13ell - WANTS

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Since I was young, I never really wanted a lot of money. I saw how it corrupted people, how it was wasted on the few at the expense of the many. To me, it symbolizes excess, greed, inequality. Working forever in pursuit of the almighty dollar was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I understood that money was necessary for living, but I vowed not to be obsessed with it, for fear that it would turn me into a bad person.

Then I became a father.

Every day money is on my mind, not because I want to get rich or get lots of stuff, but because I have to make ends meet. Determined to be a good father, I have to be responsible and provide. I worry about how I’m going to find all the money to make sure there’s a roof over heads and food on the table. What if something happens to me one day? If I lose my job? Life is now full of uncertainty, and money is the shadow that hangs over it.

Listening to 13ell (pronounced “bell”) on his second solo EP “WANTS,” I suspect he’s got similar things on his mind. Born and raised in Kyoto during the Heisei period (and therefore aged under 30), 13ell started off as a motocross rider during his teenage years and even competed in the U.S. a few times, until a major accident meant he couldn’t ride competitively again. Inspired by his brother (also a rapper), he picked up the microphone and became a rapper himself, helping form the DCA (Dirty Chain Addict) crew with fellow Kyoto artists. Sounds pretty badass, but there’s a fairly mellow streak running through his lyrics and music, and just by the cover you can see his kid means a lot to him.

Money is a common theme across the tracks on this EP, and I hear him echoing the thoughts often running through my head. He questions what we really need and want on the title track, and no, it’s not physical things like money. At the same time, we gotta work and earn money, but family first right? How do you balance those things? These are some of the things he talks about on “OG Dad” – going crazy, struggling with the responsibility, but unable to go back to the past. Damn man, I know that feel. He mentions the concept in Japanese known as “otoko no roman” and that it is impossible to put into words, but it’s pretty much everything we’re talking about here. On “Money With Me,” he says he’s “everyday flexing,” holding the mic as a means to earn money, but he’s not a superstar (yet), and so it’s more about trying to give back to supporters rather than showing off. Another common theme is staying positive, particularly on “Heisei Young Boys” where he urges his peers to never give up despite all the challenges in life.

The beats on this EP are exclusively handled by Thieves Production, also based in Kyoto, and although there’s an indie DIY vibe to it, it makes it feel more authentic, and there’s variety in the production to suit the lyrics – a bluesy feel on “OG Dad,” a funky stomp on “Chain Man,” suggestive synths on “Just Wanna Fxxk You.” The EP also features artists Pablo Blasta, Lunv Loyal as well as Jaggla, and they complement 13ell with similar styles rather than standing in contrast. The album is proudly “made in Kyoto,” and it certainly has a unique countryside air that feels fresh and real.

Consistent in sound and message, “WANTS” is a great EP and something that you can really relate to (even if you’re not a parent), because 13ell isn’t rapping about private jets, drugs, guns or cars. He lives in our world, with similar worries and thoughts, trying his best to get by. And at the end of the day after an honest day’s work, he’ll put down the mic, come home and spend time with his family. The struggle is real, but so is the love.

Royce Leong