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Introducing Wez Atlas: Rising Japanese-American Rapper Manipulating Languages & Genres

Mr. Nimbus | 01/17/2024

The concept of “narrative” in the English language is becoming adapted as a commonly used word in Japan. Unlike the similarly loaned “story” that refers to the content or outline of a tale, the narrator is central to a narrative. Just as in our own lives, there is no fixed plot and nobody knows how it will unfold. In the world of popular music, narratives organically connected to a person’s background or situation are often used as a connection between artist and listener. Artists talk candidly about their own lives and form a kind of community with listeners who accept those narratives,

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Wez Atlas is an artist with an extremely rich narrative. His lyrics are candid and personal, written as if they’ve been taken straight out of his diary or journal. Thoughts and landscapes expressed in the first person, rather than an objective third-person perspective, are undoubtedly part of his own narrative. Listening to the quiet flow of his verses filled with intense emotion set to restrained tracks makes us feel like we’re playing a first-person, open-world video game.

Born in 1998 in Oita, Japan, Wez Atlas is a Tokyo-based hip-hop artist with roots in Japan and the U.S. He moved to Colorado as a child and attended public school there, and eventually got into hip-hop music and rapping through artists such as Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, and his biggest influence, J. Cole. He began writing his own lyrics after returning to Japan in high school, and his career as an artist can be traced back to those days he spent jotting down typically adolescent struggles and worries on paper.

With roots in Japan and the U.S. and having internalized those different cultures, Wez’s verses aren’t just superficially bilingual in English and Japanese but are based on a rich musical foundation. Shortly after the release of his first EP, “Saturday,” keen hip-hop listeners began noticing his music.

In 2020, Spotify JAPAN featured a song co-written by Wez and michel ko called “Time” on its official playlist. In June 2021, the young rapper followed up with a collaboration with Grammy-nominated producer starRo called “Zuum!” and graced the cover of the streaming giant’s Next Up playlist.

Wez Atlas then released his first mini-album, Chicken Soup For One in July that year. The artist had just entered his twenties when working on this album, and his lyrics, written during a period when he had no clear vision for the future, genuinely reflect the worries and anxieties he felt at the time. Among the tracks is “T.I.M.M.,” a song that seems to reveal his pain, but other tracks articulate his attempt to turn negativity into positivity. In “Fun + Games,” he expresses the importance of solidarity with the friends who support him, and in “Overthink,” the Japanese lyrics “Maybe I don’t have to read the room” voice his determination to follow his intuition. His flows aren’t intense, but they’re filled with grim determination.

And in March last year, he released his second mini-album, This Too Shall Pass. As the title suggests, this project following his deeply personal debut set is a work that expresses a more detached state of mind. The first track, “Life’s A Game,” is like a shrug of the shoulders, song of positivity stemming from resignation that reflects what Wez was honestly feeling at the time. The song “It Is What It Is” expresses his will to “never stop looking for the light despite adversity.” The TikTok lyric/performance video of this number articulating his positive vision for the future went viral with over 12.4 million views.

His collaborations with VivaOla, Kota Matsukawa, starRo, nonomi, uin, and other producers who support his creativity have also gained further depth. The production is extremely listener-friendly, focusing on Wez’s own comfort and chemistry without fixating on trends — not that they’re being ignored by any means. Wez’s music has widespread appeal because it fits a broad range of situations, from bedroom to driving. The magnetism of his music has been proven by the enthusiastic reactions to his performances at SXSW 2023 in the U.S. and at Kobe Mellow Cruise 2023, one of the largest hip-hop culture festivals in Japan’s Kansai region.

Wez dropped a new song called “RUN” on Dec. 22, an upbeat number that can be considered a new experiment for the rapper. The track starts with a sharply distorted guitar riff, followed by the verse, “Hajimaru aratana Race (A new race begins)/Vamos! Andale! Onore no sadame (my destiny),” then drum’n’bass-like rhythms and hard rock-inspired bass kick in. The music produced by nonomi and Kota Matsukawa might be described as neo-mixture or an evolution of grunge rock. Either way, there’s no doubt the style is unlike anything we’ve heard from Wez before.

His vocal style in this song also feels new, speaking frankly to listeners as if to inspire them. While he gained popularity through the restrained flow of his earlier releases, Wez diverts from his conventional style in “RUN” and swings toward a more direct expression. The fact that he leans towards mostly Japanese in this number means it has potential to reach domestic listeners who normally prefer rock and J-pop. Another notable aspect of his releases is that he doesn’t stay in one genre or style and continues to casually expand the boundaries of his musicality.

“RUN” brilliantly shatters Wez Atlas’ previous soundscapes and messages, hailing his breakthrough into a new phase of his career. This song will surely add further depth to his narrative, and the words he weaves together will spread far and wide, overlapping with the lives of each listener. There’s no doubt Wez will be one to watch in 2024.

This article by Tomoyuki Mori first appeared on Billboard Japan

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus




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