Anyone who says the Japanese can’t do hip-hop is at best wrong, and at worst blinkered. Usually taking their cues from old-school rap, before the quest for “bling” railroaded the genre’s more commercial strata into a moneyed-up misogyny fest and drove the good stuff underground, plenty of Japanese acts stand on par with the best artists coming from the West. And without doubt, one of the most interesting is boy-girl duo Uhnellys.
As drummer Midi throws down tight-but-loose beats, frontman Kim builds up groove-laden loops on bass or guitar, textured with piercing jazzy trumpet hooks, over which he raps with fierce flow.
When performed live, this is achieved with the aid of effects pedals that layer and repeat the loops that Kim creates on the spot; but in the studio, the duo have more freedom to weave a fuller sound.
“Be Bo Da” was produced by Tokie, the bassist from acclaimed alternative band Unkie and previously of rap-rock group Rize. She brings her solid, fat woodbass to the table, making the urgent “Focus” and standout track “Okashii” all the cooler. “Working,” meanwhile, opens the album with a playful bassline and keyboard groove whose laid-back energy ebbs into the guitar twangs of the following track, “Free Free Free.”
This decidedly lo-fi mini-album isn’t likely to make the charts, isn’t likely to earn its creators a ton of gold chains or a collaboration with Lil Jon. But it has the power to inspire, to impress and, most importantly, to make you want to dance. If that’s not world-class hip-hop, what is?