Interview with LEVELCORE

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LEVELCORE are a 2MCs+1DJ hip-hop unit from Fukuoka consisting of MCs dprcoco and baby t-rex who rap in both English and Japanese over hypnotic beats made by DJ Nylon. Tokyo ON talks to dprcoco about their background, their latest release EXPLORE, and a bit about the future.

TO: How did you guys meet?

Dprcoco: I met Yusuke (baby t-rex) at APU (Asia Pacific University) in 2013. I was studying abroad for four months (March-July) and Yusuke was studying full time. They started making music from that point on. A few years later we met Ryugo (DJ Nylon) at a club called Kieth Flack in Oyafuko. That was in about 2015 or 2016. We met via mutual friends that he used to DJ and produce beats for. Yuto (super trump) and Yohei (yohei smooth), together they are a group named space cowboys.

TO: How does being based in Kyushu impact your music?

D: We love being in Kyushu, especially Fukuoka, but it might affect us negatively. There just aren’t as many people here as Tokyo or Osaka. The people here are great though, on the positive side, I think Kyushu gives us a more laid back sensibility.

TO: I hear that. Tell us a bit about the Fukuoka music scene.

D: There are a lot of very talented people in Fukuoka, it’s beautiful. There are tons of great musicians and they’re all very friendly. It’s very underground, though. There aren’t very many acts that people just know about or go way out of their way to see. Like, if I were to go to places that foreigners frequent, they would have no idea that there’s even a music scene to begin with.

TO: That’s kind of why Tokyo ON exists, to introduce great Japanese music to foreign audiences. Can you tell us about some of the local acts you like?

D: There's a guitarist named Keiji Chuba who is already a legend in my eyes haha. He has a band named Hedero Funk and they're all super talented. There's also a DJ named DJ Like who is one of my favorites. He's one of my favorite DJ's I’ve ever heard.

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TO: You guys demonstrate great teamwork playing off one another, are you good friends in real life? How do you cultivate your group dynamic?

D: Yusuke and I have had a connection ever since we met. Just meeting for the first time at APU, we made a mixtape together. Rapping together has become second nature. We don’t practice any of the things we do on stage, it just naturally happens for the most part. We’ve just spent a lot of time together. Nylon came later, but his mind set and feel for beats fits right in. He knows what sounds cool and how to make us sound cool. Our mind sets are very similar, we’re like three sides of the same coin if that makes any sense lol.

TO: What are some of the kinds of things you instantly agree on? And in contrast, are there any things where you guys really diverge?

D: We don't usually instantly agree on much. I think the reason we work together well is that we can have conversations about what we disagree on and come to a decision without hating each other. We're just trying to find the truth together.

TO: Are you more comfortable live or in studio?

D: Live feels better. Seeing people’s reaction helps us have energy to perform all out. With people there watching, it’s easier to get into the headspace where you’re in a state of flow not thinking about anything. For some reason, it’s harder to do that in the studio.

TO: It definitely looks like you get a lot of energy live, you really get up close and personal with the crowd!

D: Yeah, we do. It's nice when people are really giving with what you're doing. The worst is when people seem like they're liking it, but are too shy to move with the music.

TO: What is the main message/theme for the EXPLORE EP? How did you arrive at this concept?

D: Open your mind. The world is yours. Yeah sure, you’re from your country and you grew up a certain way, but in the end you’re from this earth. Go and do anything you want. We arrived at this way of thinking by just living and watching people. There’s a lot of wrestling in our minds on how to live life.

TO: It seems you guys think a lot about life and our place in the world. Japan is a pretty tough place for going your own way though, there’s a lot of pressure to live and think a certain way. Plus modern society is just so hectic, with social media, job insecurity, FOMO, etc. Is EXPLORE a bit of a response to that?

D: We think that it would be nice if people did what they wanted and were themselves. Japan is a great place to be in terms of that because not many people are doing that, there's a lot of work for us to do. EXPLORE is definitely a response to that. We want people do do what they love and to not worry about what other people think.

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TO: Are there any rappers you guys look up to? How do you work on your technique?

D: In a music sense, I would say I look up to Kid Cudi, Kanye, Mac Miller, the Roots and A Tribe Called Quest. In a life sense, I'm really jealous of Tyler, the creator. I think it's cool how he started out with all of his friends and how they got on together. I would say, they only thing I do to work on my technique is just the rapping I normally do for songs and videos. We do freestyle together sometimes too. 

We also started “Be Great Sunday Verse” on Instagram, where we encourage people to pick a beat, write a verse, and record it for others to listen. It’s a mixture of: 1) wanting to practice, 2) showing people what we can do, and 3) having fun making new things. We also wanted other people to start doing it, but that hasn't really happened yet.

TO: Well I would, but you guys are a pretty tough act to follow! What’s in the works for 2019?

D: We want to make more connections with promoters and artists around Japan. Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to travel and show what we can do to more people. We have our first offer to do a show in August this year. That’ll be exciting. 

TO: Can we hope to see you guys in Tokyo in the future? Or overseas even?

D: That’s the dream. We’d love to go anywhere and perform! We’re trying to get to Tokyo first, early this year. Still haven’t done a show in Tokyo, though. We haven’t had the chance to yet.

TO: We definitely hope to see you here soon. Thanks for talking to us and we wish you all the best.

Check out LEVELCORE’s latest EP “EXPLORE”, and keep up with them via their website, Instagram, Spotify and Twitter.

Royce Leong