Koga has different interests compared to your average rapper. Where most in hip-hop enjoy rapping about blunts, Benjamins and bitches, Koga, under the new name Koga Yokai, is more concerned with love, family, and what makes us human.
Just one look at his name and you can tell that his interests are far-flung from what one would expect from your run-of-the-mill rapper. Koga likes anime, sitcoms, and R&B. He shows his appreciation by sampling and utilizing them in his songs. His obscure references, matched with an airtight flow and laid-back charisma, make him a formidable musician.
Pressing play on one of his songs places you in his head, where his self-awareness hits you and leaves you as breathless as he is after a verse full of puns, references, and lyricism that will make your head spin. In Japanese, the kanji for Yokai is made up of the words bewitching, mystery, and calamity. All of those words can be applied to his music; it projects a veil of bewilderment at times that leaves you speechless with emotion and curious as to what just happened.
I met Koga for the first time on Facebook a couple years ago, and I’ve watched him grow as a musician since then. His beats have always been on point but his lyrics and flow are more expressive than ever before. His latest project, Aladdin, has just been released. I chatted with him about his new project, his process, his influences, and his future ambitions.
Starved: You’ve gone through a couple name changes throughout your career, but “Koga” has always remained a constant. This time around, you’re going by the moniker “Koga Yokai”. Could you go into that a little bit for those reading at home?
Koga: Koga has always been my favorite character on Inuyasha, and the creation of my rap career and my name has a very humble beginning.
It all started with a crush in high school on a girl that barely knew my name. In my world, I became Koga, and she became Kagome. Koga wanted Kagome, but he NEEDED Ayame to complete his pack. He would often run to her and attempt to win her heart to no avail. She was what he thought he needed, but it was just a false hope.
So as an artist, I always attempt to give the listeners real music, which is what they need, rather then something catchy–which is what a large portion of the population want.
S: As you just touched on, the anime Inuyasha is referenced throughout the project. You can hear Kagome’s voice and you reference yourself as a “yokai” in respect to your relationships. How has anime, and Inuyasha in particular, influenced your sound and methodology?
K: Anime is a huge part of my life and has influenced my life in more ways than one. Inuyasha and it’s portrayal of Koga has shaped my life for the better, and I’ve found meaning through it.
Yokai are Japanese folklore creatures who, in some cases, were once human, but fell victim to a horrible death or worse. Some were born out of pure darkness but were reincarnated and still live, more powerful than they ever were! Realization of this theory caused a rebirth in my life, my own reincarnation.
S: This project is titled Aladdin. Is there a reason for that, or perhaps a specific theme you were alluding to?
K: [Laughs]. It’s a clear reference to the children’s movie Aladdin, and it has a very specific meaning that only a few will understand. It’s a puzzle, just wanting to be solved.
S: I’d like to hear a little bit about your creative process.
K: Whenever I work on music, and I’m not using the term “work” lightly, I approach every song/beat with a completely different outlook from the previous. I allow myself the time to contemplate what is my current obstacle, and what would I want to hear on a song. I sit and think “what lyrics would help me in my time of need?” And “What message do I want you to gain from this?”.
Once I feel satisfied with my answer, I begin creating my vision. Sometimes, I’ll get inspiration at random times, and I’ll build on the idea. In short, I want to aid the listeners as much as possible, and I wish to prevent them from making the same mistakes as me.
S: The beats on this project are very distinct, especially on the opening number “Flute”. What is striking about them is how you combine heavy-hitting percussion with unconventional samples and vocal effects. Where do you get your ideas sample-wise?
K: Combine is the right word. I combine my favorite drum patterns with songs that I LOVE.
Take “The love and The Secret” for example, which is a sample of “A Night in Afro Blue” by my favorite Japanese male R&B singer, Toshi Kubota. I planned on sampling this song for a previous album and never had the chance to do so. The time felt right, and so I went with it! The lyrics are about a dream I had; if you follow word for word, you’ll understand.
S: If I’m not mistaken, you make your own artwork?
K: Yes I do, and I have for most of my mixtapes.
S: When I look at the cover of Aladdin, I think about the flash of brilliant light that character must have seen upon rubbing the genie’s lamp. This 27 minute long project feels like that flash: it hits you abruptly and intensely, but it’s short in duration. Is that what you were going for, or does the artwork have a different meaning?
K: Very accurate, actually. The cover explains the inspiration for the project in a metaphorical sense: empty space with a warming color that makes you forget that your looking at nothing.
S: Tell me about your influences, particularly from a production standpoint.
K: I’ve said this to several friends, and the list stands the same:
S: What do you have lined up for the future?
K: I have SO much lined up: a group album, a sophomore album that follows up Aladdin titled Dreams, and many singles to come! I’m excited!
S: Any shout-outs?
K: Shout out to East Tribe Yokai Clan (ETYC), my cousin Meet, the people who take the time to listen to me and, last but not least, Starved Magazine and you, Hilton. Thank you for the interview.
S: Thank you for your time.