“I was in college and my friend was hosting an event and he said, ‘I want you to rap,’ and I was like, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t rap. I’ve never even rapped before.'”
This was the unexpected and sudden beginning of Lotus Juice, a musician who would come to be loved by fans all over the world for his unique style of music. A large number of his fans outside of Japan have been introduced to his work through ATLUS’ Persona series of video games, which he has been participating in since the series’ third installment.
Born in Japan, Lotus Juice moved to the United States at age eight. Sitting in a cafe in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, Lotus Juice told me about how his location affected his music.
“I grew up in an era when hip hop was just growing so fast. Where people who lived at that age in my area–the East Coast area, right next to New York–like, if you didn’t listen to hip hop, you listened to Green Day or those types of people. But you [couldn’t] avoid listening to hip hop because it was so big.”
After going to school, Lotus Juice would return home to sleep and then immediately go back out to play basketball, where someone would have a boom box blasting hip hop while he and his friends played on the court until late at night. He listed off the hip hop artists to me that he has enjoyed listening to throughout the years, including The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, and Mic Geronimo. However, to Lotus Juice, the genre had a deeper meaning than just enjoyment.
“[…] Growing up as an Asian in those days, you got a lot of racist comments. So, I could kind relate with the black history, you know what I’m saying? We kind of had to battle and prove ourselves all the time. That was kind of annoying and hip hop is kind of that mentality.”
After graduating high school, Lotus Juice returned to Japan to attend college. Despite having no previous experience as a rapper, he was invited to play at clubs in such areas as Shibuya and Roppongi from six to eight times a month, but even went to places outside of Tokyo like Nagoya and Osaka.
“I actually declined an offer from a major label because I knew they were going to f**k me over. They wanted me to [do love songs for artists]. And I’m like, ‘I can’t do that. It’s just not me.'” He explained that for him, hip hop and love songs just don’t mix.
“I think it’s corny,” he laughed, “It cracks me up. Maybe LL Cool J or someone who’s OK with doing that, but I don’t know–I don’t think hip hop is suited for making love songs.”
Although he denied the major label deal, he continued to perform. One day when he was back in the States, however, he got a call from a friend who told him Shoji Meguro–a composer at game developer ATLUS–was looking for a rapper who could perform in English. However, Lotus Juice didn’t accept the job right away. His response to the call? “Give me the beat.”
“I gotta listen to the song first; I can’t just get paid and write to it. I don’t work like that,” he told me, “He sent me the beat and it was amazing. I was like, ‘This is game music?’ It was hard to believe.”
The song in question that Lotus Juice had been sent was “Mass Destruction.” It became the first job the musician had ever done as a paid recording artist.
Not only did he create tunes for the game, but he also helped liven up the fanbase with live Persona concerts.
While Lotus Juice was immediately on board, Yumi Kawamura–the other singer for Persona 3’s music–was not. A song she performed for the game was never made to perform live because of its lack of time it gives the singer to breathe. Kawamura politely declined the offer.
“She said, ‘If I have to compromise my singing, I’m not going to do it.’ And we’re like, ‘Wow, she’s a professional.'”
However, eventually, Kawamura agreed to participate in later concerts. The person that convinced her to take on the challenge was her personal friend and veteran voice actress Keiko Han, known for her roles as Luna and Queen Beryl in Sailor Moon and Athena in Saint Seiya. And apparently, it wasn’t that hard to convince her.
“[Keiko Han] was like, ‘Yumi-chan, you should do it,’ and she was like, ‘Sure. OK. If you say so.'”
Despite being such a strong performer in the image of the Persona 3 game, Lotus Juice hadn’t played the game until he started performing at the concerts–despite composer Meguro himself sending him a copy. After performing at the PERSONA MUSIC LIVE concert at the AKASAKA BLITZ venue in 2008, he finally picked up the controller to play the game for the first time and was not disappointed by what he saw.
“[…] I was like, ‘This is a good game,'” he told me, “I never thought games would evolve to be [so complicated and fun]. That’s when I realized that what I did–what I participated in–was a big thing, you know?”
When he heard that Persona 3 was getting a series of movies, Lotus Juice was surprised. He wasn’t expecting the game to be adapted in that format initially; he was more expecting an anime sequel to the game’s story. Despite being happy that the games were being adapted into films, he knew he had to play the game over again in order to write for it. He told me that in total, he ended up replaying the game at least eight times.
“Since I was fan of Persona 3 already, I didn’t want to write something not related to Persona 3–the scenario, the story–so I had to go back and play it every time the movies came out.”
At the beginning of the Persona 3 story, the protagonist is given a contract to sign that makes him take responsibility for his actions, no matter what they may lead to. Lotus Juice’s lyrics for “Fate Is in Our Hands,” the main theme song for the second Persona 3 film, PERSONA 3 THE MOVIE #2 Midsummer Knight’s Dream, seems to have a similar theme.
“[…] When I started doing music, most of my people didn’t believe in me, but I just continued on whatever I was doing and now I’m pretty comfortable,” he explained, “I’m comfortable with what I do. You’ve got to really trust yourself and just do whatever you want to do, if you believe in yourself. That’s the message I had with ‘Fate is in Your Hands.’ It’s like, ‘you can change your fate. You’ve got to choose your own path; just be careful with it. Take responsibility.’ That’s what [Makoto and his friends] go through. Every time they fight, they talk it over and they just think through what they want to do. They don’t know if it’s the right path, but they try to trust that decision.”
As for the meaning behind the lyrics of “Mass Destruction”? Lotus Juice told me that while he tries not use profanity or promote violence in his songs due to the teenage audience that is listening to it, “Mass Destruction” is about fighting your inner self but also standing up to fight against the enemy if they threaten your loved ones.
But what Lotus Juice got the chance to have his own Persona to fight alongside? When I asked him, he surprisingly took it very seriously and gave it a lot of thought. Although he initially considered Izanagi, he decided that there wouldn’t be anyone to fight in our world anyway. Thinking again, he came up with possibly the smoothest Persona ever conceptualized: Michael Jackson.
“He would sing and break your ears,” he laughed, “with the sound waves so you can’t hear anything.”
A rapper using the powers of the King of Pop to sing and dance like him? Well, it turns out, Lotus Juice doesn’t like to limit himself as just a rapper.
“Right now, I kind of sing too, so my style kind of changes every day. I don’t like to classify myself in a genre. I want to be Lotus Juice. When I’m making music, it’s Lotus Juice music.” He told me that if he had the chance, he would want to collaborate with artists like Frank Ocean and even Hikaru Utada.
“I was actually thinking of recording my friend’s idol voice–idol singer voice–and sample it and make an anime-themed rap song. So I’m open to anything.”
Because he’s not signed to a major label, Lotus Juice often makes his own remixes and songs independently and posts them on sites like SoundCloud. Most recently, he posted “How I Look,” a song with samples from the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime. I asked him what it feels like to remix someone else’s songs as opposed to making your own work.
“It’s a lot of fun because you can paint it your way. You have the picture, but it’s only lines. People would just paint it red. I would paint it blue, or maybe with a little bit of white and a hint of red.”
Lotus Juice’s activities as a musician haven’t ended–in terms of future plans, Lotus Juice says he’s preparing his third album, and he also wants his fans to come see him perform, no matter where they are in the world.
“I’ve been doing shows internationally–local and global. Hope to see you guys sometime in your lifetime.”
Lotus Juice continues to participate in Persona concerts in Japan, and he will be a guest of honor at San Francisco’s AOD convention on March 18 and 19.