The rise of “Soundcloud rap” as primary inspiration for a certain corner of young Japanese rappers has been a mixed bag. For my taste, it has worked out much better than every other new artist trying really hard to be Future and failing, but it still has a pretty high miss rate in general, with like Sleet Mage and Gokou Kuyt being the big success stories for me. Normcore Boyz have been kind of a weird one to keep tabs on. Early numbers featured a woozy backdrop I could get behind, while they’ve had a few charming melodic moments with sneaky-clever diction in more recent memory. But they’ve also had a lot of trash-can trap, so the collective felt more flukey than anything else.
But they’ve been on a bit of a run recently! The Cityman’s Gift EP featured some of their best work to date, including “Santa Is Me,” an honest-to-goodness Christmas number that channels the goofiness of J-pop holiday songs into something really formidable (this is key — like, Sleet Mage stands out because part of their sound seems inspired by J-pop and even the more mainstream Visual Kei stuff). Now comes Normcore On The Wave, an EP-length collab with producer Zot On The Wave which ends up bearing some of their best songs yet (while also being some of the producer’s better overall numbers too). Not perfect — when Normcore Boyz imitate 6ix9ine, my hand goes for the skip button — but numbers like “Canada” reveal all sorts of potential in the group. The beat is part vapor but with enough punch to not get too lost, and every member of Normcore Boyz steps up to deliver more understated verses still overflowing with confidence and excitement at what the future could bring. And it’s marked by lyrics that could come from a Dreams Come True song, all about shining goddesses and seaside towns and the hook “Life is shooting star.” It’s so different than simple imitation, while still borrowing the best elements. Listen above.