Meet Yoshi T., the Artist With an Unwavering Spirit Intent on Finding His Music a Home [Q&A]
Yoshi T. is a 23-year old rising rapper by way of New York City. The Japanese-American artist has a soulful sound and has been making some noise since releasing his EP, How To Get Back?, earlier this month. We wanted to ask the rising artist a smorgasbord of questions to get to know the star-to-be as he continues to ascend.
Ones To Watch: How was your latest visit to Japan and what was the coolest moment for you and the fam?
Yoshi T.: I get so hyped everytime I go. As I get older, it’s a new context everytime. When you’re a kid, you just stay with your family, you’re there to just see family. But as I get older and get to high school, I pick up my own interests and realize where I’m actually going, so I started to take the train and stuff. This trip was amazing because it was the first time that I went for work-related stuff, filming videos, working on music, doing sessions, and stuff. Man, it was insane. It was really hot mid-summer. I got to take my friend who films everything, my friend Patrick, and probably the most amazing part was seeing it through his lens. He also doesn’t speak any Japanese, so I was showing him around a little bit. We were there for probably two and a half weeks, and he was still taking the train by himself, visiting Kyoto by himself. It was sick seeing that. You know how you fall in love with shit even more when you put someone on? Like damn, this food’s so good. Yeah, so that’s definitely how I felt.
You got Lil Wayne, Jaden Smith, and Lupe Fiasco, but who, in your opinion, is the hip-hop skateboarding GOAT?
I remember like MadeInTYO was really good at skating. If I have to be real, it’s Navy Blue! Navy Blue is probably the best skater. I mean he was a skater first you know, so. Na’Kel [Smith] is one. He makes music too. Also, 454 is really fire. He came up as a skater but now he’s on some music shit. I love his music. He’s so sick. I think he’s from Atlanta or Florida. He makes PluggnB type of stuff. He’s worked like with Earl [Sweatshirt], and that scene, but he makes PluggnB type shit. It’s really fire, I’ll send you some shit after.
What do you remember best about your childhood in LA?
I think it was definitely super like a vacuum, positive overall. We didn’t have cable. I didn’t listen to popular music. I didn’t go to public school. I went to a small Montessori school, cause LA was like super bad education-wise apparently, I don’t know. I was just super around Japanese people, listening to Japanese music, eating Japanese food, with Japanese people. So, that was definitely my upbringing for the first seven years of my life.
A lot of driving in cars, I didn’t really know much about LA except for the food. I just remember the restaurants and the people that I would meet, but I didn’t know where West LA was from East LA to Hollywood or wherever else. So, a lot of my memories are super fond of food and the people that my family still consider family now. It’s crazy because as soon as I moved out here is when I discovered hip-hop, general pop music. We got cable, I was a huge fan of WWE. I got put on as soon as I got to New York. It was crazy. My mind was blown. I think that kind of shows how different my experience was in LA.
I definitely look back and see that my taste kind of comes from those first seven years of my life when I was listening to Japanese music and my parents putting me on to that stuff.
I don’t know much about LA, I’ve only been twice in my life. But was it easy to immerse in Japanese culture?
Looking back now, I’m like asking my parents later on, it was definitely easy to be immersed in Japanese culture. I feel like the West Coast is like similar to how Irish and Italian people over on the east side, it’s like the first place you touch down. So, for a lot of Asian people, California… San Francisco, those are definitely spots to touch down. Japanese people were like fucking running shit, you know. I mean they still are, but they were coming in during like the '70s and '60s and even before, and there’s huge Japanese markets. There’s Little Tokyo and Sawtelle where there’s just like a huge gathering of it. I think my parents kind of gravitated to those places. They moved to the country when I was born so they were fairly new. It’s crazy cause my mom, once we moved to New York, goes to Jersey for all the Asian markets now.
How has NYC inspired your art?
I was born in 2000. I’ve been in New York for the bulk of my life now. I think it inspired everything. Even just that feeling in 3rd grade, and you get put on Kanye and Eminem, and old boom bap Nas, and Jay Z. Then you’re like “Wtf is this!?” Then you see all the music videos. I remember right around when I moved, “California Girls” by Katy Perry was poppin’ ironically. I was like, "This is a fire song. She’s kind of naked in the music video. What is this?." That was everything.
Hip-hop! I found hip-hop in New York, amazingly. My collaborators are all from here. We are not those people who are like, "Yuck, the city sucks bro. I just wanna leave." Like we’re the city is fire and thank God we live here. We’re going to make the most out of it.
Does your classical music education play into the beats you and Elijah make for your music?
I think so. We make all of our instrumentals. We cook it up ourselves. Yeah, I would say everyone’s musical background, whether that’s the classical for me—I appreciate you knowing about that; that’s awesome—or a jazz background, or a songwriting background, I think we all definitely utilize it. However, one thing I definitely respect and appreciate I think from me, my friends and collaborators, is that we never try to think too much. I definitely can turn off my brain, and really tap into a feeling. I wasn’t born with musical talent or anything. I wasn’t born with perfect pitch. Everything is super learned. So, sometimes I can just forget about it. We don’t let [our background] move us too much, but it’s definitely a great tool to have especially when you’re trying to direct a path of what you’re trying to do sonically.
When you see fans compare your music to the likes of Mac Miller, do you see it?
It’s crazy cause I started making music when I was like 16. I would always get those comparisons like even back then. I feel like when you’re younger, you’re just like, "Oh, fuck that." Even though, I loved and love Mac Miller. I think at the end of the day, he has a huge imprint on me. I think less than voice, it’s more so like the intimacy that he brings to the music. Also, just how real it feels without him talking about himself all the time. You feel super close to him. That’s probably the main thing I take away. I love Mac Miller. I’m trying to make something of my own. Hopefully, over time it’ll sound different to people, but right now I’m just happy to be here. A lot of people are at least comparing in a positive way. I can’t complain, cause also… it’s Mac Miller.
Who’s an artist currently in hip-hop and one artist who’s not in hip-hop that inspires you?
Jordan Ward and Teezo (Touchdown) have been the biggest influences outside of hip-hop. They recently have been super inspiring. Their confidence. They’re making it even cooler to be weird, you know. I really like that about them. In hip-hop, probably… you know it’s crazy, but probably Drake. This is my first time expressing some Drake love. I was never a huge fan. Not because I thought he was bad or good, I just never really listened to him. Of course, Take Care hits, Nothing Was the Same hits cause we were in like middle school and sh0t. But in high school and college, I didn’t really listen to him at all, but literally this past year, I have just really listened through because Her Loss. I literally have now listened to every album just to study just because when I get into an artist I like to check everything out.
It’s crazy Ovrcast. produced like two of the new songs [on For All the Dogs Scary Hours Edition]. I actually met him for the first time the other day at the Sunday Sounds festival. I’m such a huge fan. I have not collaborated with Ovrcast. but, I would love to in the future. I’m sure his prices just went super up. I love his music so much, and me and the homies were definitely turning up during his set.
"F* TASTE" is quickly becoming as big of a release for you as “MCQUEEN” was; how’d that one come about?
I appreciate you bringing “MCQUEEN” up, because “MCQUEEN” was something I dropped last year and was my first taste of something getting as big as it got for me. “F* TASTE,” that one I produced in September of last year I think. It was after I dropped my first EP, called SANDBOX. I was super happy about it, but I was kind of just like where do I go from here? I never had this many people fucking with my music. I think around September or October was when I made that beat. Then, I was kind of sitting on it then a month later, I kind of came up with a scat. I kind of do scats and melodies first. I’ll be listening to a demo with no words, just gibberish on there. You’ll hear the melody, then I came up with the lyrics after. That song was really easy to finish. The components are not that many. It’s hook, verse, hook, and kind of like an outro chorus. It was super fun to make and it was really easy. I think that’s probably what made it really fun and it comes off in the song. Super happy about how it came out.
You're still an unsigned artist, correct? What are your thoughts on signing to a major label versus staying in the indie lane?
I think there’s something super important with the indie stuff. I love being independent, and it’s done great for me, but I will say, I definitely think it does matter. It does do a lot, especially if you come with leverage. I don’t want to sign to a major when I’m still coming up. I kind of want to get to a place independently to where if I sign to a major label or a bigger operation it helps for once it comes time to do some big shit. That’s the bigger goal and dream.
How did you and Cisco Swank come together on "WHY WAIT?"
I met him when I was 15, sophomore year of high school. He was already friends with our other friends Jackson August and Elijah Judah that I also collab with too. We were close friends. Quickly, we became close friends. We didn’t start making music until senior year of high school. It was like that BROCKHAMPTON era, and everybody was making a rap group. We were like, "We should do that too." So, that was like the beginning. After high school was when we started to craft and hone in on our own sounds, individually. We were still very close friends so it was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you rap on this?’ I think, honestly, doing that helped us create a little chemistry and rapport between each other. He makes really different stuff too. He makes more jazz-leaning stuff, he makes more indie-leaning stuff, and I make more pop-leaning or R&B-leaning stuff. We kind of have this vocabulary amongst each other now, where we kind of find a middle ground. We’ve collaborated like four, maybe five times on wax honestly. It’s only growing. Yeah, I’m excited to continue to work with him. That’s the homie.
How has your religious ideologies and beliefs impacted not just your artistry, but the journey you’ve been on in becoming a successful artist?
The journey portion is super huge. I’m at the point where I am not practicing super heavily, at least the Buddhism that I grew up with. I’m trying to find my place in it as I’m adulting – not just my parents’ way of life. I think growing up and learning about Buddhist ideologies and such helped me so much. You know sometimes I don’t know if it’s religious, or if it’s just some Japanese or immigrant shit, but really with just the fact that I’m not wavering. Having an unwavering spirit, especially when it comes to making music. So much of that has to do with validation. Success is based on how many people listen or how many people are showing love. I think having that conviction, knowing that this is your path, knowing that this is something you love that you’d do no matter how many people would listen. I think that’s something that I’m so thankful my parents instilled in me, whether that’s because of their religion or because of their morals. I think that’s probably the biggest part. I see a lot of friends get really discouraged quickly, which is so sad because everybody puts so much work into their craft. I face that many times but continue to go on and go forth.
It’s super popular in my age group where like faith is something that I know is important, but I don’t know how to get there in a way that might come off as too religious. I definitely struggle with that balance too where I know that it’s something that’s important and people latch on to it, but there are a lot of things in religion as a whole that could be a turn-off to a lot of people and myself. It’s just about figuring that out while knowing there’s something out there.