Interview: Uchida Meijin, Ban Jackson, DJ Fukutake
Born in 1973, he’s a hip-hop MC that’s maintained a solo career along with being involved with groups such as Kick the Can Crew and Matsuriruka. Known as the biggest game freak in the music industry, he’ appears in game related segments on TV shows such as “Ariyoshieeeee!” (TV Tokyo) and “Ariyoshi Hanseikai” (Nihon TV). He also serves as the ambassador to the used goods resale shop chain Hard-Off.
MCU is BACK!
(Meijin) This time we have our traditional summer musical guest! We welcome back Kick the Can Crew’s MCU, known for being a huge game lover!
(MCU) It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Maybe a year now? (Volume 71)
(Ban) Meijin and I had a conversation with you and DJ Fukutake.
(Fukutake) Yes. We’re forming a group called Bio Miracle.
(MCU) That all started when we were drinking together and came up with the idea of wanting to do back-to-back DJ sets, and it just went from there.
(Meijin) This time we’re basing the interview around the video game themed rap that you’re calling “Chip hop”! But before we do that, we’d like to ask you about some of the game music that captured you during your childhood.
(MCU) The one that made me think about just how good the music was without even realizing it, was the arcade game “Fantasy Zone” (Sega, 1986).
(Fukutake) It has a very unique FM sound.
(MCU) It’s the first game that comes to mind when I think of Sega! The music in the levels, the shop, the boss fights…it’s all great. And when I later came to realize what an amazing composer Hiro (Sega composer Hiroshi Kawaguchi) is, I knew my ear wasn’t off! I even bought “Sega Game Music Vol.1” (released by Alfa G.M.O. Records in 1986) when I was in middle school. It was the first game soundtrack that I ever bought.
(Ban) Did you feel more charm in the music when it was decoupled from the game itself?
(MCU) I wasn’t really listening to music and noticing good beats back then, but I did feel like Sega’s game music could be listened to as fusion, not just game music.
(Meijin) You would eventually come to start writing your own music themed around games, but around when did that start happening?
(MCU) Around when we all took a break from Kick the Can Crew and Little and I started the group UL…so maybe around 2011? There were two main reasons for it: First was an album of arranged Famicom music called “Fami Compi” (released by ArtImage in 2011). I was humming along as I listened to it…and I started coming up with raps to go along with the songs.
(Ban) And what was the other reason?
(MCU) When you go to buy used retro games, a lot of them are just sold cart only (without a box and manual), right? I wondered what that would mean for kids that bought them today, so I thought of these raps as me explaining these old games instead of the instruction manuals. You can hear that in the lyrics of “MC8bit vs. Gradius”. You’ll get what I mean if you listen to the song, but I’m singing about the ways that you beat each stage. So, they’re something like instruction manuals or strategy guides.
(Meijin) You even talk about the Konami code in the lyrics. You uploaded the video for that song to YouTube in 2013.
(MCU) That was back before we formed Family Continue, and I was just going by MC8bit. Those songs were really short, with only one verse. And they didn’t have any particular messages behind them or anything.
(Fukutake) Would you say you made them based on your initial impulses?
(MCU) Yeah, that’s a great way of putting it.
MC8bit is BORN
(Meijin) Family Continue was formed that same year, how did that end up happening?
(MCU) It started when Famico-Man and I started interacting through Twitter. I was amazed at how cool he was with Famicom tattoos all over his back and using actual Famicom and Game Boy hardware during DJ sets, so we started talking to one another. Eventually he said, “I’ll try making you a video for this song”, and I went ahead and asked him if he’d DJ for me. And so that’s how we formed a group together. We had a lot of names we didn’t end up going with, like “Super Bacura”.
(Fukutake) How did that change the way you wrote songs?
(MCU) It didn’t, really. I did the raps, Famico-Man did the DJing, and DJ Shogo made the tracks. Shogo was doing the tracks for me from the beginning, so he ended up joining Family Continue as well.
(Meijin) How did the Mc8bit character come to be?
(MCU) I wanted to make it so that it wasn’t so obviously me, so I decided to just put something over my face. I tried the Sega 3D glasses at first, but the Famicom 3D glasses felt right. But why do so many of these peripherals have to have cords attached to them anyway? I really hesitated because I had to cut the cord off to wear it.
(Ban) It does take away all its functionality, after all. It was kind of like how women cut their hair to change their look! (Laughs)
(Fukutake) Were you doing live performances as MC8bit before Family Continue?
(MCU) No, I wasn’t. I think our record company live event was the first time I went on stage as MC8bit? I was wearing a Power Glove too. But it’s really hard to perform wearing this, it gets in the way!
(Ban) You end up powering down instead! (Laughs)
(Fukutake) I think that forming Family Continue allowed you to then have more live performances.
(MCU) That may be true.
(Meijin) And then in 2017, you released your first EP as Family Continue.
(MCU) That was a limited release that you could only get at an event called Game Legend. I was thinking that we should probably release all of our songs on an album, since the amount of people listening to them was growing. I also wasn’t sure what I was going to do if they didn’t sell, but a really long line formed to buy them, and we sold all 80 copies. That really gave me confidence in what we were doing. It was especially exciting because the people buying it were not only fans of my solo work and hip hop fans, but also just regular game fans. And it made me so happy when I met a kid who told me that he heard rap for the first time from listening to Family Continue. That was the first time that I thought to myself that I should absolutely continue down this path!
(Ban) Chip hop is very close to being pop music: You can just listen to it normally independent of video games. I think that might be the biggest thing about it.
(Fukutake) You can get more out of it if you know what it’s referencing, but it’s not made to require that you know. It’s like being able to enjoy a game even more if you know the secrets.
(Fukutake) Chip hop appeals to a female audience and the lyrics are catchy. But is that done on purpose?
(MCU) It is. Sometimes you can’t help but play to your core audience, but things aren’t as interesting if you’re always doing that. I don’t like being self-important. I may have learned that from being in Kick the Can Crew.
(Meijin) So then are their certain hang-ups you have when it comes to making chip hop songs?
(MCU) In addition to really putting the essence of the game itself into them, I make sure they have a concise theme. “Mappy’s Love Song” is obviously a love song, I take great care to give them that kind of a double meaning. I’ve been writing songs like that since “8bit boy” (2015). That grew out of making them combinations of instruction manuals and strategy guides. And I like to put in wordplay, like “itsu ka wa kimi no hanamuko” (“One day I’ll be your groom”) and such.
(Meijin) People who love games won’t be able to get enough of the tracks either. The song you did based on “Naze no Murasamejou” uses the castle music, not the field music!
(MCU) Shogo does that a lot. At first when I’d listen to his tracks, I’d think “Why’s the music from this part?”. But it always turns out so well.
(Fukutake) It’s really interesting when he goes against your own image of what the track will be.
(MCU) The best one was for “Fantasy Zone”. I thought for sure he’d go with the field music, but then he ended up using the boss music. That really took things to the next level. I figured I’d be writing cute lyrics, but when I heard the track, I knew I had to go with something more aggressive.
(Meijin) He must be very peculiar when it comes to games, right?
(MCU) Well, Shogo barely plays any games at all. But that’s actually a good thing, because that makes the songs themselves not overly hardcore.
(Meijin) By not knowing the gaming landscape, he’s able to create a world simply based on the music alone.
(Fukutake) You also have chip hop songs under your own name, and a lot of them are officially licensed by the property they’re attached to.
(MCU) …I’m sorry, I can’t even remember myself which songs are under which name anymore! (Laughs) But there are officially licensed songs that are done under my name.
(Meijin) You also have a unique official song for the Hard-Off chain of stores called “Love Hard-Off”.
(MCU) That came about because I really love Hard-Off, so I decided to try writing a song about it since I’m always digging around in them. And then one hour after I posted it to Twitter, I got a reply from their official account asking if they could use it as their official song. And then it turned into selling it for a limited time only at Hard-Off stores…and I was absolutely the pickiest of all when it came to that. I asked them if they could put them all in the junk bins.
(Ban) I see, you were trying to share the fun of experiencing digging through a Hard-Off! (Laughs)
(MCU) And since I asked them to hide them by the junk bins, they really did put them in places that were hard to find. The singles are all sold out now, but I’m sure there are copies still hidden in stores somewhere.
MCU, the Eternal Game Boy
(Meijin) How are you thinking about your activities as an artist going forward?
(MCU) Lately I’ve said that MCU and MC8bit have gone through a fusion, but I’m thinking that I’m still going to keep them separate. When I’m doing songs as MCUs, it’s not always just blips and bloops. But when I’m doing songs as MC8bit, I tell myself that I’m doing covers. I’m sure no one really cares about those small differences, but I have to in order to feel good about it.
(Ban) A delineation that someone would only make when talking about themselves. But I think up until now, your fans have been both people who love games and people who love hip hop. But now with chip hop, it’s natural to think of them both as the same thing. I think this is a new epoch.
(MCU) It makes me happy to hear that. I’d like to establish chip hop even further as a genre. We’ll continue to perform live as Family Continue in order to achieve that…and ultimately, I really want to hold a Caravan.
(Meijin) What?! You mean something like the country-wide Caravan events that Hudson used to hold?!
(MCU) That honestly is a dream of mine. To have people playing games and also have live performances…I want to hold an event like that and have kids show up to it too. I’d be fine with just being the host.
(Fukutake) Isn’t that Takashi Meijin’s job? (Laughs)
(MCU) That’s true. Holding a Caravan event in the Reiwa era…but if you only associated it with the Famicom, you’d have nothing but a bunch of older people showing up. I’d be good to have games there on the Switch or whatever, so that younger people would come out too.
(Meijin) To wrap things up, we have a present for you. In our last interview we asked you about your love for the first console that you ever bought, the Super Cassette Vision. And you mentioned that you used to love reading issues of “Game Boy” magazine.
(MCU) Right, because “Game Boy” was the only magazine printing information on the Super Cassette Vision back then. Whenever a new issue came out, I’d go over it with a fine-tooth comb.
(Fukutake) We’ve brought the very first issue along for you!
(MCU) Oh my god, this is so cool! (As he flips through it) I still remember exactly where the page with the Super Cassette Vision news is.
(Ban) There are even three pages dedicated to it. That was very rare for game magazines at that time.
(MCU) There are some issues where they don’t print anything about it, but that’s because Epoch didn’t release any software since the last issue. Oh look, they’ve got “Kung Fu Road” and “Ton Ton Ball” here on the present page. Yeah, that makes for four pages of coverage in total. Super Cassette Vision owners were lucky to get even one page back then.
(Meijin) We’re just glad that you like it! It’s become a custom for fans to give you copies of “Moero!! Pro Yakyuu” (aka “Bases Loaded”), but maybe now it will turn into issues of “Game Boy” magazine.
(MCU) No, I can’t accept those! Issues of “Game Boy” are expensive to buy used! Though there might be people who don’t get it and give me the console instead! (Laughs)