Awich, a leader in Japanese hip-hop, EXCLUSIVELY talked to HollywoodLife about her Okinawan heritage and filming a music video on her home island after dropping her first major label EP ‘Partition.’
With relentless flow and slick political commentary backing her reputation, Awich was already one of the Japanese hip-hop industry’s most well-known female artists when she dropped her new EP, Partition, on Aug. 21. However, this EP is a major milestone for the 33-year-old rapper, since it marks her first extended play released through a major label after recently signing with Universal Records. This new partnership is also a reflection of Awich’s growing popularity in America; in March of 2019, 88rising — a famous Asian music collective and record label — featured her in the music group’s documentary, Asia Rising – The Next Generation Of Hip Hop.
Despite a meteoric rise in success in both America and Japan, Awich is loyal to her roots: Okinawa. “I’m born and raised in Okinawa. Okinawa is an island that has been a target of both fascination and discrimination amongst Japan and surrounding Asian nations for years for its culture and transformations,” Awich — whose real name is Akiko Urasaki — EXCLUSIVELY told HollywoodLife.
The rapper has never shied away from talking about the political unrest associated with her home prefecture. “It used to be a kingdom until [the] 19th century and went through many changes and now is a part of Japan with many U.S. military bases,” Awich said, referring to how the Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished when Okinawa was annexed by Japan in 1879, which became controlled by the United States Civil Administration of the Ryukyu Islands after World War II, until the islands were returned to Japan in 1972. To this day, there are protests over the remaining American military bases; out of the 55,000 American troops stationed in Japan, 50 percent of these military members are housed on Okinawa, The New York Times reported in July.
However, Awich doesn’t let these bits of dark history overshadow the beauty of her native land, where she returned to after attending college in Atlanta, Georgia. “I grew up loving the island. Loved playing in the water, jungles, and the streets and on military bases,” Awich continued. Okinawa was the birthplace of her creativity, as she added, “I started writing poetry when I was nine. I remember when I was little I’d stay up all night every night to write poems, diary and lyrics.”
Awich even puts herself in charge of scouting locations for projects shot in Okinawa! “Whenever we shoot in Okinawa, my home island, I do the location hunting myself. I love this island. It’s my heart,” she shared. “I used to produce videos and movies too, so I know a lot of places and have a lot of ideas. I really go to these different places on the island myself and present the ideas to the directors.”
One of these Okinawa-based projects was Awich’s new music video for “Bad Bad” directed by Kento Yamada (Double Tokyo), which dropped on Aug. 12. From the prefecture’s beautiful ocean to castle ruins, the video essentially gives a virtual tour of Awich’s stomping grounds. The visuals hits extra close to home, literally, because of the community surrounding Awich on screen. From the backup dancers to the crowd gathered around Awich, the rapper swore that everyone was all “really [her] friends!” She added, “You can see them in my other videos as well.”
One of these faces is not her friend, however; that would be her daughter! This is far from her first music video cameo, however. “I always have my daughter in my video. She is in my videos for ‘Remember,’ ‘Kamihikoki,’ ‘Ashes,’ ‘Gangsta.’ Whenever I can have her in it, she’s there. You can see how much she’s grown since her first cameo in ‘Remember,'” Awich said, referring to the video for her 2017 track featuring YOUNG JUJU, which now boasts more than 4.3 million views on YouTube.
While Awich never forgets where she started, she is also looking forward to her new journey with a big record label — a move that some of her earlier fans may not have anticipated. In 2014, Awich once told Vogue that she had signed to a big label in Tokyo but left because “they didn’t let me rap about politics.” Explaining her decision to give another big label a chance, she told HollywoodLife, “I shed my ego and gained more compassion.”