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Artist Spotlight Interview

An Interview With Seiji Oda

Seiji Oda is a rapper, singer/songwriter, and producer from Oakland, California. He began producing and creating music in high school. His big break hit when Seiji and his brother Nathaniel, or Lil Ricefield, released their viral hit “Trapanese,” a song that poked fun at asian stereotypes and referenced countless anime and other Japanese pop culture over a Seiji-produced beat. The song was remixed by local Bay Area rappers Daboii and Cash Kidd. But Seiji isn’t only an incredible producer, he can rap, sing, and songwrite just as well. In the past few years, he has worked heavily on his solo work, releasing one of my favorite albums of this year, lofi//HYPHY, an album that combines the two genres, the former being known for it’s chiller production and the latter known for its danceability. I got the opportunity to talk to Seiji about his upcoming album ORA//太陽, which is coming out on November 7th.

What’s your process for making a cohesive body of work, whether that’s a two-piece or an entire album?

I usually approach it by having a theme for whatever the project is. A lot of the time it might be a single song that inspires the full body of work. I think “Ok here’s this song that has this specific feeling that I’ve never done before and I want to keep building on and around that.” It’s really about that feeling. For this next project, I really want to make sure that every song, or at some point around the song I get that feeling from it. When you hear a song and think “that shit has that shit in there”, I can’t really describe it. The reason I listen to music is to get a specific emotion or get in a certain mood, so I try to create bodies of work that represent how I feel and I can go back to that project when I want to feel that way. 

It’s just fun too. Music doesn’t have to be serious in order to be impactful. It can be some dumb shit. It doesn’t have to be the most polished thing in the world and it gets the job done.

I saw that you made a Japanese City Pop playlist and your new song City Pop 001 incorporated that genre. Are we going to hear more of that on the album?

Not this album. I just did that as a loosy because that was what I was feeling at the time. That’s what I’m really into right now, but I definitely see myself doing a project based all around that. A fully City Pop-inspired project is gonna happen sometime. This next album is a whole different thing.

What vibe will the album have?

It’s called ORA//太陽, which means the sun in Japanese. The alternative title is A Love Letter to the Sun and I wrote it that way because to me the songs are ordered in a way that represents the phases of the sun throughout the day. The first song feels like the sun rising, it has a peak, and the project ends at the end of the day. I really wanted to capture this feeling I get sometimes when I meditate. It’s very warm, orange, I don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s that warm feeling that I get that I want to capture in the music. That color is why I ended up calling it ORA, the first three letters of orange. But it’s also that glow, expanding light that I was feeling. I think it has a cohesive, overarching sound but each song is totally different in terms of the tempo and the type of music it is. It’s definitely more Balledy than most of my music is. I think that a lot of my music is more rap, just me talking shit, freeform. This is more me writing songs to somebody or for somebody rather than a stream of consciousness. I wanted to come at this project with more intention. That’s not something I necessarily think I have to do, but I wanted to do it for this project, it’s how I wanted it to feel. Then it can be re-interpreted from there. 

Image courtesy of Seiji Oda

What do you see in your future working on genre-bending music? Will we hear this on your upcoming album?

This project is different. Each song is inspired by a different era of music. I’m not trying to combine to different things, but there is a theme throughout this project of looking at two different sides. I wanted to recreate the concept of lenticular images with this project where you’re listening from a different perspective. Most music has equal things on each side. I wanted to break that. People have done this in the past. The Beatles were very free about their panning. They would have the drums panned to the left, which is weird as hell, most people have their drums in the middle. I wanted to make lenticular songs, where there’s a song on one side and a whole other song on the other side. Depending on which ear you’re focusing on, you might hear something very different. That’s a theme of this project, especially in the first song. Throughout the project, it switches back and forth between the bright side of the sun and then the more cozy, comfortable side of the song. You’ll see it in the project. Half of the songs are uppercase and half are lowercase to represent these two sides. It switches back and forth between this.

I see that every Sunday you post a new item of music. Since you’re fully independent, is that a way to keep fans engaged, or is it more to keep yourself engaged in making music?

I would say it’s both. It’s definitely for the fans though. As an independent artist, I’m always trying to get new people to listen to my music. What matters to me the most is having the people that always listen to my music or more casual fans feel like they’re part of something. This is why I do early releases of music on my discord or artist page. I do this to create an engaged community. I want to create a space that people can return to every Sunday and build a personal relationship with the people that listen to my music. I can’t just disappear for four months drop an album and not talk to anybody, I’m not Frank Ocean, not yet. It also helps me stay creative, I work best within structure. Having limitations makes me more creative, like here’s something I have to do and how can I go outside this box.

Who’s better at lacrosse, you or Ricefield?

You can ask him *Seiji points the camera at Lil Ricefield*. Probably him not gonna lie.

Seiji and his brother Lil Ricefield//Image courtesy of Genius

Do you have a path that you’ve thought out or are you just taking things as they come?

Right now I’m just taking things as they come. In terms of music, I have my releases planned out. I have what projects I want to put out and in what order. In terms of life though, we’re figuring it out.

I really liked your Hyperpop remix of aero3, do you plan on making any more Hyperpop songs in the future?

I do love Hyperpop. I love trying to produce songs like that because it’s so intricate. I have been working on this project with one of my friends KP. He is really interested in it. His project is going to be really Hyperpop-heavy, and it’s mostly produced by me. 

Who are your biggest inspirations and influences, both musically and personally?

Lately, I’ve been inspired by Nujabes and his production, especially Lofi. Anyone that’s into that, whether they know it or not, pulls from his shit or from Dilla. I’m not a big Dilla fan, but of course, I listen to a lot of his stuff. Erykah Badu is another one of my favorite artists and inspirations, both musically and personally. Also Souls of Mischief. They were a jazzy hip-hop group from the 90s in the bay. I like that the way that they don’t take themselves too seriously but they also take themselves seriously. They take their craft seriously but they had fun with it. I think being light about stuff helps develop your craft. One of my favorite movies is Everything Everywhere All at Once. That’s definitely inspired me, maybe not in terms of music but more as a creator. They’re hella funny with their shit, but they can get their message across because their not trying to hit you over the head with it. It’s like “how can we make this cool ass thing and throw as many ideas at the wall as possible and not take ourselves too seriously to get our message across.”

-Seiji was disappointed that I hadn’t seen the movie-

Image courtesy of Seiji Oda

Are there any other movies that inspire you?

I wouldn’t say a movie necessarily but one of my aesthetic and sonic inspirations is Samurai Champloo. I love the storytelling. Princess Mononoke also inspires me. I have a two-piece Princess Mononoke-inspired project that I’ll drop on a Seiji Sunday

Who are you listening to right now?

I really like the new Smino album. I’ve been listening to a lot of City Pop. A lot of Cindy. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Pluggnb remixes on SoundCloud. They got a crazy Ariana Grande Pluggnb remix. 

How’d you get into producing?

I used to record myself on my old ass computer. That was me making songs over other people’s beats. I got to a point where I wanted to make my own shit and what I wanted to make wasn’t out there. This was before the youtube type beat era, we didn’t have those in 2012. Producing was the only option. I was also heavily inspired by HBK. I was like “these dudes are producing all of their own shit?”. That inspired me to be able to do it all myself, I didn’t have to have a whole team, I could just do it in my bedroom, so that’s where it started. When I was first making beats, I was on Mixcraft 5, and that was something. It was ass. 

Who is the next collab for you in the bay? Who’s your dream collab?

I’m working with the homie ClayDough, he’s a producer, me and him are gonna drop a project. I got some music with Franco Dollas dropping, it’s going to be on the album’s cassette tape. I also got some music with Nate Curry, he’s from Sacramento, but me and him are gonna put out some stuff. For dream collab, E-40. I just want to see his process. Just to be in the same room with him and soak up the game. 

Why are you dropping on Monday?

The reason I do that is because it technically drops on Sunday night so that way I can drop everything I need to on YouTube first so the people can see it before the album comes out on Sunday. I don’t like dropping on Thursday or Friday, even though it’s the industry standard and that’s when people look for new music because the context for me is more important than the numbers. If more people listen to it on a Friday, they’re going to be out with friends and doing stuff and listening to it. I’m not mad at my music being played in that setting but I’d rather have it be played on a Sunday when you’re having a relaxed day. I want people to listen to my music in the context where they are putting their full attention to it rather than playing it in the background.

Seiji’s doing a bonus track version of the album, which is going to be a virtual cassette tape. He’s going to sell it directly to the fans through emails. It’s going to have a lot of extra stuff, songs, videos, cover art, the tracklist, and more. This is a great opportunity to have ownership of music in a day and age where we’re streaming all of our favorite music.

ORA//太陽 is coming out on November 7th on all streaming platforms.

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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight – Three Artists That Should be on Your Radar

By Oliviero Zanalda

Hip-hop has become an extremely fast-paced genre, with people constantly blowing up at a moment’s notice and fading into irrelevance just as quickly. This is a list of four rappers (one honorable mention) who are currently gaining popularity and could eventually break into the mainstream. Should they achieve mainstream success, I’m confident they will be able to maintain it. That’s why I wrote this article. All of these artists bring something new to the table and I think that they should be recognized for this. In this article, I delve into the artists’ background, their rise to fame, and what they’re doing that makes them stand out from other rappers who similarly haven’t achieved mainstream success just yet. Again, the artist’s future is not determined, so take this article with a grain of salt, but if any of them become household names, don’t forget where you heard them first.

Although these artists haven’t necessarily influenced the genre, I believe that they have the possibility to do so if they are able to continue growing their fanbase and artistic capabilities. This is why I’ve included this article in the Artist Spotlight series.

BabyTron

Image courtesy of BabyTronSB (YouTube)

BabyTron is one of the most entertaining rappers gaining traction right now. Hailing from Detroit, BabyTron is a perfect representation of the unique sub-genre of Michigan rap. BabyTron started rapping in high school, forming the group ShittyBoyz with fellow Detroit natives StanWill and TrDee. ShittyBoyz started gaining some attention with the short-lived popularity of “Scam-rap”, a genre of rap that focused on internet scamming and credit card fraud. BabyTron stood out in the group though, with his casual delivery mixed with comedic lyrics that contain clever wordplay. Additionally, once Scam-rap started to lose its popularity, he was able to adapt and quickly change the focus of his lyrics from scamming to other illicit topics while maintaining the same entertaining flow. He was also signed to a local Detroit label, The Hip-hop Lab, which has helped him develop this unique style even further and improved the quality of his music. The production of his songs is also something that will stand out to a first-time listener. Most of his beats are lively and extremely fun to listen to as they utilize samples from songs from the ’80s and ’90s blended with unconventional 808 placement. This is also what makes BabyTron so special and what might make his music appeal to people who tend to stray away from modern rap music. His nostalgic production and epigrammatic delivery and bars could interest people who aren’t fans of the autotune heavy, futuristic-sounding music of Yeat and Ken Car$on. Fortunately, BabyTron doesn’t solely rely on nostalgia, which means he can innovate if he has to. BabyTron is set to be one of the leaders of the Michigan rap scene, but his success is also reliant on the growing popularity of the sub-genre. Only time will tell as the sub-genre still needs to grow and reach more listeners outside the midwest, but I believe that BabyTron is going to be one of the bigger artists of this sub-genre if Michigan, and specifically Detroit, becomes a more well-recognized capital of hip-hop innovation.

In Prince of the Mitten, BabyTron raps over 19 different beats from fellow Michigan rappers’ songs

Ken Car$on

Image courtesy of The Artistree

Ken Car$on is continuing the tradition of heavily autotuned Atlanta trap that was pioneered by Young Thug and Future while taking inspiration from Playboi Carti’s often criticized simple delivery and lyrics. It’s safe to say that Playboi Carti is one of his biggest inspirations, with the Atlanta rapper signing Ken to his Opium label and introducing him as the opening act throughout his 2021 King Vamp tour. However, Ken Car$on is not another Carti clone. Ken Car$on reminds me of youth. He coined the name “Teen X” for his brand, short for “Teen Ecstasy”, or “Teen High”, which is meant to represent the ecstasy and excitement of one’s youth. While youthfulness is a recurrent theme in pop culture, concurrent with the obsession and romanticization of teenage years in movies and TV shows, Ken Car$on reinvents this often played out concept. His music is genuinely fun to listen to; his lyrics that regard partying and youthful ignorance are complemented by his child-like voice and appearance. His production is just as spry as his delivery and lyrics. Utilizing 8bits and other similar plug-ins, Ken’s production is reminiscent of early-90’s video games music. While this may sound counter-intuitive to the youthful concepts surrounding his music, video games are often associated with young people, so this actually adds to his youthful essence. What makes his youthful appearance genuine is that it isn’t a facade. He started making and releasing music online at around 17. This contrasts with the “Netflix Teenagers” who are almost always played by adults well in their thirties reciting scripts written by people who think they know what 18-year-olds are like, but will just end up making Vine references 6 years too late. Ken’s appearance isn’t just a stage act either. People who have met him have stated that he is a genuinely funny person who does what he pleases, no matter how silly it makes him look. Ken Car$on is gaining popularity at a decent rate. Hopefully, a future collaboration with Playboi Carti can help gain him some recognition for his reinvention of youth representation.

Yeat

Image courtesy of Pitchfork

If you don’t know who Yeat is yet, you will soon. With a simple name and simple lyrics, his music is so simple that you won’t be able to forget his innovative simplicity. The Portland (Oregon) rapper is set to be the next big thing, with cosigns from Drake and Kanye West, you’ll probably be hearing a lot more of his static, slurred flow on mainstream rap songs in the near future. As a matter of fact, you may have already heard his music without knowing it. His song “Sorry Bout That” blew up on Tik Tok last year, and is still one of the most popular Tik Tok sounds today. What makes Yeat stand out is his voice. The best way I can describe it is as if someone was attempting to melodically growl in the best way possible. His lyrics are nothing to write home about, but lyrics are not the focus of his music- as angry as it might make certain people. His futuristic-sounding production relies heavily on loud bass, very little sampling, distorted synths, and, most importantly, bells. He admitted to not knowing a thing about producing music and that the only production he ever does is when he adds the bells into the song himself after he receives his beats. With a record deal with Interscope in the books and his recent 2 million monthly Spotify listeners milestone, Yeat is hip-hop’s next big star who will help usher in an even simpler subgenre of trap music. He is the lyrical rap fan’s worst nightmare, for better or for worse. His music is modern. Modern art forms, such as visual arts and architecture, are often very simple in appearance, even if they took a lot of time and effort to create. This form of modern has now been adopted by hip-hop, with simplicity becoming a key element in how the music is presented by innovative artists like Yeat. Hip-hop is a living, breathing genre, and it’s constantly innovating and reinventing itself. The only way it can do this is by allowing rappers like Yeat to push the boundaries of the genre.

Honorable Mention: Sematary

Image courtesy of r/HauntedMound (Reddit)

Sematary is who Chief Keef could’ve been if he had grown up listening to black metal and had access to the experimentalism of Bladee’s music. The Northern Californian’s music relies heavily on extremely distorted guitars fused with twisted vocals that sound like they were growled into an Xbox 360 mic and heavily autotuned afterward. His lyrics mix black metal and Chicago drill, two of the most lyrically aggressive genres, putting him on track to becoming a very controversial rapper should he make his way into the mainstream. Low-quality is also Sematary’s image, whether it’s his purposefully poorly designed album covers or his Instagram page many of his posts look like they were taken in 2015 on an iPhone 5. His music isn’t for the faint of heart as it focuses on satanic imagery and one can find heavy distortion over almost every part of a Sematary song. Whether his satan worshipping is an attention-grabbing tactic or not is yet to be seen. Additionally, his music also attempts to reverse the reputation that black metal has gained as a genre that attracts neo-fascists. His lyrics are extremely anti-fascist, with many of his obscenely aggressive threats directed towards those groups; and when I say aggressive, I really mean it. While these topics can be shocking to some people, they could help him gain attention. The reason I give him an honorable mention is that I’m not sure if this type of music can gain enough popularity to thrust him into the mainstream. While it’s very unique, it will also turn a lot of people away as some of his songs are genuinely hard to listen to if you’re not used to the type of lyrical content or production. He could gain more popularity in the underground scene, however, which might be what he’s going for. While some may view Sematary as a bit cringe-worthy, which he no doubt is at times, I think that it’s part of the absurdity of his character. A kid who’s obsessed with 2013 Chicago drill, black metal, satanism, anti-fascism, and looks like he’s in need of a shower could be an underground sensation, or he could be the driver of a wave of nostalgia and experimentalism that will soon fade away. 

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