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Hey, world, meet Hasebe

by Steve McClure

DJ Hasebe looks set to become the latest Japanese platter-spinner to make a name for himself internationally, following in the footsteps of DJ Krush, DJ Honda, Ken Ishii and Captain Funk.

DJ Hasebe

Although his music is firmly rooted in “old-school” ’80s hip-hop, Hasebe’s a musical magpie in the best sense of the term, drawing on a wide variety of sounds to create an incredibly diverse sonic palette. While some DJs stick to a rather narrowly defined stylistic template, Hasebe prefers to keep things interesting by enlisting all sorts of musical collaborators.

Guest artists on his debut album, “Hey World,” released last November, included Speech (from Arrested Development), Ronny Jordan, Doug E Fresh, Beenie Man, Les Nubians and Sugar Soul.

Born in June 1971 in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, Hasebe played guitar in a local band when he was in high school. “At that time, I’d really only listened to Japanese music, plus mainstream stuff like Madonna and Michael Jackson,” he says.

A turning point in his musical evolution was when he started to listen to hip-hop and other types of black music in 1988. “I’ve liked black music ever since then,” says Hasebe, “Dance, disco, funk, jazz — all kinds.” Then, deciding that hip-hop offered a wealth of creative possibilities, he went out and bought a turntable and mixer and started to make his own music.

Besides, it beat working at a golf-course management office, which he’d tried for about six months after graduating from high school.

Leaving the links behind, he moved to Tokyo at 19 and was soon caught up in the city’s incredibly active club-music scene. He started working as a DJ at a number of clubs and quickly developed a reputation as one of Tokyo’s best turntable men.

In 1993, Hasebe organized and presented a hip-hop party called Fat Rat at the then-trendy Tokyo club, Gold, which cemented his status as a scenemeister supreme and helped boost the popularity of hardcore hip-hop in Japan.

After that event, Hasebe made his recording debut with a cassette tape of his mixes, simply titled, “DJ Hasebe #1,” which sold well through specialty stores such as Cisco in Shibuya.

However, his big break came in 1996, when he released “Ice Pick,” his first vinyl single (and his first original composition), which featured Japanese rappers Zeebra and Mummy-D. It also proved a hit with Tokyo club-music fans and was soon released on CD.

Another crucial point in his career was his meeting that year with vocalist Aiko, better known under the moniker Sugar Soul. At first he started accompanying her on stage on a temporary basis, but soon became a regular part of the Sugar Soul “unit,” both on stage and as a collaborator on her recordings, starting with the track “Ima Sugu Hoshii,” which he produced.

He’s now one of Japan’s most sought-after DJs/producers/remixers, known for his strong but unobtrusive musical sense. To me, that’s what makes Hasebe such an interesting artist; he’s something of a musical chameleon, adept at laying down tracks with a smooth acid-jazzish beat, a pulsating hip-hop rhythm track or a funky soul groove.

Unlike the many J-pop artists who succumb to pressure from their management and labels to release as much as possible in as short a time as possible, Hasebe believes in taking his time when making his music. “I had been scheduled to release another single in November,” he says, “but for my peace of mind, I need to take a bit of a break from making music. So I’ll work on this project a little more slowly, and then when it’s ready [in January], we’ll do a really strong promo campaign for it.”

He adds that his second full-length album should be out next spring.

It’s hardly surprising that Hasebe felt he had to take things a bit more slowly — as one of the country’s most in-demand DJs, he’s constantly being asked to play gigs all over Japan. As well, he’s the house DJ every Tuesday evening at Club Yellow in Tokyo’s Nishi-Azabu district.

From January, when “Hey World” is released in Europe, Hasebe’s international profile should start to take off as well — and I think it’s a safe bet he’ll soon join the ranks of Krush, Honda and the rest of the elite Japanese DJ crew.