One of the best hip hop albums of the year is by a Japanese rapper you haven’t heard of
For a lifelong hip hop head, finally delving into the hip hop scenes of Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, China and more has been endlessly enjoyable in recent weeks. On my ever growing playlist, South Korean and Japanese artists dominate. Both countries have thriving scenes, talented artists and often intriguing producers creating fresh sounding beats distinct from what I hear in American and British hip hop.
Since the song ‘Hood Star’ by Yvng Patra came up in Spotify’s newfangled magic shuffle feature that drops songs it thinks you’ll like into your shuffled playlist, I’ve listened to it more than any other track from this year. And this is a year with new records by Black Thought, Lloyd Banks and Danny Brown. But more on that song later.
Yvng Patra was born in 2002 in Niigata, Japan, and is 18 years old. He just dropped his second studio album 20, containing an hour of exceptional hip hop. Belying his young age, Yvng possesses a very confident voice and effortlessly complex flows, and you could have told me he was in his late ‘20s for the effortless ease with which he ties all manner of beats in knots across his new LP.
The way this guy attacks a menacing beat like ‘Pipe Up’ is like he’s trying to dismantle it from all angles. Like a Big Pun or a 50 Cent, the charisma he has transforms the song as soon as he opens his mouth. The lively explosion of skittering drums and quirky vocal samples on ‘Tier 1’ is exciting enough already, but Yvng’s breathless tirade of verbiage turns it into audio adrenaline.
In fact whether he has a team around him or is selecting these beats himself, 20 is worlds apart from the serviceable but uniformly murky production of his 2021 album ANTI HERO. The sounds on offer are diverse, danceable and catchy. ‘Money Love Respect’ has a spry R&B vibe to it which Yvng rides with a casual flow before passing to his guest Tade Dust. ‘Silent Cook’ turns an unnervingly minimalist sample into a menacing groove that Timbaland might once have given to an early ‘2000s Missy Elliott. ‘To The Stars’ with J-Hip Hop star Liza is pop perfection, and one of several tracks where Yvng shows he’s just as comfortable delivering autotuned emo rap as he is busy streams of syllables. The title track ‘20’ flips a melancholy vocal into a wistful album finale that Yvng takes on with a comfortable maturity far beyond his years. As a whole the album has a remarkable amount of replay value and more than its fair share of addictive tracks.
‘Hood Star’ though, this is my track of the year (along with Lloyd Banks’ ‘Daddy’s Little Girl). A sprightly acoustic guitar sample gives way to an irresistible chilled out dance beat while Yvng gives the performance of the album, what for many would be the performance of a lifetime. At points conversational in tone, at others turning the Japanese language’s satisfyingly percussive sequences of consonants into syncopation of its own over the earworm beat, it’s nothing short of majestic. If you want to hear one short song that tells you what this artist is all about and why he’s one to watch, just listen to this.
The youthful energy and raw talent on display on this album, and the way it blows his previous music out of the water, makes this an undeniable coming into form for Yvng Patra. At 18 years old he’s one of the most promising artists around right now, and any hip hop lover owes it to themselves to give 20 a listen.