July 21st, 2009

Preach Jacobs goes to Japan: Read the interview with Fukuoka Now

*note: this was put up a little while ago on the japanese site fukuoka now. they spoke to me after i got back. you can read my travelogue for the free-times here. this is also my favorite picture i took while i was there. enjoy.
Interview with hip-hop performer Preach Jacobs by Ian Duncan
Preach Jacobs is a hip hop performer based in Columbia, South Carolina. He recently came to Fukuoka to play a few shows and I got in touch to get his reactions to the city and it’s music scene.
As a foreigner arriving in Fukuoka for the first time, what was your immediate reaction?

My impression was that it was so clean, like freakishly spotless and efficient. Things moved concisely and damn near flawlessly. The subways and other forms of public transportation were spotless as well. It really showed me that the people made a conscious decision to be involved in helping make the island as best as it can be.

In your tracks you often comment on society. What do you think US cities could learn from Japanese cities like Fukuoka?

I spoke to Keesh about how clean the streets were and he told me something about Fukuoka culture. He basically said that in America if people don’t separate their garbage it’s fine, there’s choice in the matter. But he said that if people didn’t separate their trash in Fukuoka, that garbage people would say, “Until you do this, we won’t pick up your trash.” In a nutshell it told me that people hold each other accountable. There was a great sense of brotherhood there. Humbling people and culture. Everyone has to live together, so why not make the most out of it?

You said you wanted to get a human take on Japan and Fukuoka. How did you go about that? What impressions did you get from the Japanese people you spoke to?

My friend and business partner Keesh (we operate Blusic Productions) is a native there. He was solely responsible for getting me out there. And he told me about Oil Works (dope hip-hop and art crew). We went to their art studio, and talked (through Keesh translating). And for the most part, some days we just sat there for hours listening to music hanging out. It was fly because I can’t speak Japanese, and those guys really didn’t speak English, but the bond of hip-hop music united us. I felt comfortable, I felt at home.

As someone whose art relies on language, did you find it frustrating not being able to speak Japanese?

Somewhat. I think frustrating is too harsh of a word, I think embarrassed is more accurate for me. I feel that I could have enhanced my experience more if I could speak the language. If Keesh wasn’t there, I don’t know what I would have done. But on the other end, I think it was beautiful that despite the language barrier, we all nod our heads to the same music. We all felt the energy of hip-hop culture. Laughter is translated in all languages, music is the same way.

From your article in the Free Times it sounds like the reaction to your music was overwhelmingly positive. What do you think it is about hip-hop that appeals to young Japanese people?

I think hip-hop music has such a pure energy to it. It’s honest and that people respond well to honesty. There’s elements of wanting to express yourself, wanting to release frustration and tension and I feel that hip-hop touches a lot of those things. So, it’s only natural that younger generations are attracted to it. I also think Japanese culture is so fly and cutting edge. I mean, everyone was fashionable. Some of the dopest graffiti art I’ve ever seen was in stores in Japan. That type of freeness comes when you are open minded, and I believe the Japanese music scene is open to you if you’re honest and come from the heart. They will welcome you. It’s a beautiful thing, something that I think that is taken for granted here in the States.

Did you get the chance to meet many Japanese musicians? What do you think of the music scene in Fukuoka?

I met great DJs and artists. People like Zorzi who owns a fly record store called 33 Records, the Oilworks crew, and the artists that performed on the same bill with me at Club Base. The production was really boom-bap-90s feel type of stuff. KRS One-soulful type of hip-hop. I think the scene is great there. Just that fact that there are record stores and people are still buying 12” vinyl is a sign of the healthy hip-hop appetite that’s there.

There are a lot of artists that remain popular in Japan long after their fame has died in their home country. Did you get any idea of why that might be?

I think that in America there’s so many elements that affect artists that shouldn’t be a factor. In America, if a female singer is overweight but has a great voice, she may not get a deal because labels feel that she might not be sexy enough. I heard someone say that if Stevie Wonder came out in today’s climate in America, he wouldn’t get a deal because he’s blind. Can you imagine a life without hearing ‘Songs in the Key of Life’? I believe things are motivated by stuff that doesn’t matter, whereas other countries may not have those hang-ups. Instead, they’re like, “You weigh 400-pounds? You’re blind? Can you make a great song? Okay, I’ll support you.” That’s the way music should be.