In collaboration with Monsutā, Japanese Icons is a new series that showcases the finest offerings from the land of the rising sun. Winning the coveted title of Japan’s Best International Lager in 2022, and recently launching an alcoholic lemon chūhai, Monsutā, along with its iconic Sumo, is a brand that symbolises and celebrates the best of Japan. Join us on this journey as we present the Japanese counterparts who share the Monsutā legacy.
When talking about Japanese icons, it’s impossible to overlook the undisputed queen of Japanese hip hop and all-round Bad B*itch – Awich. She’s been shaking up the Japanese hip hop scene since 2006, becoming a symbol of female empowerment in Japanese music and a forerunner of the BLM movement in Japan. But her iconic rise didn’t happen overnight and her queendom didn’t come without its share of tragedy and uncertainty. Taking these setbacks in her stride, she’s risen to become the queen of Japanese hip hop and our first Japanese Icon.
Awich (short for Asian Wish Child) was born in the Okinawan capital of Naha in December 1986. Often spending her nights writing poetry as a young kid, it wasn’t until randomly selecting Tupac Shakur’s All Eyez on Me from a record store shelf at the age of 13 that she became obsessed with hip hop. Inspired by Shakur’s lyrics and interviews, she turned her hand to lyric writing and began to look deeper into her Okinawan roots and the importance of community, themes that would continue in her later years. The following year, at the age of 14 she made her first recorded appearance on a compilation of local hip hop artists.
In 2006 she released her debut EP, Inner Research, moved to Atlanta to study business and marketing and, in 2007, released her debut album Asian Wish Child. While in Atlanta she fell in love with and eventually married a New York native and member of the Five-Percent Nation Black nationalist movement. At the age of 20, the couple discovered that Awich was pregnant, shortly before her husband was then incarcerated. Her husband was eventually released before the birth of their daughter but was tragically murdered shortly after.
After returning to Okinawa with her 3-year-old daughter, she focused her production company, Cipher City, promoting Okinawan products overseas. She continued writing in earnest, describing the process as cathartic, helping her to “reevaluate a more profound meaning of life, love, and forgiveness.” She also took the time to write and direct the short film Aimer for which she won an award in 2017. She eventually made her triumphant return to music, teaming up with Japanese hip hop collective, Yentown, as their only female member, releasing two albums – 2018’s 8 and 2020’s Peacock, both critically acclaimed.
After signing with Universal Music, her 2020 release, Partition, was her first release through a major label. The EP was positively received but in the lead-up to Queendom, her fourth full-length release, the now 35-year-old artist faced a crossroads. Wrestling with the thought that her new demos were “too chill,” she saw the opportunity to stake her claim as the queen of Japanese hip hop. 2022’s Queendom saw Awich consciously embrace her identity as an artist, tackling themes of sexuality and female empowerment, which are often absent in Japanese popular music. She decided to take the leap and showcase a new approach to her songwriting.
Initially uncertain about its explicit content, the track “Kuchi ni Dashite” (Put it in the Mouth) became a crucial inclusion on the album, sparking a conversation about sexuality in Japanese music. The empowering “Doreni Shiyokana” (I’ve Got Options) challenges traditional perceptions of female gender roles and women’s sexuality. The title track from the album chronicles the tragic romance she experienced in Atlanta in the early 2000s and her return to the music scene. The track, featuring Okinawan, Japanese, and English lyrics, also incorporates traditional Okinawan instrumentation.
Since the release of Queendom, Awich has performed at Fuji Rock Festival, Japan’s largest outdoor music event, as well as the prestigious Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, where her now 15-year-old daughter made a special appearance. She recently released a collaborative EP entitled United Queens, showcasing fellow Japanese female rappers NENE, LANA, MaRI, AI, and YURIYAN RETRIEVER. Awich is now gearing up for her first arena performance at K-Arena Yokohama this November.
Awich has set no limits for herself. She sees her recent achievements as just the beginning of her journey to further notoriety. As she stated in a 2022 interview, “I’m aiming to be the queen of Japan. Period.” From giant-sized aspirations to giant-sized taste, Monsutā will be back with another Japanese Icon in a couple of weeks. Until then, crack open a can of one Japanese Icon while listening to another – the Queen of Japanese hip hop, Awich.
Monsutā beverages are available at BWS, Dan Murphy’s and Jimmy Brings.