Interviewed and Photographed by Joana Meurkens

Yoshi T. is a Japanese-American singer-songwriter rapper extraordinaire. Born in LA but bred in NYC, Yoshi is starting his journey into becoming a household name. Yoshi and I grew up in similar settings, and seeing how he has come into his own as in artist is something that I hold very dear to me. Yoshi manages to show the intimate intricacies of his inner life while simultaneously delivering a dance beat that will stick with you for weeks on end. He is not only an incredibly talented rapper, but he is a prime example of the genre bending wave of new artists ready to take their proper place in the industry. 

Tell us about yourself, who you are, where you grew up.

My name is Yoshi Takahashi, I was born in Los Angeles, California and my family moved to NYC when I was eight. I’ve been living here since. I definitely built my character here. I make music and I go to SUNY Purchase for Production. I’m just trying to do as much as possible. 

How does your cultural heritage play a role in your understanding of self?

I’ve been trying to hone in on realizing what my actual beliefs are in life. So my heritage and what I grew up on, all of those ideas, that’s what my music is about. I feel like all of my lyrics have to do with those beliefs you know. I feel like the more potent it is, the more effective it is for the listener. 

How does your cultural identity intersect and affect your personality?

Being Japanese there is definitely a mindset that is very different from anything else in the world. So my work deals with stuff like tackling pride, and tackling family, that’s been very relevant in what I’ve been trying to make. And also with COVID I’ve been having to help my parents at the sushi place that my dad owns, and that’s just been jammed in my head, you know, family man, like you’re just stuck in your house.

Do you listen to any modern Japanese music? 

I didn’t grow  up with my parents putting me onto The Beatles and stuff,  I kind of  found that on my own. But what I realized was that they listen to the musical equivalent in Japan, so I listened to a lot of it when I was younger until I found people on my own. Like Michael Jackson was the first artist that I found on my own. My mom likes listening to the Top 100 Apple Music Japanese Charts, but I don’t know man, a lot of it is fire, like the disco and dance stuff, but some of it is too EDM  for me. 

I feel like the Top 100 of anything isn’t even a good reflection of what’s poppin.

Yeah exactly. I’m like, “why don’t you listen to what you like?” And she’s like, “I want to see what’s going on,” and I feel like that’s not the best way to look at it. 

I feel as though people’s relationship to music is very different. In middle school I used to know every single song that was in the Top 100 and I bought it, like Gym Class Heroes- bought it. Stereo Hearts, bought it.

Yeah but we were also younger then. I feel like it was only until I went to high school where it was like, wow this song isn’t even on the charts but everyone at school knows this song. 

Musically, how much do the people you surround yourself with  influence you ? How much do you value collaboration?

I honestly only collaborate with people that I’m really good friends with because I definitely have a fear of it not going well or not knowing how to navigate the situation. Since they are my closest friends they know what I really fuck with, so when they put me onto new music it’s like wow, this is the shit I actually like. They’re expanding my palate of music but at the same time tending to it. Also, everyone has their own character music making wise, so it’s so fun collaborating because everyone knows what they like making and we are all getting to a point where that’s getting stronger. You know when like Gucci or someone collaborates with a painter, that painter has a distinct flavor or genre, so it’s not like they have no idea what to do, and that’s what collaboration is starting to feel like.

You have known most of your consistent collaborates from a very young age, and I feel like that is one of the reasons why it is so fun to collaborate with them. I feel so lucky to have grown up in New York and to have met so many people who inspire me to be a better artist.

Yeah I also feel lucky because we got it kinda early. We started in high school and we got through all the roadblocks. When I got to Purchase I realized that I was already on that wave and it didn’t scare me too much.  It also has to do with coming from an urban place. It’s very new to a lot of people and you really see them feel uncomfortable. A huge thing I’ve learned is to make those people comfortable because if I fuck with them enough to want to work with them, there is no reason for them to feel uncomfortable. I want to do everything I can for them to feel comfortable so that we can support each other. That was a huge learning experience for me, realizing that not everyone has had these experiences. So that’s a major blessing.

How do you find a middle ground between genuine connection and networking? How do we use these skills of making people feel comfortable or having this big community, how do you use that to your advantage?

Right now I’m at a place where I want to start the relationship without business. I can know you for being a fire artist, but I definitely want to chill with you without any talks of us working together. I want it to be very natural, and if I end up fucking with you then yes let’s do it, let’s go to the next one, but if not then I feel like that’s a huge red flag. 

How do you find a middle ground between genuine connection and networking? How do we use these skills of making people feel comfortable or having this big community, how do you use that to your advantage?

Right now I’m at a place where I want to start the relationship without business. I can know you for being a fire artist, but I definitely want to chill with you without any talks of us working together. I want it to be very natural, and if I end up fucking with you then yes let’s do it, let’s go to the next one, but if not then I feel like that’s a huge red flag. 

I mean you can really tell when everyone surrounding the project really cares about it. It’s one of those things that feels really special, and you can tell that everyone was on the same page.

Yeah, you need to feel that connection. The big thing right now is selling features, mad rappers are like “send me $10,000 and I’ll be on that song”, and you can hear it in the music, it’s like yeah he for sure sent it to him and just got paid and that’s the end of it. But when it’s really collaborative you hear that it’s not just verse hook, verse hook, and then the feature. I always love that shit. You know that song with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, The Girl is Mine, that shit just sounds like they’re really collaborated. Like I’m sure they were in the studio together adding more to each other, and it just sounds so natural. I aspire to make music like that.

What is your dream collaboration?

For music definitely Solange or Tyler the Creator. For fashion definitely Uniqlo, Uniqlo goes hard, reppin Japan. As for artists, I would say Takashi Murakami. 

Do you think you fall under one genre of music?

I don’t think so. I would say I’m a singer-songwriter because that is the broadest term. The production is the most important aspect of the music and none of it really lies under a specific category, but singer- songwriter can be anything. 

Whenever I think of a singer-songwriter, I think of a girl with her guitar.

Me too, but the term literally means the person who performs it also writes it. I like putting everything as Hip hop because that is what helped create who I am. I also feel like Hip hop was meant to grow and become something else. In the 70’s the music was so different and it is nothing like it is today, whether that is trap music or shit like Mac Miller, it has already been fused. 

With photography you are trying to capture a specific subject, but with music that’s not necessarily the case… Do you think there is a cross between that direct intimacy or do you play to more of a general audience?

I think it all starts with myself, I have to get myself into the most accurate and vulnerable setting. I recently just started writing random spoken word stuff that doesn’t even rhyme and that all stemmed off of me writing my thoughts everyday in my book. Journaling is so important because you can’t change the world before you change yourself. A huge thing for me recently has been self evaluation, especially with all of the things happening in the world right now. I have been reevaluating what I make music for. I’ve been making more vulnerable music lately because I want to leave some type of encapsulation of who I am as a person, because at the end of the day that’s all you can really leave this world with. 

Do you think each album you do is a reflection of who you are of that moment? Because Kumo Mono and Songs For Your Mom feel like they come from two completely different places emotionally. 

The first thing I put out (Songs For Your Mom), was really just me trying to make music, I was just trying to create something that I really believed in so it was huge to make something like Kumo Mono. As you get older you gain so much more experience, so one theme can have so many different flavors because the idea of what that means changes. I feel like with Kendrick Lamar, every album is the same idea, but it grows so much because he is growing up as a person. 

I know that for you, visual art and music are tied together. I know that you did the album art for Kumo Mono (his latest album), and that you always carry your notebook with you. How much of your visual art intersects with your music, does one influence the other, or does it evolve as you as a person evolves? 

Yeah definitely. I feel like it’s the same with music like, you listen to something that you really fuck with and then you kind of want to replicat it and add your own to it, so with visuals it’s the same thing. I’m slowly getting to the point where I can depict the emotions I feel visually. I never really had a thing where the music video comes first, but I would be really down to do that, I feel like that would be challenging but cool. I want people to look at the video and know more about the music. That’s why I love really good videos, like Solange put out a film and that joint just added so much to the whole album. That’s really what I want to be on because I love watching videos and movies. 

Listen to Yoshi T:

Connect with Yoshi T:

https://www.instagram.com/yoshitee_

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