Birthday: May 4, 1982
Birthplace: Los Angeles, CA
Blood type: A
Jealousy song sample
The Recipe (2005)
2. miwa L.Y.R.I.C.
3. Katana -the Battle-
6. Caught in Between
7. Livin' to Die
9. No Freedom
10. Graves Under the Moonlight
11. Do this Right (outro)
Order from CD Baby.
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Miwa Lyric Interview
"I wanted to be a songwriter, and write songs for big name people, but as I encountered different problems, relating to race, gender, poverty, and life in general, I didn't find anyone out there who represented me to perform my songs and speak my lyrics." - Miwa Lyric
And so began a life's journey into the world of music, poetry and soul searching. Miwa Lyric, born in Los Angeles, has dealt with the issues of Japanese-Americans all her life. Profoundly affected by the works of Tupac Shakur, she took rap as the major instrument in her own self-expression.
So if you are in the mood for some gritty rap about life and death and everything in between (and have no problems with Parental Advisory stickers on your music) come learn the story of the rapper who says: "Light lip gloss, I wear flip flops, I don't crip walk but I'm still hip hop."On May 21, 2010 Miwa Lyric was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Miwa Lyric with credits to Suzi Susana, Miki Lorena K. and Vigilante Photography.
Let's start from the beginning. Can you tell us about your hometown and what it was like growing up there?
My hometown is Los Angeles, California; born and raised. I found my way in East Los Angeles then ended up on the border of South Gate and Downey. Going to school in Downey was hell for me. Never had a good experience during my school days, which was a good thing because not only did I survive, it led me to find my love and passion for music, where I spent most of the time writing poetry and lyrics.
So music and poetry played a big part in your childhood?
A lot, as a matter of fact it was everything to me. Music and poetry was my life, and continues to keep me breathing. I had a lot of medical/emotional issues as a child, which led to schoolyard bullying. A lot of problems at home as well, that created another dimension within my mind to escape by expressing myself through creativity.
What influence did Tupac Shakur have to you and your developing art form?
Tupac's poetry really lifted me up during a time of depression. Although my experiences were quite different from his, his lyrics was something I can relate to, and I still think till this day, Hip Hop music is the only music that is detailed lyrically, without being all literal. Tupac's music led me to other amazing lyricists and poets, and he taught me that we all have the right to express ourselves in any situation.
What type of career did you imagine you would have while you were still in school?
Musician, and writer! In my younger days, I wanted to be a songwriter, and write songs for big name people, but as I encountered different problems, relating to race, gender, poverty, and life in general, I didn't find anyone out there who represented me to perform my songs and speak my lyrics. That's when I realized I want to be the artist that speaks for myself and other people who stand in the same shoes. Not only that, the only place that makes me happy is on stage, performing.
Tell us about some of the first music you worked on.
Nothing was on computers as it is now! I wrote songs, chords, melodies on the piano. I was looking for a studio to record them during my middle school days, and found my way to a studio in Pasadena. That's where I met my first producer, I-Roc, of Universal Music Group. I joined a female Japanese/Japanese American hip hop group, at the age of 15. That was my first time in a fully equipped studio. I signed my first contract as a minor at the age of 16, and since we were under labels, we wrote songs to be "radio-playable." Although under production, we were blessed to be working with a top producer like I-Roc, because he gave us our creative space. Although we had a lot of songs to fit club scenes and parties, we were still able to express ourselves. It is quite different from the songs and lyrics I create today.
How would you describe what you do as an artist?
Me. There's no genres, labels, or categories. I just do what I feel, because music is my voice.
Give us the background about the music that would become your first album?
I'm working on my next album as we speak. I think my last CD was my angry album. Let everything out on that one. The next one I'm working on is a little bit more comical, yet sarcastic. I'm basically laughing at myself, and others. All the things I was angry at before is another important memory, and I think I am at a state now that I can laugh about it, make jokes about it, and challenge myself to find more things to be angry about and then laugh about them.
Can you describe a typical day of writing and recording music?
Although it is all a business for me now, it is still my number one love, hobby, and my passion. I have deadlines, yes, but I have learned to not force myself to do something I am not feeling. I am always in the mood for music, but sometimes not in the mood of what I thought to, or have to write about. Then I try other topics, play other instruments. Either or, I go at it with feelings. I let my heart, mind, and body take me to worlds it wants to go.
So with that being said, sometimes I hear a melody first and build it up on top of the song. A lot of times I start with the drums or beats. Then I bring in the bass. Sometimes I only hear melody and then add things in when I hear them. Writing lyrics is usually after all the music is created but sometimes I have a topic already, and let the music bring that kind of mood in the song. After the song and lyrics are complete, I go into recording.
When I am with my hip hop band, the drums are laid down before anyone else can put in other instruments, vocals or sounds. My vocals are usually last. I like to record a song all the way through once or twice then wait a few days to record it over again. Sometimes after the first recording, after listening over to it, you hear new ideas or you feel something does not fit. Then I'll have the option of going back in studio to redo it with a different feeling and mind. It's fun, but you gotta be patient!
How big of a day was it for you when the CD was finally complete?
The first CD I released was with my first group back in 1999/2000. There was "drama" in the group, so the first release date got set back, and then some members left and new ones came and we finally released it. I don't think the release was celebrated as much as it was supposed to be, due to the drama, and our group switching management and labels so often after the member changes. It was still a big thing for me, being so young and excited, it's definitely a treasured memory.
On the other hand, my solo album release was big for me. Not only did I get to do my release party at The Temple Bar, and found myself staring at an article on it on the Los Angeles Times, it was my first solo CD. I made most of the songs, with the help of my drummer Genn, who did a few tracks as well. I wrote all the lyrics and I got it released under my own label. It was a big thing for me. Not only that, almost a year before the release, I had ended up in emergency room, and was ill for about 7 months. So thinking I was not going to make it to see the release of my CD, I did and I'm much better. Survived once again. So it is a big chapter in my life. So many people came out to my release party and I did a local tour for about three months, which I put together myself.
What one song would you recommend new fans take a listen to from it first?
Well, my favorite as well as the most popular is the spoken word piece titled miwa L.Y.R.I.C. It is all me. So many people ask me and talk to me about that poem. Lots of people say, "A piece that finally explains the two worlds I live in!" Many of those people are either Japanese American, where they have two worlds, they are "American," but their culture, background, and teachings of their parents are Japanese. And many of them are mixed races, lots of people who are half or quarter Japanese, tell me they understand being between two (or several) different worlds.
The other song I like as well as people have told me they like, is Jealousy. There are so many stories in that song. A lot of it is personal in there. Messages I have written about other artists I worked with or the different things I see in the hip hop music world. All the negative things I have encountered are put in that song in a positive way by basically telling myself that, hey they're just jealous! Without telling myself that I'd still be crumbling to pieces. The hook is definitely a classic though, fans are always reciting it to me, or talking about it, and that just trips me out! Love it!! The lyrics for the hook are: "Light lip gloss, I wear flip flops, I don't crip walk but I'm still hip hop." I'm basically stating that I can do what I want, wear what I want, but I'm still hip hop. I don't have to claim something or fit exactly in a category that are usually created by corporations to be something that the people have created.
Can you tell us more about your creation process? How does an idea become a song or lyric?
Ideas become songs on a daily basis. I always got a pen and paper to jot down anything I think of or see. Every second of the day is a learning experience, and so many overlook all the beauty. We can learn so much and talk about so much from one little thing. Everything matters, everything is connected, and everything becomes a song, or a poem for me. Watching people is the most inspiring. Music is like a diary, put down everything you saw and felt today. People see the same things everyday so they're blinded by it, but sometimes if you point it out, it can impact someone because they know it too, and that's how you get involved, and to show people that they are a part of something too, which in many cases gives someone hope.
Tell us how your life's philosophy influences your writing. How much of your soul do you try to express in words?
Everything! I think so much, it's not even funny, it's actually quite deadly. I wish someone would teach me how to turn off my mind. I can never make enough music for all the different things I want to express. I have unfinished poems, songs, and books everywhere about philosophy, ideas, contradictions and everything you can ever thing of. Eventually, you'll get to see them all!
"The Recipe" was also released in Japan, Hong Kong and Africa. How did that come about?
The amazing world of the internet. I have my music up at CD Baby as well as other sites. And digital sales can be purchased on iTunes, rhapsody, and numerous other sites. The internet has created a bridge for me to the other side of the world. Thank you to all my friends all around the world, I love you all!!
Speaking of Japan, can you tell us how important your Japanese heritage has been to who you are and what your music is about?
Oh, very important. As all Niseis are, I had an identity crisis at a young age, especially not growing up with any JA's. I hated being my race because I was bullied for it, yet never really "fit" in with the other Asians, cause hey we're all different, right? But after time, I learned the truth and how Americans want to degrade everyone who is non White, in the history book. Self-hate, at one time but now I couldn't be more proud of the "color" I am, and all the history connected to my roots. We exist you know, so let it be known.
What do you believe it means to be Nisei?
The best of both (all) worlds!
Btw, how good is your Japanese, and have you been to Japan?
My Japanese is not close to perfect but I think I can survive if I was stranded on Japan. I have been to Japan a few times, actually went last Spring to perform in Tokyo. That was crazy and a lot of fun, can't wait to do it again!! The culture in the whole music world is so different, it was very interesting. I miss the food!!!
You are also active in photography. Do you find many similarities in how you approach taking a photo to your music?
No, not at all. Photography is more of a hobby to me. I always found an escape and eye through it, but my love for music can't be topped with anything. I started doing photography more "professionally" because of the clothing line I started, and I always do things on my own to save money and learn new things while at it! Not only that so many people around me needed photos to be done, so it is fun when I can experiment and there's no pressure. It's fun to me if I can do it when I want, not forcing myself to do it.
Tell us about Soula Wear and Soula Entertainment.
I started the Soula System Crew back in 2001, when I first started organizing my own events in Los Angeles at my second home, 2nd Street Jazz! I wanted to start a place/event where it would feature all kinds of talent, because too many are left in the dark, when they should be in the spotlight to be heard. So the crew would gather bi-monthly for events, and then working with a lot of kids with dreams, but never given the opportunity, I created Soula Wear. A clothing line, where all the profit goes to my foundation to help children achieve their dreams and goals. Soula means "sky" in the Japanese language. They sky is the limit, or I like to say, the sky is unlimited. After raising several artists, and so many interested, I built up the Soula Entertainment to eventually sign artists and get them out there! Still in the works.
How did you decide on the name "Miwa Lyric"?
Miwa is my real name. It means beautiful peace in the Japanese language, named after my dad as well as my grandfather that I never met, who I hear was an amazing musician and artist. Lyric was my nickname in school, cause I was always sitting in the back writing lyrics. Lyric was my stage name during my first group days, and when I became solo, I just added my real name in front of that.
Outside of all your creative activities, what do you do for fun and relaxation?
That's hard to answer, cause I'm always doing music, and creating things. If I'm not rapping or writing, I'm playing bass or piano, or in a circle playing Brazilian percussion. I love to dance, all kinds but mainly tap dancing and traditional cultural dances at festivals. I also love boxing/kick boxing, so you can find me running around in the ring. I'm also learning to serve tea, also known as Sado. That really helps me relax. I love bike riding, reading, debating with people, and learning new things. Love hearing stories from all kinds of people with all kinds of experiences, it's a beautiful thing. I love to travel, and connect with people through my music and art! It's amazing to find all the different talent all over the world, like they say, music is a universal language, can't agree more!! I also play Hanafuda.
Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?Working on the new album with a tour to follow. Stay tuned for music videos and a lot of things happening this year. Looking forward to seeing you all at the shows, thank you for all your love and support throughout all these years!
Do you have a final message to all your fans?
I love you all. You keep me learning, and advancing. Follow your heart, and make dreams reality, if I can do it, you can do it better! Take care of all the things, people and feelings in your life, it's important. Always question! Work hard but play hard, and live life to the fullest! Listen to music, write, smile and hug people! You can make a difference!
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