Featured Artist: Zeebra

Hello ARAMA! JAPAN readers! This week I’ll be presenting the latest instalment of our featured artist series. Unlike the previous artists, this will be our first J-urban artist to be featured. He’s also one of the older acts we have featured. Zeebra happens to be one of the more prominent Japanese rappers out there. Furthermore, he is one of my favourite Japanese artists.

Who is Zeebra?

Zeebra (real name: Yokoi Hideyuki) is a Japanese rapper born in Tokyo on April 2nd, 1971. He also goes by DJ DIRTYKRATES when performing as a DJ. Zeebra came on the scene with hip-hop group, King Giddra back in 1993. The group, consisting of Zeebra, K DUB SHINE and DJ OASIS, made great contributions to the expansions of the Japanese hip-hop scene. Back in 1997, Zeebra went solo and quickly captured the hearts of listeners regardless of gender. He has also gained the respect of his fellow artists in the scene. As of today, the Tokyo rapper has a total of 17 singles, 5 digital singles, 8 albums, 4 best ofs, 2 remix EPs and 1 official mix cd. He has also has collaborated with over 50 artists from big pop acts like Namie Amuro and EXILE, to Korean rapper Drunken Tiger.

In 2002, Zeebra formed production unit, FIRSTKLAS, with DJ KEN-BO and Imai Ryousuke. The unit went on to produce songs for SUITE CHIC and EXILE. Zeebra’s activities was not restricted to music only as he went on to act in the TV drama “15-sai no Blues” in 2005. The following year, he released his fourth album, “The New Beginning” which saw top US producers Swizz Beatz and Scott Storch. Furthermore, it included a track featuring Namie Amuro, AI and Mummy-D, overall this was not considered a small feat. And it was said by many that he made the impossible, possible.

In 2008, Zeebra spread his wings further and completed an international club tour. During this time he touched down on South Korea, United States, Taiwan and Thailand. In 2008, he celebrated his 20th anniversary with his best of album “The Anthology”, followed by a subsequent tour. The tour was such a success, it made a mark in Japanese hip-hop history. After changing labels to Ariola Japan, Zeebra released his first single under them. This turned out to be “Butterfly City feat. RYO THE SKYWALKER, Mummy-D & DOUBLE“, which was used as the CM and theme song for the PS3 game, Yakuza 4. In 2011, he released his 7th and 6th original albums concurrently. This was his first album since his last album, four years prior. The albums went for the concept of “white and black”, as such, the albums were named “BLACK WORLD/WHITE HEAT”.

Last year, Zeebra released his latest original album, “25 To Life”. The album name is based on the American minimum jail sentence, 25 years. It also represents that he’s been apprehended by hip-hop for 25 years. In recent times, Zeebra has headed the Association for the Protection of Clubs and Culture. This association seeks to ease the dancing ban in Japan. He continues to promote the goal of the association through various media outlets. Thus trying to make changes in Japanese society. In summer of this year, he released a special summer album, “Summer Collection”. He then also produced a big hip-hop concert, SUMMER BOMB and started his own label Grand Master, which focuses on Japanese urban underground acts like EGO and 2-WIN. Zeebra continues to push out music and special collabs with other rappers in the Japanese underground. He shows that he uses his influence and star power to expand Japanese hip-hop and make a change in Japanese society.

What’s So Special About Him?

Zeebra is one of those rappers that you know is for real. He delivers his verses in a very aggressive way and doesn’t shy away from rapping about serious, taboo topics in Japanese society. Because of the high quality and diversity of his music, it appeals not only to rap and hip-hop fans but also R&B and soul fans. With you have to bring it in terms of beats, delivery and message which I think Zeebra does greatly.

He can do party songs but also deep songs that attack Japanese cultural stereotypes. Also, true to the rap life, Zeebra has gotten into beefs and dropped diss tracks. This makes him even more unique as many acts in Japan’s music scene shy away from public confrontation.

Where Do I Start?

This is the question of the day, huh? Where do I start with someone who has such a large discography? So I decided to choose my personal favorites of what Zeebra has released and I hope this convinces you to give him more of a listen.

Hate That Booty Now this is one of the songs off of Zeebra’s 25 To Life album. I wanted to give you all something recent of his to start off. This is what I’d consider one of his party songs.

Mr. Miyagi This song is also off of his 25 To Life album. He was quoted saying that it was a tribute to one of the most recognizable Japanese in the world. He raps the entire song in English, showing how truly skilled he is as a rapper.

Mr. Dynamite Zeebra made history with this song as it was the first hip-hop song to enter the top 50 on Japanese singles chart. I think this song shows off how great his delivery and flow is. Just Zeebra in essence. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWbP50JbPbw

Taste of Honey feat. Co-Key and KM-Markit
I really love this song for it’s instrumental. Coupled with Zeebra’s voice make for a very sensual song.

Shinjitsu no Dangan (as a member of King Giddra)
I didn’t think it’d be right to leave out the songs he did as a member of King Giddra. I thought this was a perfect song to show how Zeebra speaks out against the structure of Japanese society. It focuses on how their “credentials society” crushes the dreams of children, and that by the end of it, society has in no way improved.

Perfect Queen
Definitely one of his more romantic songs. This is a favorite of mine, especially when I found out that model in the music video later became his wife and they’re still happily married. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FnBpGfiWnQ

Butterfly City feat. RYO the SKYWALKER, Mummy-D & DOUBLE
This one of Zeebra’s more well known song in the late 2000s. This is due to the tie-up with the PS3 game Yakuza 4.

Recommended Albums
If you like good feeling music and the beats are more important? I recommend: 25 To Life If you want deeper lyrics? I recommend: The Rhyme Animal and King Giddra’s Sora kara no Chikara

Where Can I find him?

Zeebra’s music can be purchased from most major Japanese music sellers as well as on iTunes for his more recent work. He frequently collabs with other acts in the Japanese hip-hop scene so while he’s not pushing out a single every couple of weeks, he’s still ever present.

Official Website