SKY-HI is ‘cool’ personified. Mitsuhiro Hidaka is perhaps better known for his engagements with the idol pop band AAA. Now, since his solo debut in 2013, Hidaka has unleashed a fresh expression of his personal ‘rap’ identity.

You could compare SKY-HI to a fusion of Eminem and Justin Timberlake. ‘RULE’ is perhaps a great example (plus, it is my favourite SKY-HI track). This track lives up to a fiery character with a repetitive punchy piano riff, heart-pounding drumbeat, and the unsung hero in this song: the backing vocals. The ‘swagger’ and attitude the backing vocals release lifts the chorus into a new sonic stratosphere.

On one hand he can portray a trendy hip persona. He showcases this in his debut single 愛ブルーム ‘Ai Bloom’ (meaning ‘love bloom’). What makes this different to other kinds of hip-hop and rap is his skill to balance melodious singing with the verbally intricate nature of rapping. Complemented by a 70s/80s disco beat, funky electric guitar licks and a vibrant music video, this groovy number was a fine pick to launch SKY-HI’s solo career.

TOKYO SPOTLIGHT’ is the track that resonated with my inner ‘rave’ soul. Drawing similarities to that hit song by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, it is a pure urban city night-life amplifier: laser-like synths with a slight ‘brassy’ quality, a hammering four-on-the-floor beat and a full spectrum of sonically manipulated vocal phrases.

On the other hand, he can stifle the listener with a much more confrontational, almost disturbing demeanour. ‘Serial’ is the killer record that has the power to cause a sonic and visual shock. The sinister bass and guitar line in the chorus, brass chords in the chorus that resemble a James Bond film and a gradually intensifying vocal rap line are all accompanied by a music video that strikes a threatening character.

SKY-HI is one to watch. He possesses a flawless rapping mastery and an artistic versatility like no one else in the Japanese music scene, acting as a young ambassador of the ‘Cool Japan’ landscape.

Other Listening:

  • ONE BY ONE (featuring other Japanese rap artists)
  • LIMO
  • Blanket
  • スマイルドロップ ‘Smile Drop’

© Isaku Takahashi