Vancouver, B.C. – JayKin began writing lyrics when he was a little kid. As he grew up and gained credibility, he was asked to open for artists such as Raekwon The Chef, Common, Mobb Deep, Talib Kweli, Naughty By Nature, and Souls of Mischief. In recent history, his work has gained praise from critics from East Vancouver to Tokyo, where he’s spent a fair chunk of time as JayKin Sensei, everybody’s favorite rapping E.S.L teacher.
Although his musical portfolio continues to thicken, JayKin has not adopted a heavy ego and actually manages to stand out as one of Vancouver’s nicest and most humble emcees – although the jury’s still out on whether naming your mixtape On The Humble counts as bragging or not.
HipHopCanada caught up with JayKin before the jet lag had even settled after a recent trip to Japan. The chaotic buzz of Tokyo was replaced by soggy weather, coffee and the unhurried pace of the West Coast as we discussed his career, his addiction to Japan and the geographical variations of groupie love.
HipHopCanada: You started making music at a young age with POS crew. Have they had an impact on your life and career?
JayKin: POS was the crew that first introduced me to hip-hop in Vancouver. I grew up in New Westminster, and I didn’t know much about hip-hop beyond the Rascalz. It was through POS that I had my first glimpse and experience of hip-hop, they brought me out to Vancouver and took me to shows.
HipHopCanada: The Georgia Straight said that the weight of the local hip-hop community rests on your shoulders. How do you feel about that?
JayKin: Wow. I don’t even remember reading that. I feel very blessed and fortunate. It’s exciting. But, it’s also a lot of pressure. I’m happy that those words can be said about my music. It makes me think that I’m going in the right direction with my music . . . I’m just down to work with everybody.
HipHopCanada: Your previous releases include The Vintage Mixtape, Show Time the Rebuttle, Year of the Flow and No Time To Waste. Your most recent release was On The Humble: what’s the significance of this title?
JayKin: Nowadays it’s so easy for artists to say that they’re the best, in whichever city they live. There’s a lot of talk these days. I have a humble approach. I don’t want to say a lot. I want to let the music do the talking.
HipHopCanada: You’ve been spending a lot of time in Japan. What’s that like?
JayKin: Tokyo is an adrenaline rush for me . . . similar to this coffee I’m drinking right now. My connection to Japan goes back to my early childhood. We had an exchange student from Japan living with us when I was a kid. He was my first exposure to another culture. In Tokyo, the scene is a little bit hard to get into because of the language. The way they do business is very formal, but not aggressive. You can’t go there and expect to blow up. You have to slowly work your way in. Even though it’s hard to break in, they like trying new things. When something new comes out everyone will be open to it and try it.
HipHopCanada: What are some major differences between your style and behavior in Vancouver versus Tokyo?
JayKin: I’m outside of my normal character in Japan, I feel like I’m not as laid back. I’m willing to try new styles and fashion and I’ve gotten into brighter colors. There’s no limit on fashion there. I feel like I don’t have to care what people think, everyone is staring at me anyways. One time I almost bought a pair of sneakers that went half way up my shin. I thought it was cool, but then I tried them on and looked in the mirror, and I was just like . . . what am I doing? Japan is so open and energetic. I guess that’s what’s addictive about it. When I come back to Vancouver, the pace is so different . . . but I have to just work with it.
HipHopCanada: How are the audiences different in Japan, in terms of how you are received?
JayKin: There’s more anticipation here. People are waiting to hear something. In Japan, they just love it. I don’t have to do too much. They can’t understand what I’m saying . . . so it’s all about the beat and the stage presence. They’re excited and curious about knowing me as a person. There’s a lot more groupie love out there . . . without the ‘bougieness’ . . . wink wink.
HipHopCanada: You’ve been teaching English out there. Has that experience reframed your perception of the English language?
JayKin: Yeah. I am grateful that I can speak English. So many people all over the world want to speak this language. I appreciate that I can travel anywhere.
HipHopCanada: Has teaching English had any effect on your music? Has it inspired you?
JayKin: It inspired me a lot. It’s actually a very complex language. When I was reading to my students, I had to slow down my words and pronounce everything properly. I learned a lot about pronunciation, which made my words a bit more clear. I didn’t plan it that way. It just kind of happened.
HipHopCanada: What kind of media exposure have you had in Japan?
JayKin: I was on TV . . . It’s pretty funny actually. I got into it through a co-worker I had who lived outside of Tokyo. In Japan they always have ads looking for foreigners, in this case to perform on a show. It was a local Tokyo show, which is still a pretty big population. It was a regular Japanese show: there’s always three things, eating, laughing and talking. Nothing but comedians and they’re always trying new foods and having guests, they like to entertain people with live things instead of just talking. It was out of this world. They had previously told me they wanted me to do the “Nippon” song, I wasn’t really nervous but I was just in awe of it all, it’s just different, they’re on top of things and everybody’s rushing and I was laid back, staring at everything around me. They told me ten seconds ahead that I had to do a funny pose in front of the paper screen. I’m a big fan of Dragonball Z, watched it in high school a lot. The pose I opened with was the Fusion pose: it takes 2 people to do and you have to be in perfect sync in order for it to work. I did the last pose, where 2 fingers have to touch and if you do it perfectly the two people actually become one character.
HipHopCanada: Did you get into Karaoke?
JayKin: Yeah. It’s funny cause there’s this guy named Jero. He’s a traditional Japanese singer. He’s a quarter Japanese, but he dresses really Hip-Hop. He sings traditional enka. When people see me they say, “Jero!” Usually if I go to karaoke, people get me to sing. They usually request 50 cent, Eminem and Jay-Z. I did “Blue Magic” and “Show Me What You Got”. It’s all synthesized, pre-made beats so it’s cheesy as hell. I can read two of the Japanese alphabets (hiragana and katakana), so I can do Japanese songs too.
HipHopCanada: What projects do you have planned for the future?
JayKin: Right now I’m working on getting Kinfolk out. It has been long overdue. There’s another project that I’m working on called Sneakers and Videogames. The concept behind that name comes from living in Japan. When I was living in Tokyo, I was living in a little tiny room that cost $800 a month. I’d come home from a day of work and look at what I had…it was all sneakers and videogames. I realized what I’m addicted to. Expect another video. I’m doing a bit of acting . . . but it’s in the really early stages, so I can’t say too much. It’s basically all about Tokyo and western culture.
HipHopCanada: Do you have any Shout-outs?
JayKin: Everybody at Alife, POS, Ephin, Stompdown. Everyone in Japan and Shibuya. My good friends: Ryuji, Kazu. Yohei, Kaori. And everyone in Vancouver that’s supported me.
Editor’s note: For more information on JayKin check out http://www.myspace.com/jaykin.
Written by Christabel Shaler for HipHopCanada