Why did you join LDH?
Taku: Why did we join LDH?
VERBAL: Maybe I can answer that. It touches upon the genesis of m-flo. We were under a different management company before. Subsequently, we went on to create our own companies. Taku started block.fm and I started a consulting agency. LISA was on her own, but she was still under our previous management company. But after she left, that’s when we started contemplating our reunion. Around that time I was consulting for LDH, and my work with LDH was becoming more in depth and I was allocating a lot of time to their projects. They’re at the top tier of the Japanese entertainment industry. I started to bring Taku onboard. It was a natural progression since I was already in the mix. And then we started thinking about revamping m-flo by bringing LISA in the mix since she was free. I spoke to HIRO (chairman of LDH) about it and he was super into it, so I helped set up the deal with LDH. We’re already signed to Avex and it’s like a sister company to LDH, so it happened very smoothly.
With the addition of acts like SALU, Crystal Kay, and yourself to LDH, do you feel as if the company is a home for R&B & hip hop in Japan?
Taku: It’s fair to say yes, since HIRO has a history with R&B, hip hop, and new jack swing. He loves US hip hop culture. I think it’s natural that the artists coming into the company would be into that. The younger EXILE TRIBE groups are even more hip hop-oriented.
VERBAL: That’s a whole different conversation that’s very interesting. HIRO goes way back before EXILE. I used to watch him on TV when he was in a group called ZOO. Back then I was an aspiring dancer, but I couldn’t memorize any choreography so I just stuck to rapping.
Taku: He can do the “Roger Rabbit” and the “Running Man.”
VERBAL: (Laughs) Taku and I used to have a band in high school, where he was the drummer, and I used to rap and dance on stage, inspired by Big Daddy Kane. Anyway, I had an interesting conversation with HIRO, who used to be a regular member of a music program on TV called “DADA L.M.D.” He would dance to American 90s hip hop and R&B, and that’s where I discovered The UMC’s, Nice & Smooth, etc. I didn’t know these groups until I saw the show. They would play these songs and dance to them, wearing the latest Polo gear. This is early 90s, like ‘91, ‘92. HIRO told me that he would try to introduce hip hop to the Japanese public, but it didn’t resonate. They couldn’t understand American hip hop music or culture as it was, so he started “translating” by producing an original form of hip hop-infused entertainment, which Japanese people could relate to. He would introduce the culture through dance, performance, fashion, and invented a new form of JPop. He coined the phrase “dance and vocal group”, where vocalists and dancers would be permanent members, and he began J Soul Brothers (which subsequently became EXILE). The “dance and vocal group” formula spawned many chart-topping groups, as he experimented over the years. I think hip hop is at the core of everything he prodcues. So bringing in Crystal Kay or SALU seemed to come naturally. It may look like an odd mix, but when you understand the context and look at it in a bigger picture…
Taku: But some people think that way.
VERBAL: Yeah, but Japanese people would say, “Why SALU?” It’s random for them.
Taku: Why m-flo?
VERBAL: Yeah, people said, “Why m-flo?” But EXILE and m-flo started out on the same label on Avex, rhythm zone. We were the only two artists on that label back in 1999, and we were indie groups. But now rhythm zone is a big label. We (m-flo) had just released 500 vinyls, and our first indie CD maxi-single. As for HIRO, they found ATSUSHI to be their vocalist, and they formed EXILE. HIRO’s core value is heavily influenced by the hip hop culture, so it’s natural that these artists would gather under him.