DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan raps and roasts on ‘Mother’s Food’

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

A gig doesn’t double as dinner, but at DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan’s shows there’s a good chance food will be involved. Besides a hip-hop set, the audience can sometimes participate in cooking demonstrations.

“At one show, I sang about manju (a Japanese sweet) and afterward the crowd started making manju. Then I performed while they cooked. That was my favorite show,” says Miso, who, despite the act’s name, is a one-woman show (she refused to tell us her real name).

Food plays a central part in Miso’s music, the latest offbeat hip-hop project to spring up in a country that produces more than its fair share of them. All her raps double as recipes for various Japanese dishes, from candied sweet potatoes to green peppers stuffed with beef.

DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan began as a graduation project at Kagawa Nutrition University in Sakado, Saitama Prefecture. It was originally a series of YouTube videos, but has resulted in Miso releasing a six-track album. Her debut album, “Mother’s Food,” comes out next week — three days before she plays the Daydreaming Stage at Fuji Rock Festival.

“I got the idea because when I would write down recipes, they would get dirty as I cooked,” she says. “It was really annoying, so I thought making a song to remember them would work.”

Despite being in some bands when she was younger, she says she “never really made her own music,” and didn’t listen to much hip-hop.

“I started listening to American artists like Q-Tip, Pete Rock and Beck for inspiration,” she said, also mentioning Japanese hip-hop groups such as Nitro Microphone Underground and PSG. After seeing her YouTube clips, an event promoter asked her to do a one-time show.

“At first, DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan were characters, but for the live shows it was just me,” she says. Miso was surprised at the positive response and her audience slowly grew.

Although the concept seems like a gimmick at first, DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan really is just the latest hip-hop project to take the genre in a playful direction. The pop sensibility of the six songs on “Mother’s Food” bring to mind acts such as East End × Yuri and Halcali, while cutesy touches (squeaky vocal interjections, toy-instrument-sounding production) resemble the work of twee-crunk duo Love and Hates. The involvement of food recalls Tokyo act Trippple Nippples, but Miso’s shows look less like that group’s artistic approach and are focused more on education.

Producing something that’s one part A Tribe Called Quest, one part rapper Kitty and one part Julia Child has earned Miso a few critics who don’t think she’s taking the genre seriously.

“I don’t care what people think, if they think it’s a joke,” she says. “I just want to make people want to cook.”

Like the aforementioned hip-hop acts, Miso doesn’t treat the music as a joke and instead believes it is a great way to speak to a wide audience.

“You can send a message directly through hip-hop,” she says. “Not just recipes — when you cook, feelings associated with a dish come back to you, like memories or people you’ve eaten it with.”

Miso’s culinary rhymes landed her a spot at this year’s Fuji Rock, but she won’t be able to cook while performing — “the environment doesn’t work with what I do.” She says she’s still excited to go, and this year she’s especially happy to see the festival from a different viewpoint.

“I worked at a food stand at Fuji Rock a few years ago,” she says. “I couldn’t see any of the bands. I spent the whole time just trying to catch an act or something — anything (laughs).”

“Mother’s Food” by DJ Miso Shiru and MC Gohan is in stores from July 24. She plays the Daydreaming Stage at Fuji Rock Festival on July 27. Tickets cost ¥43,000 for a three-day pass, ¥19,000 for a one-day pass. For more information, visit www.fujirockfestival.com or misosiru.com.