Global VMEN: Tohji
Tokyo’s new hyperpop powerhouse
If you aren’t familiar with the blossoming musical microgenre hyperpop, you will be soon. Stemming from the Internet, the sound draws from the sugary-sweet ethos of traditional pop music all the while completely snubbing the mainstream genre’s rule book—think high-octane synths, mismatched production, and heavily auto-tuned vocals. From New York to London, Paris to Seoul, hyperpop is quickly taking the sonic reins all over the globe.
Leading the soundmakers dominating the unorthodox genre is 26-year-old rapper Tohji, whose one-of-a-kind sound has inspired an entire underground generation of Japanese youth. Born in London, Tohji moved to Japan at an early age and matured between Tokyo and Yokohama. “I was raised in a town with no history,” Tohji explains. “It was peaceful but I was dying to know the world outside, that was driving me.”
One-half of Mall Boyz—the Japanese rap duo composed of Tohji and hip-hop star gummyboy—the artist made his full-length solo debut in 2021 with KUUGA, an 8-track offering chock-full of industrial, ambient beats and psychedelic melodies. T-mix, the artist’s sophomore album, was equally as innovative, with slow-burning beats and vocals that fall somewhere in the realm between hard-hitting rap and experimental pop leading the way. The mixtape touches on themes of wanderlust and isolation with features from bonafide experimentalists like Yeule, Mechatok, and Bladee. “T-mix is my first self-led project,” the artist notes. “I spent years in the suburbs [driving] my car, so I focused on making sounds which feel good when I hear them in the car.”
While Tohji’s sound is undoubtedly cutting-edge, the creative also possesses a knack for nostalgia—an ethos that is, uniquely, channeled through his long-standing appreciation of shopping malls. While patroning Tokyo’s sprawling shopping centers during his formative years, Tohji found solace in the serene, somewhat fictitious, environment the space offered. That illusive sense of worldbuilding is directly seen in Tohji’s work, too. The artist regularly delves into themes of loneliness while his ultra-modern graphics and updated takes on J-Pop—the mainstream Japanese genre that originated in the ‘90s—are direct nods to the aforementioned inspirations. And with a follow-up to T-mix on the horizon, Tohji is continuing to spearhead an eclectic batch of Japanese tastemakers redefining the nation’s ever-evolving creative scene through a passion for togetherness, community, and collaboration. “YouTube comments are shallow and everyone gives more than just words in live performances,” Tohji says. “When my music rocks the floor in Tokyo, the town breathes back.”