At the top of 2019 rapper, producer, and artist Rhyming Gaijin made a pledge to make a beat, write a verse, and record a track for everyday of the year. He called it the 365-Day Challenge. When I first wrote about it, he was 54 days out and showed little sign of stopping. Rhyming is something of a unique figure within Tokyo, Japan’s music scene. Very few artists put themselves out there in the way that he does. Rhyming’s music is unadulterated and earnest. Its the sound of a blue-collar rapper aspiring to be great. While the year’s end is nigh, he has recorded 256 raw uncut tracks and by the time this interview gets up, he’ll be on 258. I caught up with the man to ask him about his 365-Day rap-a-thon, beat-making, and the recurring theme that emerges out of writing everyday.
You’re almost at the finish line with your 365-day challenge. How hard was it to stay disciplined? Did you miss any days?
It’s not that hard, you just have to make/find time to do it . I stopped watching Netflix. I haven’t started any new dramas. I limit youtube to only tutorials on how to make beats etc. Some days I wake up at 5am so I can get shit done before work. I have missed some days, usually when I have an all night show, or climbing a mountain. I just do one [song] in the morning and an extra one before bed until I’m caught up.
What problems have you run into along the way?
Besides life popping up, like when I got the flu. I still had to write something. The weather is also an issue. I record most of the raps outside on the street. In the winter it was freezing, and during the rainy season I go out there rapping in the rain. I’m ok with the summer heat but my iPhone wasn’t. It shut down because it over heated. Getting likes and comments is great but after awhile you really have to be doing it because you “like it.” I got to that point around day 130.
On Day 254, that image of a drowning fat man pulling you down was very vivid. The inflictions of your voice along with the way you punched in your vocals gave the track an eerie vibe. Can you talk about that?
Long story short, I’m always trying to do my verses in one takes for 3 reasons: 1. I edit on my iphone, so I try to keep it is as simple as possible (no punching). 2. I’m recording most of these track on Maschine [music software] and outside, so every take will have a different ambience and background noise, and 3. It sounds cool to say you do it in one take. But to answer your question, I finally listened to To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. And I started experimenting again playing with the textures of my voice and thinking of different ways to approach my subject matter.
The trap infused beat on Day 247 juxtaposes the content of your verse. The sonics sound triumphant, but the debt is like the fat on 254. Rappers usually don’t talk about owing money, they brag about getting it. How did that beat inspire you to rap about a topic that’s rarely heard in hip-hop?
A lot of my raps are just the shit I’m going through at the moment, regardless of the beat. On that day I just finished an audio book about the music business. It really inspired me. The author broke down what it means to work as a full time musician. And I realized it is attainable. As I thought about what life would be like if I had no debts, I felt liberated, so I wrote my stream of consciences about it. My mic just recently broke and I’m using the most ghetto way to record, but its working. As far as why rappers don’t talk about owing money, its not a good look and it probably won’t sell records. I suppose what you rap about, you will attract. But I feel, I’m just passing through this rough patch in my life. I’m not planning on living here [in Japan] and I’m also talking about the steps I’m doing to get out of here.
What rappers and producers do you think have influenced you the most?
I really don’t go out my way to listen to other rappers/producers. If I am exposed to them, I will probably take some gems from them. It’s a melting pot of The Fugees, Wu- tang , Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), Bad Boy, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Jay Z, Kanye West, Q-tip, Swizz Beats, Jermaine Dupri. It’s really just a random mix. If I like something, I’m going to figure out how I can incorporate it. I just got the idea to listen to albums that people say are great masterpieces to help me prep for putting together a full project.
Do you still sample records?
I don’t sample records per se, I did/do sample from CDs, the web etc. I have about 80gb of music from Japanese Enka to the anthology of Jazz, every popular theme song from the 90s etc. But it’s going to be hard to clear those samples. So now I’m working on my own sound or finding things that I can sample without worrying about clearing having to clear it.
What’s your go-to equipment and software for making beats?
This year I decided to double down on the MPC live, its portable, and can do everything with out a computer. I was able to bring it to the top of Mt. Fuji and create some joints. I have a lot of iPhone apps that can also get the job down. I have Maschine, Garage Band, Beatmaker 2/3.
Has there been times when you felt like you were creatively exhausted?
I’m always trying something different. It could be me singing, or trying to get in touch with my Jamaican roots, or be channeling my inner trap boy. Usually the beat is all I need to be inspired. I’m usually writing to the beat.
I found that I usually feel exhausted after 9pm and my brain doesn’t work. But when I wake up, things just click into place. Topic wise I’ve noticed the same themes pop up. But I go out of my way not to recycle bars. So even if it’s the same topic it will be varied. One example is my girl songs usually start off like ‘I met her on a train.’ So I started switching up. ‘I met her on a bike. I met her on a scooter.’
What has this experience taught you about yourself?
It has taught me that consistency is one of the keys to success. I started applying the concept to other areas of my life, like saving and eating healthier. It has also made me confront a lot of demons. There were a lot of topics that kept coming up in my rhymes and I realized I have to deal with them now. I recently found a solution, which I don’t think would’ve of came to me if I wasn’t doing this challenge.
What was theme that kept coming up in your writing?
Depression, loneliness, wishing for the day to come when you make it and everyone will see how great you are, topics related to love, the books I happen to be reading at the time, annoying people always get a line or two, lack of money, the irony of life, ego stroking. I rarely don’t talk about black issues, politics, things that are trending. I try not to offend people/groups etc., but these days everyone can be offended by anything. Sometimes I talk about the people who are talking about me on some meta shit.
But yeah, in 256 days these themes keep popping up. As far as the depression and the loneliness, the very act of writing it down and recording makes it go away. Being busy and productive took care of the “ wishing for the day people will see I’m great” because now I’m too busy to notice who notices me on most days. Lack of money has been taken care of since I got a new part-time job with as many hrs. as I can manage. This month I’ll work every day straight. Knowing there’s a fat check coming from my own efforts is liberating. I’m not waiting around, but I’m laying it down. And that has the effect to give me the confidence to take more risks with my music, because I’m not doing it for the money.
What’s been the reaction so far?
A lot of people told me that I inspired them. Other people have commented on my growth and hard work ethic.
What are you going to do with all your material once its over?
I’m thinking of an easy way where people can vote for their favorite songs and I could make an album with those songs. Or I can pick songs that I really liked.
After this, what’s next for Rhyming Gaijin?
I have a new challenge for 2020 that will be even harder. I’m still working out the logistics, but it is going to be crazy.