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Sad But Good: Sleet Mage’s Astral Body Boi

For me, a lot of Japanese rap ends up the missing mark not because artists are taking heavy cues from American artists, but because they forget to build from that base and find their own voice (which, funny enough, is a trapping of artists around the world, and in America too). It doesn’t take long to figure out who Sleet Mage gets inspiration. The Tokyo-based artist draws from the corner of “SoundCloud rap” where emo is every bit as influential as hip-hop, best exemplified by the late Lil Peep (who Sleet Mage followed closely). But on their second mixtape Astral Body Boi, Sleet Mage makes their own voice come through clearly.

Across its nine songs, Astral Body Boi features familiar sounds — trap-adjacent beats, Auto-tune smears, an N64-era fairy telling you to, hey, listen. There’s one moment of aggressive release, on the quick-paced “Parimanimage (Freestyle).” Yet Sleet Mage becomes intriguing when getting quieter, which is the direction the tape goes the further it moves along. The beats become centered around guitar, and Sleet Mage’s voice often teeters on becoming a mumbled whisper. “Nostalgic Mikasa City” moves at half speed, while mixtape highlight “Sleepy Trippie Mage” sounds exhausted, the sonic equivalent of sagging eyelids. It’s just the right backdrop for Sleet Mage’s delivery.

Where Sleet Mage finds their own identity is with the vocals themselves. It’s not simple replication of the emo-glazed anger appearing in “SoundCloud Rap,” but I’d argue it veers closer to Japan’s domestic rock output — and, unless Sleet Mage’s hair is tripping me up, a little bit of the drama of visual kei? Take “Mmoonn,” above. There’s no angst, just longing delivered via lines that would fit in a back number song (“when I think of you / you’re just like the moon”). Yet the way Sleet Mage delivers it — and how it gets interrupted by speedier verses — sets it apart. Same goes for the icy “I don’t say good bye” and especially so on closer “We Will All Die,” a piano-driven number that goes all in on its over-the-top emotion (see: the title) that reveals itself as…a critique of Japanese society, complete with big climax and the tenderest delivery of “skrrt skrrt” I’ve ever heard.

Alongside Gokou Kuyt’s #teendreamtape, Astral Body Boi stands as a late hint at where Japanese rap…or, at least the edges of it…will go in 2018. And that’s a good sign. Get it here, or listen above.

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New Seiho: “Purple Smoke”

In recent times, Seiho has been exploring space. Last year’s Collapse and March’s “Unreal” single allowed for stretches with plenty of room to stretch out, often for experimentation. On “Purple Smoke,” he shifts the other way, with exhilarating results. The single — rounded out by two other songs — opens with wisps of noise, but then the beat creeps in, joined by keyboard and eventually sharper electronic stabs. Then, “Purple Smoke” blows open. It just rushes forward, noises colliding with one another and producing a rush. “Cherry Pie” finds him hooking up with rapper Kid Fresino, and the Osaka-born producer makes the MC work at his pace, laying down a frantic number for him to zip around, even warping his voice at times. Closing it out is “Memories Of Crying,” another one teasing reflection before bursting into a neon dash. If Seiho spent some time seeing how space could suit a swirl of sounds, “Purple Smoke” finds him controlling the chaos. Listen to it on Spotify or Apple Music, or buy it on iTunes.

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Solitary Skitter: MMEEGG And Abelest’s Lonly You

Acting surprised that a label describing itself as “a platform for free expression” released a skittery pop song seems silly, considering they can do whatever they want. Free expression! But still, up until Midnight Cult has primarily leaned towards darker juke collections, including a set from Traxman and a 2017 highlight via Weezy. “Lonly You” finds artists MMEEGG and Abelest teaming up to create a sparse number that boasts percussion not far removed from juke, but still more reeled in than your usual Battle Train Tokyo fare (though, check the Kokushimusou remix included if that’s more your speed). It ends up being a sweet, albeit very melancholy number anchored by a big emotional hook built to by the pair trading verses. Yet that simplicity makes the central aching come through all the clearer. Get it here, or listen below.

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New Cool Japan: “Give Up On You”

This is pretty much the perfect kind of track to have appear at a time when I’m splitting time between last-second assignments and year-end-list planning (it’s tough!). Cool Japan shared the new rumbler “Give Up On You,” and it’s a house track that feels like its halfway to being sloshed. The key detail comes via the vocal samples, split-second yowls that vanish almost as fast as they appear, joined by these warped touches that make it all the more disorienting. Everything slides around and the whole things sounds like a sidewalk away from tripping over, but Cool Japan turns this dizzying sensation into something that holds together. Listen above.

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New Night Tempo And Antenna Girl: “Catch!”

Future Funk remains a confusing one for me personally, but when it’s used as a backdrop for an original song I’m usually on board. South Korea’s Night Tempo works especially well in collaboration with others, especially vocalists, and the Japanese version of “Catch!” with Antenna Girl certainly works. The original is a catchy bit of shimmering pop, centered around a sped-up vocal from Rye Rye’s “Sunshine,” and one of the better examples of Future Funk as a different name for “remix.” With Antenna Girl, though, that beat becomes all the better, as she bounces along with it, adding a new angle to it. Listen above.

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