Monday, April 16, 2007

The Seven Days of J-POP - Part VII : Teriyaki Boyz

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OK, I'm going to end this series on a quick, fun, and non-earth-shattering beat.

I was originally planning to dedicate the final entry of the series to J-Hip Hop in general. Upon further inspection, there seems to be a more complex and unknown history to parse. Either way, the subject certainly deserves more than one day in a J-Pop context, if you will. So I'm choosing one group -- Teriyaki Boyz, who are most likely an exception as a representative of the style.

In 1993, a DJ named Nigo(little R thing I can't figure out how to represent for legal stuff, oh well) started his own urban clothing company called A BATHING APE (BAPE). The company is now globally known with stores in key metro areas, and remains successful to this day. The End, almost. Rewind.

Sometime in the mid 2000s, Nigo alongside rapper friends in other hip hop groups decided to collaborate and form Teriyaki Boyz. The group image centers around this universe where the Only Album That Ever Mattered is Licensed To Ill. Given the members' showing off their BAPE gear, they are literally a corporate b(r)and as well. In the end, Teriyaki Boyz want to have some silliness and fun with the form. They are to Japanese hip hop what Me First & The Gimme Gimmes are to American pop punk.

Perhaps(???) due to BAPE connections with the Beastie Boys and Def Jam (long after the latter two made amends, I'd imagine), Teriyaki Boyz sought to create a debut album that would stun the world as far as production-note starpower in a dance/urban context. The names are too numerous. It's enough to make anyone not in on the project very suspicious -- for very good reason.

In late 2005, BEEF or CHICKEN launched. Adrock of the Beastie Boys provided the intro and outro, as well as produced the title track. Other notables that entered and exited the production chair turnstyle included Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, DJ Premier, The Neptunes, Cut Chemist, Jon Landau, Mutt Lange, Phil Spector, Todd Rundgren, Flood, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with Full Force, Dave Fridmann, Dennis Callaci, and a few I'm forgetting -- oh yeah, Biggie at the executive production helm.

Seriously though, BEEF or CHICKEN must have been purposely phoned-in through and through purely for shits 'n' giggles all the while helping to promote Nigo(Arrrr!) and his camouflaged pimp-style mogulocity. I mean, there couldn't have been more to the songs than just the sum of the name-drops, right?

BEEF or CHICKEN - (2005)

  • Teriyaki Boyz - "Heartbreaker" [4:13 / mp3 / 192kbps] - 2005 - produced by Daft Punk

  • Play this to anyone who can be approximated as a hipst-ah, and the first words to come from said hip person will be "Who are the Japanese rapper dudes who sampled Daft Punk? That's awesome!"

    AHA! But you're wrong! Daft Punk produced this! Not the other way around! You don't believe me! But I showed you all up on ya'self! The liner notes say so. It must be true! 'Pfff, like, you didn't know?' Of Mice And PWN3D!

    Nah, the hipster is probably right. Daft Punk may have very well done nothing to earn the production liner notes than simply allow *coughGOTTINPAIDBYcough* these guys to put "Daft Punk" in their album credits. Yes, the song is "Human After All."

    Whatever. The song's got a fun video anyway!
    [Teriyaki Boyz' "Heartbreaker" video]

    You know, this is better than Daft Punk's original, isn't it? I like the original, but.. well, there's actually something else going on in "Heartbreaker" other than big menacing froggy-bass synth stomps.

  • Teriyaki Boyz - "School of Rock" [4:49 / mp3 / 192kbps] - 2005 - produced by Cut Chemist

  • I've no clue if the Cut Chemist backing is as obvious as the Daft Punk lift right above. This is a fun song with lots of changes in the backing beats, and the baby sounds at the end are cute. But, let's face the facts. This song aesthetic is purely based on the following overlooked example of prime 90s entertainment when Japanese culture truly mashed with hip hop:

    Instructor Mooselini should be given an Honorary Video Game Character Nobels Or Something award for helping to introduce a generation of kids to Can's "Turtles Have Short Legs" -- one of the greatest pop singles in music history. I wonder if MC D-Suzuki ever played PaRappa. I digress.

  • Teriyaki Boyz - "Cho LARGE" featuring Pharrell [5:16 / mp3 / 192kbps] - 2005 - produced by The Neptunes

  • Pharrell, Neptunes, et al have done a lot of amazing work -- later even for the T Boyz. But this track is not an example of this amazing work, to put it mildly. However, tastes, opinions, assholes, et al.

  • Teriyaki Boyz - "Beef or Chicken" [3:19 / mp3 / 192kbps] - 2005 - produced by Adrock

  • Had Grand Royal been around today, BEEF or CHICKEN would be in used bins in U.S. record stores everywhere today -- allowing folks to pick this up, preview the Adrock produced tracks, nod approvingly enough, then maybe cough up the change to get it or not. This is a relative highlight on the album. That's not saying too much, but at least everyone involved is actually making this track sound fun, instead of merely having fun at the listener's expense.

  • Teriyaki Boyz - "You Know What Time Is It!?" [4:32 / mp3 / 192kbps] - 2005 - produced by DJ Premier

  • This is the album masterpiece. Perhaps if Teriyaki Boyz had just released this single instead of an album, it might have stopped a few less people from holding their breaths. This is probably a well-known Premier backing track, for all I know, which is very little, admittedly. That said, it's an amazing loop. Also, The Teriyaki Boyz' take on singing during the chorus, of which they provide a much greater contribution than rapping it (O teh snap. You were waiting for that, I know it) creates the master template for a future key single.


In the meantime, an album soundtrack for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift would be released, featuring Teriyaki Boyz' most known composition "Tokyo Drift". There's only 2,789,517 uploads on YouTube as I type this. But I promise you I chose THE BEST ONE.

[Teriyaki Boyz' "Tokyo Drift" video]

"Tokyo Drift" was produced by The Neptunes. (There! That's it, that's it!) It's the T Boyz's best song to date, despite the really bad female lyrics. More to the point, it's the T Boyz' smartest acquisition for a proper producer for a single of theirs -- at least for a second chance, ha.

While "Tokyo Drift" still remains a popular dancefloor jam, 2007 ushers in Teriyaki Boyz' best single yet, thanks to their smartest choice of collaborator to date.

"I Still Love H.E.R." featuring Kanye West - (2007)

No comment from Common at this time.

Hip-hop connoisseurs will likely admit to enjoying the delicious backing track to this song -- courtesy of MFSB's "Dance With Me Tonight" -- even if they run screaming from the Teriyaki Boyz' rapping over it. This complaint is a subject I've been purposely avoiding until now.

No, I don't think Teriyaki Boyz are the best rappers ever. Not even close. I doubt they think so. Do I think they can be good enough for a track, if the track suits them well enough? Hell yes. However, many others decipher their like or dislike of a hip-hop song differently. I allow substandard rapping to not ruin a hip-hop song for me if the backing track is strong enough. Others can't get past the crucial lyrics & flow talent prereq -- which is fine. My main point being: you may have no clue what I see in this song.

I don't consider myself a Kanye West fan, although I've been impressed with a live show I saw of his last year, as well as enjoying some very familiar key singles. However, he conducts magic with "I Still Love H.E.R." Besides the inspired choice of the MFSB lick, he and the Boyz produce their master stroke for the single -- their META-YOUTUBE video.

What better way to watch this than on YouTube itself? But for the sake of convenience...

[Teriyaki Boyz/Kanye West in "I Still Love H.E.R." as "broadcast on Teriyaki Tube"]

How many times have you searched out a video for a song on YouTube only to encounter an array of homemade karaoke-style covers of that song delaying your search, making you think "Grrr, I don't want to see your stupid webcam caterwauling. I'm looking for the original goddamn video. *CLICK*"?

I'm guilty as charged. However, here's a video that's giving the shout-out to all those people who are essentially allowing YouTube to still exist. If there were no homemade contributions uploaded to YouTube, the site would have been sued out of existence a few months after it launched. Sad but true.

My favorite part of the video is when Kanye's verse comes in. I don't think his cameo in the song itself is particularly enthralling, but I love how he manages to lip-sync to about three words of his verse in the video than pretend to be shy and grit his teeth throughout the rest of it, threatening to come back into the verse at some point, then just poo-poo-ing the idea.

It's also quite a mesmerizing video for the odd windowing effect and the shimmering aqua-corona that glimmers around the "Teriyaki Tube" video frame.

Sigh. Yeah, this song is effectively stamping '2007' all over itself. It doesn't matter. "I Still Love H.E.R." is my favorite single of the year so far. Even if it's sooo 2007, if you're a group of guys given 15 seconds in your life to be at the top of the world, you have to accept some compromises for the sake of novelty, I guess.

(Oh yeah, if you dig "I Still Love H.E.R." but can't get past the lyrics, here's an instrumental for you. Don't say I never loved you. OXOX. Off to EMP Pop Conference 2007!)

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