Based in Yokohama, Japan, the 21 year old rapper Leon Fanourakis has been involved and became a champ in the TV shows like “HIGH SCHOOL RAP CHAMPIONSHIP” and “RAP STAR IS BORN”. After his exposure to the media, he signed a record deal with a rap label name 1% and dropped his 1st album “CHIMAIRA” last year. In the Japanese rap scene, where melodic rap has become the mainstream, as in the US scene, he has risen to the top of the Japanese rap industry with his strong voice and savage rap skills. He is regarded by many listeners as the golden child of the next generation in Japan.
In the early 2010s, AKTHESAVIOR and his partner ISSA GOLD emerged as THE UNDERACHIEVERS, members of the collective BEAST COAST, which also includes JOEY BADA$$ and FLATBUSH ZOMBIES. Their first album as a crew “ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK” was released last year.
The first time AK and Leon met was last September. AK, who is also known as a big Japan connoisseur, and Leon, who has been a big fan of AK’s for a long time, met in Shibuya by chance. And the next day, they had a recording session at the 1% studio. The two hit it off during a session and continued to work together. As a result, the collaboration EP “FLATBU$H ¥EN” has been completed.
While there have been many examples of Japanese and American rappers working together in the past, and it’s no longer so difficult to approach US artists/producers from the Japanese side compared to 10-20 years ago, “FLATBU$H ¥EN” should still be recognized as a staple US-Japan collaboration. Because it’s clear that unlike most of the other international collabs that involve heavy networking and money, this project was made organically by the rappers who’s been relevant for years, and with an equal partnership and mutual respect.
AK came to Japan for the third time in February this year to promote “FLATBU$H ¥EN,” and we were able to chat with him and Leon about the significance of “FLATBU$H ¥EN,” AK’s deep love for Japan, and the mutual respect they have for each other.
In “YOKOHAMA 2 FLATBUSH”, you rapped about how you were influenced by Japanese fashion and Asian culture such as BAPE® . How specifically did you become interested in Japanese culture when you were younger?
AKTHESAVIOR: When I was younger — not Japanese culture but Asian culture — but HIP HOP artists like WU-TANG CLAN were into kung fu, and my father liked to watch a lot of kung fu movies as well. So if you really wanna dive deep into where it starts from, I guess that was my first experience. As far as Japanese culture is concerned, I think it started in the late 90’s. I was really young and only saw BIGGIE SMALLS and other legends wearing BAPE® and shit, and I actually started wearing BAPE® around early 2000’s when I was in high school. BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB and PHARRELL were big influences as well, and he kinda bridged the gap between Japanese style and the US style. Him doing that led me to get interested into Japanese fashion. Also when I was younger, I used to go to my aunt’s house, and the neighbor had a video tape of “Dragon Ball GT”. Niggaz knew about “DRAGON BALL Z”, but the level / the sagas that he was on, it ain’t even come out in America yet. That was the gateway for all the other animes, and started watching them after that. I’m an anime head now.
What attracted you to BAPE® and “DRAGON BALL”?
AK: BAPE® was so cool to me because it was so vibrant with the colors. When you’re a kid, you like colors and shit, coloring books, all types of shit. And I was really drawn into the patterns and the characters of the brand. They were so different from shit that was coming out in America. “DRAGON BALL” was cool as fuck. I love cartoons that have lots of actions and shit. Fighting, energy, lessons… I don’t know, all that stuff was interesting to me as a kid.
Do you feel that these Japanese influences have directly influenced your rap style?
AK: Not really, they don’t have influences like the reason that I rap or my style. Of course when it comes to references and shit like that, I would use anime & fashion as references. But my rapping style came from me being in Brooklyn, and being influenced by the culture there, and listening to HIP HOP music like BIGGIE SMALLS, NAS, LIL WAYNE, LUPE FIASCO… They influenced more in terms of how I flow and how I approach rap.
Brooklyn is also known as a biracial/multicultural community.
AK: Yeah, so I’m from Flatbush, and Flatbush is the place where all the Caribbean countries combined in one area. Trinidad, Jamaican, Haitian, etc… everything, literally. So that had huge influences. I’m a Caribbean myself, originated from Trinidad Tobago. There was a huge reggae scene in Brooklyn, and that definitely influenced my flows and all that shit.
What other manga/animes have influenced you besides the “DRAGON BALL” series?
AK: I’ve watched hundreds of animes, my body is covered with anime tattoos. I like “YU YU HAKUSHO” “INUYASHA” “NARUTO” “HUNTER x HUNTER” “BLEACH” the newer “DEMON SLAYERS”… The reason why I like them is because the main character always try to overcome and accomplish his goal, trying to be the best version of himself. It motivates me to go harder everyday.
Leon, Do you have any influence from anime or manga?
Leon Fanourakis: It’s only recently that I’ve started watching anime. My sister is an anime nerd and at first I thought it was “otakky (nerdy)”. I was more interested in watching CARTOON NETWORK stuff. So I was a little prejudiced, but recently I started watching “ONE PAN MAN”.
AK: “ONE PUNCH MAN”? Yeah, that shit influenced me to make my Manga as well. I saw the original version of “ONE PUNCH MAN” before it got lit, it was literally drawn like stick figures. Before seeing that, I used to think I won’t be able to create my manga because I can’t draw. After I saw that, I was like “hold up, this nigga just drew whatever he had in his mind and someone else brought it to life”.
Leon: After seeing that, I started watching “JOJO” and “BAKI”, and I liked them. My friend who lives in New York told me about “SAMURAI CHAMPLOO” and that’s how I got to know that anime and NUJABES.
AK: “SAMURAI CHAMPLOO”, watch it till the end! It’s really good. I got it tatted on my neck (laugh). That’s hip hop within the anime.
The fact that Nujabes wrote the music for “SAMURAI CHAMPLOO” is well known around the world, but was this your first Japanese hip-hop experience?
AK: It wasn’t. “TOKYO DRIFT” (TERIYAKI BOYS) from the movie “FAST AND FURIOUS” was the first Japanese rap song I’ve ever heard and I loved that song. After that, NUJABES influenced me, on the HIP HOP side”