If you haven't heard of Maboroshi, I don't blame you. I keep up with the Japanese hip-hop scene and didn't find out about the guy until I stumbled across "Funky Glamorous Part 2," a song he did with Kreva, a member of Kick the Can Crew. As the title suggests, the song is something of a sequel to a song on Kreva's solo debut album, Shujin. However, with the success of "Funky Glamorous Part 2" as a single, it is time to take notice of Maboroshi.
His debut album, Warudakumi (which came out at the tail end of 2004), is simply creative and fresh. Where Kreva (and even Kick the Can Crew, on their last album together, Good Music) has made fun but safe songs, Maboroshi is able to recall the fresh, genre bending stylings of Kick the Can Crew on earlier records such as Vitalizer and Young King. Unlike Kick the Can, who are most influenced by J-Pop, electronica, and bossa nova, Maboroshi borrows heavily from lounge, jazz, bluegrass, and rock in his hip-hop. The CD's opening track, for example, features a heavy guitar riff as the hook; it's almost as good a rock anthem as it is a hip-hop track. It certainly sets the mood for the rest of the CD as many other tracks feature guitar hooks in some context. Unlike say, late 90s nu-metal or Li'l Jon nowadays, Warudakumi's combination of hip-hop and rock works, because while Maboroshi borrows sounds and energy from rock, he never forgets that this is a hip-hop album.
Other tracks, like "Funky Glamorous Part 2" and "Hardcore Hip-Hop Star" recall influences from jazz and lounge music. Under Maboroshi's guidance, the two styles compliment each other, rather than clash, but more on that in a moment. He's even to pull in some credible bluegrass in "Neta ni Natte, Uta ni Natte Now On Sale." And, amazingly, it works. Not only do the tracks sound good individually, they sound better when heard as sequenced on the CD. Sometimes I get the impression that the whole shebang is held together by bubblegum and duct tape, but it's really Maboroshi's skill as a DJ that holds the CD together and it is just his carefree attitude that suggests a breezy style.
Maboroshi really knows how to make a catchy song. Simply put, the more I listened to Warudakumi the more I wanted to listen to it. On the CD Maboroshi puts together catchy hooks and vocals. These immediately make some of his songs, like "Funky Glamorous" stand out. Yet the DJ also knows how to work smaller vocals, hooks, and sound effects into his tracks to add more depth. Throughout the CD Maboroshi adds chants, shouts, and little melodies that may go unnoticed on the first listen. Subsequent listens yield up a treasure-trove of sound, commentary, and infectious beats. In many of the songs the vocals beg the listener to shout along, the otherwise chill "Bureemen" being a prime example. Often guest vocalists, including the aforementioned Kreva (who does a remarkable job on "Funky Glamorous"), K.I.M., Channel, and Cue Zero, among other big names in Japanese hip-hop, contribute to this vocal dexterity. This is a CD where the listener wants to look up the lyrics and simply sing and shout along with the Maboroshi and friends.
The only compliant I could see being leveled against Warudakumi is the tempo; the CD not only has a lot of up tempo stuff, it has a lot of down tempo stuff as well. Generally, the rock influenced tracks are faster, louder, and more upbeat. The jazz and lounged inspired tracks pull the CD back down. However, Maboroshi works this in such a way as to create a sensation of ups and downs. After an intense song, he brings the listener down to a place of rest and recuperation before the next climb up and fall down. The whole thing works remarkably well when taken together on the album. He gives the listener enough breathing room to absorb both sides of Warudakumi. The CD's third track for example, brings the energy down and the simple, sonorous guitar melody wouldn't seem out of place as the opening to a rock song. On Maboroshi's fifteen course meal, however, it is just the thing to cleanse the listener's palate.
Make no mistake, Maboroshi is talented. Quite simply Warudakumi is a great CD. Any fan of Kick the Can Crew or high energy Japanese music will get a kick out of Maboroshi. With his chic sense of style and skill as a DJ, Maboroshi stands poised to become a huge name in Japanese hip-hop.