About the artist
Cyril Cordor, Rovi
|Tokyo Drift||The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift|| |
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|Tokyo Drift, Remix By DJ Outlaw||Tokyo Drift|| |
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|Cho L A R G E (Featuring Pharrell)||The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift|| |
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Verbal -- a second-generation Korean whose real name is Ryu Yong Gi -- first met Taku (full name Taku Takahashi) at an international school in Tokyo. It was during his high-school years that Verbal experienced his first encounter with hip-hop, hearing Run-D.M.C.'s "Walk This Way," but Verbal and Taku temporarily went their separate ways, Verbal to the U.S. East Coast, where he studied theology at Boston University, and Taku to California where he honed his DJ skills.
Upon returning to Japan, the duo became serious about their music and in 1998 set about trying to make a dent on the Japanese charts as m-flo (according to Verbal, the "m" stands for "media-rite," an amalgamation of "media" and "meteorite"). One of the group's earliest songs was "The Way We Were," based around the Barbra Streisand song of the same name, and which surfaced on a subsidiary of Avex Trax, Japan's biggest independent label.
M-flo stepped up to another subsidiary on the same label for their debut album, Planet Shining, which reached number six in the Oricon charts upon its release in 2000. This album and its follow-up, Expo Expo from the following year, placed the vocals and pop hooks of Lisa (full name: Elizabeth Sakura Narita) and Taku's slick production center stage rather than Verbal's rapping, but musically the two albums were more adventurous than standard Japanese "hip-pop," and featured the bottom-heavy sounds of drum'n'bass and 2-step rhythms. In 2002, Lisa left the group to pursue a solo career.
Now a duo, m-flo comfortably rode the musical shift that saw the popularity of drum'n'bass and 2-step dwindle at the turn of the millennium. The duo incorporated electro, jazz, and house on their first album in three years, 2004's Astromantic, which reached number two in Japan. The lead single from Astromantic, titled "Reeewind!," featured the vocals of R&B star Crystal Kay and started the highly successful "m-flo loves..." series, which has so far brought about collaborations with everybody from former Shibuya-kei icons like Kahimi Karie to veteran singer and TV personality Akiko Wada. M-flo's fourth album, Beat Space Nine, continued the collaborative series and went one better than its predecessor on release in 2005, giving m-flo their first number one album.
In the same year, Verbal also lent his rhymes to the Japanese hip-hop supergroup Teriyaki Boyz, whose well-received album Beef or Chicken (released on the Def Jam label) went Top Five, aided by its all-star cast of international producers (King Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, and Daft Punk, among others). The group could hardly have failed, since it also brought together the most credible -- and charismatic -- Japanese MCs in Verbal, Ilmari and Ryo-Z from Rip Slyme, and Wise from Kaze No Hito. Behind the decks was Nigo, founder of the clothing label Bathing Ape and the one man in Japan connected enough to convince everyone to come along for the ride.
Born Kwon Boa on November 5, 1986, BoA's career owes as much to serendipity as talent -- she followed her older brother to an audition at the offices of record label SM Entertainment (Korea's biggest record label and most reliable idol-makers), and while the older brother was overlooked, his 11-year-old sister was taken on. With an eye on nurturing a future pan-Asian star, BoA was quickly enrolled in an international school where she could study Japanese and English.
In Korea during 2000, the 14-year-old BoA released her debut album, ID; Peace B, a mix of urban-sounding pop, slickly produced ballads, and upbeat dance tunes. The young singer's newly acquired language skills were soon put to the test when her international label, Avex, launched BoA's career in the United States, getting Janet Jackson remixer Jonathan Peters and songwriter Peter Rafelson (whose credits include Madonna) on board for the English-language release of ID; Peace B in 2001. During the summer of that year, BoA launched her career in Japan with "ID; Peace B," the single that had already been a big hit in her homeland. A single collaboration with Kumi Koda followed before BoA's debut album in Japan, Listen to My Heart, was released early the following year.
BoA's early career was characterized by her busy dance moves and breathy, youthful vocals -- less screeching than Hamasaki's, less histrionic than Utada's. Behind the music were some of the same songwriters who had penned hits for other idols in Japan, such as Hamasaki and Hitomi, both of whom are also on Avex. According to Oricon magazine, BoA became the first solo artist in more than 20 years to score a number one debut single and debut album in Japan, a feat that was all the more remarkable for an artist from outside of Japan.
In January 2003, in the wake of a Korean boom in Japan triggered by the co-hosting of the 2002 FIFA World Cup between South Korea and Japan and a growing interest in mawkish Korean TV dramas, BoA released what remains her biggest-selling album to date, Valenti. The album featured several ballads that went on to propel the album to the top spot in the charts and helped it shift over a million copies. High-profile collaborations followed with respected Japanese house producer Mondo Grosso, Japanese hip-hop act m-flo, and Howie D of Backstreet Boys (on the Bratz single Show Me What You Got). BoA ended 2003 with a change of direction of sorts, releasing a rock-oriented single titled, unsurprisingly, Rock with You, which also featured some more adventurous production. Although the accompanying album had its fair share of dance-pop, BoA's maturing vocals meant she was more confident taking on a range of material, including songs with a harder R&B sound. The new sound was vindicated when BoA took home two MTV Asia Awards for Most Influential Artist and Favorite Artist Korea in 2004.
BoA joined a select group when her fourth Japanese album release, Outgrow, went to number one. Only Namie Amuro, Misia, and Mai Kuraki had reached number one with their first four original albums when BoA did the same in February 2006. Typical for an idol with a high media profile in Japan, BoA's songs have appeared on anime television and film soundtracks. In summer 2006, she supplied the theme song to the Japanese release of the DreamWorks animated feature Over the Hedge, a movie in which she also took a voice actor role in the Japanese release.
Chemistry proved they weren't one-time wonders in 2002, when they became one of the official artists of that year's FIFA World Cup (held jointly by Japan and South Korea), contributing to the Voices of Korea/Japan CD and thus gaining a significant Korean fan base. (They also worked together with K-pop artist Lena Park, featured on Voices of Korea/Japan as well -- she appeared on the B-side of Chemistry's single "Kimi Ga Iru" in 2005.) The band's second album, 2003's Second to None, topped the charts again, its sales exceeding two million units. Also in 2003, Chemistry broke up with Kiyoshi Matsuo, but that move didn't undermine their chart performance -- their third LP, 2004's One X One, delivered after the previous year's remix collection Between the Lines, sold about one million units, despite the fact that it featured a more varied sound credited to the bandmembers, who took over the production for most of the album. Both of these releases scored number one on the Oricon charts as well. Chemistry had a chance to extend their regional fan base further in 2003 as well, as the band performed in an anti-piracy event in Shanghai along with Mika Nakashima.
The group's fourth studio album, Fo(u)r (2005), was the first not to top the charts, but that was only due to heavy competition from the boy band Kinki Kids, who beat Chemistry to number one. Despite that, Chemistry remained a J-pop force to be reckoned with, their compilation All the Best bringing them back to the top of the charts in 2006 and being followed by a streak of successful singles in 2007, of which "Saigo No Kawa" was featured in the movie Zou No Senaka, "This Night" was heard in the anime Chikyuu He, and "Kagayaku Yoru" was another Chemistry single to be used in the FIFA ceremonies. The group's fifth studio album, Face to Face, was released in 2008 and scored number three on the Oricon charts.
Despite the limited chart impact of the group's indie singles, the buzz around Perfume was enough to land them a major-label contract with Tokuma Japan Communications in 2005. Accompanying the change in label was a shift to a slicker, more sci-fi-oriented image and a change in musical style, with Nakata adopting a vocoder-heavy production style strongly influenced by European electro and house, particularly Daft Punk. The 2006 singles and B-sides collection Complete Best was a respectable chart hit and in many ways can be considered the group's debut album, confirming Perfume as both a viable pop group and unlikely darlings among indie scenesters.
Perfume chalked up their first Top Ten hit, "Polyrhythm," in September 2007, which confirmed them as major stars and celebrities. The group's sold-out national tour in 2008 culminated in two shows at Tokyo's famous Budokan concert hall/martial arts venue. When their actual debut album, Game, came out in April 2008, it entered the charts at number one, revealing a further refined version of the template of cute idol pop coupled with the more sophisticated dance music influences that had made them so successful. ~ Ian Martin, Rovi