mean, it’s honda-san [who produced the music]! That was partially intentional because this crude sort of rap could sound interesting to young people. Today, recording technology is too advanced, so music sounds too clean. Many people change their voices or edit their breaths out. 

I wanted to do the opposite of that for a long time. For “CIRCUS,” the first song we recorded, I went into honda-san’s studio and held a mic with him watching over me for the first time in years. I say “I’m back” at the beginning to give the listener the initial impact. I rap in different tones during the latter half, which sounds interesting. honda-san did that. 

——Who came up with the title? What’s behind it?

dj honda: TWIGY did. 

TWIGY: I’ve wanted to name the next album after WAKING LIFE, RAPATTACK, for around two years. The content of the album came afterward. I wanted to name the album first and then go further from there. 

——What kind of chemical reaction did you create? 

dj honda: Well, isn’t that something the listener decides? 

TWIGY: I want to know. 

dj honda: The listener should decide. We did our part. I mean, we can always do more (laughs). But that way, there will be no end to this. It can go on forever. 

TIGHT -24th Anniversary, Since 1998- at Club Asia on December 3rd, 2022

——What are your thoughts on recent hip-hop? Both domestic and otherwise?

TWIGY: Hip-hop, as in the music?

——Music and culture. 

dj honda: What do you think? Hmmm… I wonder. 

TWIGY: (Laughs). 

dj honda: I don’t know. Isn’t that alright? I really don’t. I don’t listen to other people’s music too much, so I don’t pay much mind to it. 

TWIGY: Ditto. And (laughs)?

dj honda: I only do what I want to do! I’ve just kept that going.

TWIGY: I happen to do things in my style. It’s okay to have many types of styles, though. I don’t have the time of the day to deny that. 

dj honda: There’s no point in denying that. We’re all crap at the end of the day. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but that’s what we all are. 

TWIGY: Real shitty????. 

dj honda: I’m not sure about that (laughs). If this is specifically about music, my answer might be different, but people should be able to do what they want. Things are the way they are now because there was an increase in people like that. Back then, people performing on stage a minute ago would go back into the audience and watch the other acts. TWIGY was the same. 

TWIGY: We all had a dream and got together. 

dj honda: We’d be like, “Is this okay?” Even we didn’t know what we were doing. 

——Do you know what you’re doing now?

dj honda: I do! But I didn’t at the time. That was part of the fun. 

——You still have fun, though, right?

dj honda: Yeah, I do.

——Lastly, can you give us a message regarding the release of RAPATTACK

TWIGY: It’s a super real album, so please give it a listen. It’s a classic. 

dj honda: That’s cool. Let’s go with that—”It’s a classic” (laughs). 

Photography Atsuko Tanaka
Special Thanks:CLUB asia、DJ YAS、TIGHT


Kana Yoshioka

Kana Yoshioka is a freelance editor and writer. After studying abroad in New York in the early 1990s, she returned to Japan, where she became an editor at a club culture magazine. From 2003 to 2015, she worked as an editor for the street culture magazine warp. Today, she works as a writer/editor for various media in music, art, and fashion with a focus on street and club culture.