Birthday: February 15, 1978
Birthplace: Nerima, Tokyo
Blood type: B
Musical style: Rap
Ai no Dendoushi song sample
GIFT: Ray-Law PRESENTS☆Afro Spot & Friends (2009)
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"One day when I was on the stage during a performance the Japanese Yakuza came to the club and made a fuss and got into a scuffle. As soon as our Leader and the Yakuza man started to fight, I jumped on the Yakuza man. I got punched as he said "Stay away! Ugly monkey girl!" Then it became a sloppy big melee. I was so mischievous and feared nothing." - Ray-Law
Being a female rapper in Japan in the 1990s could be tough, and Ray-Law has paid her dues to gain respect in a country whose Rap scene tended to be dominated by men. Drawing on the inspiration from artists like MC Hammer, the Fugees and MC Lyte, she developed her craft and in the process became transformed into a rapper with a new subject to rap about: the power of love.
Her latest project is the charity album "GIFT: Ray-Law PRESENTS☆Afro Spot & Friends" which brings together a dozen Japanese artists to help those with intractable diseases. She may not be brawling with the Yazuka much these days, but the passion in her heart has never wavered as she sums things up: "My career is as a Rap musician. I don't know where I might go, but I want to be a cool and stylish messenger of love even in old age."On September 1, 2009 Ray-Law was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Ray-Law.
(Ray-Law was also the subject of our Manga Drawing Contest.)
Can you tell us about the hometown you grew up in?
I grew up in Nerima, a sort of countryside of Tokyo. I lived with my mother, just the two of us. We accepted foreigners for short stays and the home environment was somehow different from others. My mother used to go abroad many times, so my house was a kind of meeting place for my friends.
I made a song about this memory in the Rap of Micmarason in my first album. My home life once caused a problem at a parent's meeting in school; I was called something like "a witch." I couldn't contact one of my friends afterwards, then one mother came to my house to complain. But I can now say that Nerima is a memorable place for me and made me strong. I made some good friends who have single mothers and they are all my precious lifelong friends.
That's pretty heavy. Can you share with us some of your other childhood memories?
My mother took me to the American Army base on some weekends to roller skate. Playing and communicating with American kids who have a different language, skin color, and eyes color -- it was an exciting new challenge for me. The kinds of sweets, the size of ice-cream and the styles of the shops were all different from my place. The base was in Japan but it looked like a foreign country, so I felt it was cool and new.
Some other memories: I didn't have any sisters or brothers so I fought with loneliness during my time alone at home. When my mother came back home from work she was too tired and couldn't play with me. Before 12 years old I always thought that I wished I could be bigger, tougher and get freedom as soon as possible.
In those days in elementary school I was the only kid who had a single mother, therefore I got some bullying by other girls. But my mother used to say to me "Don't do anything that you wouldn't like to be done to you by someone" and "No matter what happens be strong! It is very important for your life." So even when I was scared I had to go to school, outwardly pretending to have a strong posture.
How did you first get into music and dancing?
The first memory isn't clear but I think it might be the TV music program "Soul Train" that my mother used to watch. My first impact was Michael Jackson's music video for Thriller. I was really impressed by his music and dance. Then I started to have an interest in a Japanese dance program. I adored Black Music Dancer so I started to go to a club and events.
At that time my mother had a live music bar, and I met a woman there who was a girlfriend of one of the waiters who owned an office for dance music. I joined the office and became a back up dancer, developing the pleasure of dancing.
When and how did you discover the world of Rap music?
The clue was listening to MC Hammer for the first time, but what got me deeply involved was the Fugees. I went to their live stage when I was 18. I was fascinated by the connection between the three of them, and the track and Rap was really cool and nice. I think it linked to Daidarabochi that also had three men. I also was fond of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul very much.
But for me the No. 1 female MC was MC Lyte, who had her own voice, rhyme and smoothness. Who else... Queen Latifah, Missy Eliott, Lil' Kim, EVE, Hurricane G, Rah Digga, Bahamadia, Nonchalant, Lady of Rage, Lady Luck, Foxy Brown... Those female rappers came out one after another, it was my pleasure to check them out, from major to minor.
Because of these experiences I was doing my research on how to express myself as a woman in Japan. I had found my way, as in "I have to do only this!!" I made up my mind that "Rap music is my life."
Do you think your single parent upbringing was a source of your fascination for Rap music and culture?
The source of the root is this... I don't have a proper memory of living with my father; it makes me never want to be outdone by a man. I think that I had this kind of feeling in my sub consciousness, that I dared to choose and start Japanese Rap music when there were only boys doing it. I wanted to prove that even a girl can do it. I challenge doing Rap to show that a woman can be the equal of a man.
I realized this fact recently... in those days I just did what I could do passionately and just felt good, that's all. Now having done Rap music for 13 years I still have a great love for Rap music, but maybe it has changed my expression and how I feel about it.
In 1994 you took your first step into your future career as a backing dancer for the Rap group B-FRESH. How did you hook up with them?
When I was at the dance agency I met a female dancer and I adored her and wanted to become like her, so I went to her school. When I went to the club watching her show I saw B-FRESH live for the first time. It was astonished knowing that someone was doing Rap in Japan who was not young.
You then became a member of the group Daidarabochi. What are your lasting memories from that time in your life?
Daidarabochi was made up four men and I was the only woman in the group. Now I could say that we spent youthful days together. After I became solo we supported and improved together through a friendly rivalry. Besides, their leader, Rousi, is my master and the other members are my comrades.
We have a lot of memories, but one unforgettable memory is this: One day when I was on the stage during a performance the Japanese Yakuza (Mafia) came to the club and made a fuss and got into a scuffle. As soon as our Leader and the Yakuza man started to fight, I jumped on the Yakuza man. I got punched as he said "Stay away! Ugly monkey girl!" Then it became a sloppy big melee. At the end I was furious and I said "You are the worst for beating on a woman! I'll never forgive." I was so mischievous and feared nothing.
Wow! So did you think at the time that it was tougher to get respect as a female rapper?
Well, I say yes, in those days even male rappers were not accepted in Japan, much less female rappers, who were given a minor and bad image. In the Japanese music scene Rap itself was not comprehended for what it really was. Compared to those days, it has progressed.
For me Queen Latifah, Mc Lyte, Missy Eliott, Lil' Kim, EVE, Hurricane G, Rah Digga... they were symbols of good looking girls and I was fully convinced that our female rapper's day would come sooner or later.
What did your family and friends think of your career choice?
My close family and friends were all supportive and they thought it was really like Reina. Thinking back, I don't have any memories of their objecting to my career. I felt it's meant to be -- that I had to become a female rapper acting for Japan.
Tell us about starting Queendom Records.
When I left Daidarabochi I didn't have a contract with any recording company. I thought that maybe it's better to get married, become a typical bride. Then one of my friends who is a model introduced me to "Self Motivate Course" and I joined. The course showed me life thinking from another angle. I felt that I hadn't challenged myself, so I decided to work harder on my real music life and take some risks. Since that moment I've just gone on, even though the world's evaluation and judgment is still stern, but I came here believing in my goal and musical conception.
Where did you get the confidence to believe you could succeed in the competitive music industry?
Simply speaking, just two: it is by experience and the people who were around me. My real turning point was when I left Daidaiarabochi and tried to quit Rap music altogether. But I realized that I can't stop. I felt like starting a new, real music life by myself.
When did you start using the name "Ray-Law" and how did you come up with it?
When I became a solo rapper I wanted to make my name similar to Reina, the name my mother gave me (which means beautiful). The name Ray-Law was given to me by Rousi, the leader of Daidara and my master. The word Ray-Law is a wonderful, meaningful word that I would like to spread overseas. The English translation of Ray-Law is "brilliant."
Tell us about some of the artists you've signed and what it has been like working with them.
Since I became a solo rapper I've worked with many artists. There was a period when I performed as DJ and back up dancers using only females. The most impressive Japanese artist was ARK, his rap was No.1. In Japan my master whom I respect and ARK's rap are really good, black, and original. Even in the Japanese language both of them are verbal swordsmen with an English flow.
And overseas I loved the live session with Five Deez. The 49ers were the best. The other memorable person was Peter who is the producer of JAY-Z and director of my recordings.
How do you prepare for a performance? Do you have any rituals you do?
Before I go to the live place I try to make my own space and time for at least one hour. I don't have a custom especially, but every time before the stage while the makeup artist is doing my face or hair, I close my eyes to make myself calm. Then I talk with the makeup artist about makeup or hair, and using this process I enhance my feelings.
Tell us about the album "12 Queen." How long had you been working on the songs. Who worked with you on it?
From the time I started to concentrate it took 6 months to make. For making this piece I asked people to join who showed me many possibilities after I became solo, and whom I personally appreciate and respect. No matter of the genre, I asked for DJ LAVA to provide songs. The great senior Mr. Miyoshi/Zenzo and other incredible big artists played together for this album. This is a compilation of my all work born from being a solo rapper, but it was made by lots of friends with their support.
How did you write the music? Do you have a process, or is each song different?
I prepare the lyrics, polish them up beforehand. As for recording, I think before dialogs and Dub. At the real recording sometimes I change lyrics depending on my feeling, but basically I like to write lyrics before hand, taking time, then look them over and over. At the live stage or MC I do more free session style, but for my piece or album I like to leave my work more decent.
We really dig your song Ai no Dendoushi. Can you tell us about writing and recording it, and what the song means to you?
Ai no Dendoushi -- the person who leads love and conveys the message., someone who has a lot of experience, knows much information, and accepts their human ego. Then I ask myself and you what do you live for? How do you live for? My role is a missionary of love for living.
The sound of the song was made by Masao of Daidarabochi, and then I put lyrics and flow. On the live stage we sometimes play with the live sound more.
We also really enjoyed your song Home. Can you tell us more about the song?
The message of this song: The place for going back. Everyone has a home. No matter where you were born, and what kind of environment you were raised up in, let's begin to accept and love yourself. Let's say thank you for a warm place and the going back home.
Earlier this year you released "GIFT: Ray-Law PRESENTS☆Afro Spot & Friends." Can you tell us about this project and the music?
After 10 years of musical activity this was the project that I wanted to achieve -- making a charity CD. Having a handicapped person as my relative gave me an idea. I'd been searching for what I can do through my music activity and it took two years to realize this project. From north to south all over in Japan twelve artists and another Japanese artist who lives in NY participated in making the CD.
I've been to the board of the directors of the association of intractable disease many times doing presentations, finally the plan that I made with many people's cooperation was accepted. This CD was completed after overcoming many difficulties getting the artists together, who live in different places, getting the music, the sponsors, etc. It was really hard work, took 20 times more time and labor than making my own piece, but at the end the GIFT reached out to listeners, people of intractable disease. It was more than a pleasure for me.
This CD was the GIFT for the people who bought, the artists who participated, and the people who have intractable disease. It might be difficult to contribute for helping to develop new medicine, but I have a message to convey. "Life is wonderful" and I continue to give this message. Even if it takes a longtime, I have to give the message through my music and this is the significance of the GIFT.
The song it Begin has a more crossover sound to it than some of your harder Rap songs. Can you tell us the story behind this song?
We live carrying our past with us, especially for someone over 30 years old living as a woman with a career, marriage, childbirth, etc... I felt I was coming to a turning point in my life. I will explain about this song by quoting the lyrics:
Haven't seen yet tomorrow, the future is a mystery
Yesterday passed is a history
Let's put everything to the GIFT living in the present and get VICTORY!!
Someday when I die I have done so without regret
Crown with perfection that milestone
Chant a spell lalalalala ♪
Looking at the future, from now on, who I should live for
Everyone can have unlimited possibilities
The past is only experience and information
Let's get start from the first step with courage
© Words by Ray-Law
How would you say your musical style has changed or evolved over the years?
When I started Rap in those days I just would not be inferior to men. I tried to prove the point. I expressed myself with a mix of power and anger. When I tried to quit Rap and realized that I couldn't leave Rap music before I made a result, then I tried to express my real self, even if I might fail taking risks. That time I was reborn and started to walk on my own. Since then I decided to express not about victory and defeat, but being a female rapper. I would be Japanese, a female rapper full of love.
My career is as a Rap musician. I don't know where I might go, but I want to be a cool and stylish messenger of love even in old age.
Tell us about making the video for LOVE STORY.
For me it was the my first love song. This video was made by my friends and acquaintances. We shot it at the club we used to have parties and events at (it has an ice hockey rink!). It was made with the cooperation of my friends, and the costume was handmade by my friend who is a stylist.
You recently took a trip to Italy. Can you tell us about that?
Going down from Rome to the Sicilian Sea was so beautiful. Good food, and the men were real men and so much the gentleman. In Sicily people hardly spoke English, so it was a bit difficult to communicate. I went to many music events and joined in. I felt many times that there is no wall to music. There were no Japanese on the island where we went to down from Sicily. I went there by cruiser, in the cruiser there was a room like a discothèque having DJ booths. During the cruising we danced and I did MC, then I realized that people can communicate by music alone, It was great!
How many countries have you been to? Can you share some of your memories?
I've been to Guam, Bali, India, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, New York, London, Spain and Italy. In each country I visited after I started Rap, I've done performances, included freestyle. On the stage, on the street, at the bar, at the club, I myself grip the microphone doing MC. At the beginning the people were surprised and wondered what I'm saying, but after the Rap performance they gave me clapping and cheers. It makes me happy and I think how music is so wonderful. By the way my mother has lived in Spain for 9 years. I think my independency came from my mother.
Can we get a peak into the romantic life of Ray-Law? What is your idea of a romantic date?
Being on a private beach, listening to nice music, drinking cocktails, talking about many things, and just having relaxing time. Then taking a shower, dressing up, going to a nice sea view restaurant, having a delicious meal with good wine. The best date for me is doing something that I really like with the person whom I really like.
What type of traits do you look for in someone you would date?
Should be a reliable man who knows how to escort a woman.
Outside of music, what do you enjoy doing for fun and relaxation?
Aroma oil massage, jogging, movies, having a meal with friends.
Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?
I'm planning to go to Philadelphia on November 4th for 10 days, doing live performances. If someone sees this page, please come to the event or live and if you say hello to me, I will be more than happy!
Do you have a final message to all your fans?
The Life is wonderful!!! No matter what you have or don't have, never mind. Living life nonstop for loving, thanks for the joy of living!!!
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