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VERBAL holds a unique position within both the entertainment industry and popular culture in Japan. The huge fame he achieved in his role as m-flo’s MC has been followed by five years of his own creative projects which have gone on to inspire a generation of Japanese stars. As honeyee CEO Tetsuya Suzuki said last year, “VERBAL is this generations most important opinion leader, and if anyone knows what they’re talking about it’s Suzuki-san.” Choice excerpts from TOKYODANDY’s chat with VERBAL can be seen below.
It’s been 5 years since m-flo’s last studio album, can you give us a run down of what you’ve done in that time?
Well 5 years ago, with music and fashion, there was a point of conversion where people from different fields and genres kind of got bored with what they were doing and were looking for something new. I’m not from the fashion field but I think at that time it got exciting and there was a merging of worlds. Like how you’ve documented with Tokyo Dandy. There were lots of parties and lots of great energy in Tokyo. Around that time I started a brand called AMBUSH® which got me busy in that realm, and I started DJing which was another outlet for my creativity musically. So the past few years asides from m-flo have been a personal expression of my creativity within music and within fashion. It’s kept me busy.
I’ve listened to the new album, it’s a big change from m-flo’s more melodic hip-hop / J-pop roots isn’t it?
Taku produced the tracks, and when we wrote the songs together this time, the biggest difference between this album and the previous ones is the fact that the whole of the music industry and the economical climate has changed. Now CDs don’t sell. I don’t care what people say, you can be the best musician there is, you can spend loads on promotion with trucks rolling round Shibuya. But CDs just don’t sell as they used too. I kind of look at this as an advantage. Before, when CDs sold, Japan had the second biggest market for CD sales. Because of that an island mentality developed where the Japanese industry saw no need to go global as there was so much money to be made here in Japan. J-pop evolved separately from the rest of the world and was different both in it’s mentality and musicality. As m-flo we were always inspired by both Japanese and foreign artists but our output had to be somewhat adapted to the Japanese way of things. The industry is totally different now. We don’t have to worry about things like ‘Do we need more English lyrics?’ ‘Do we need more Japanese lyrics?’. For the new album we just did what we wanted to do without thinking about it, which is how we debuted. We weren’t really thinking about anything we just put out a couple of tracks and it caught fire. So the title, ‘SQUARE ONE’, it’s how we’ve gone back to how we used to do things, we’ve evolved over the years but this is honest. This is what Taku would do for himself as remix tracks to play on the club floor. It’s not necessarily to sell it’s just something he’s made for fun. When I rap I’m not taking about seishun or sakura kind of thing I’m just talking about whatever the hell I would talk about with friends. The whole station has been a catalyst for us to be able to do what we really want to do on a big level.
The piece in its entirety can be read here.