CREative teAM CREAM
The duo that are making Japanese hip hop hip
Singer-songwriter Minami and rapper/track maker Staxx T form the Japanese hip hop group CREAM. Influenced by hip hop, pop and electronic dance music, they have gained popularity through their CREAM VISION YouTube channel featuring original songs, Japanese covers of western songs, and live performances, earning over 22,000,000 views and over 68,000 subscribers. In October 2012, CREAM started a free download project “Tada Uta” on their official website where fans could download their music at no charge, and their debut album DREAMIN’ was released in January 2013.
TJ: How did you get the name CREAM? How can you use the name CREAM since it was used by another band?
MINAMI:Yeah, we get this a lot. The word CREAM comes from two words meshed together: “CREative” and “teAM.” Before we became CREAM we did a lot of outside jobs, writing for well-known artists here in Japan. We are creators and our creativity is very important to us and that’s where we came up with the name Creative Team.
TJ:Why do you write songs in English and then translate them into Japanese?
MINAMI: First of all my Japanese is not so good, so I am not really good at writing Japanese lyrics. I also think by writing the lyrics in English it gives the melody more of a U.S. / U.K. pop groove and when Staxx re-writes the lyrics in Japanese it creates a very unique sound. People say our music is Japanese but sounds sort of foreign and I think that is one of the key reasons why.
TJ:Why did you call yourselves brothers in a YouTube video?
MINAMI:Well, we have a brotherly sort of relationship. When we go to shows outside of Tokyo we tend to go out partying together. After the shows, just the two of us will go to a club, open some bottles of champagne and have a good time. It’s not like a girl-boy sort of relationship. It’s more of a brotherly relationship. I mean, we talk about anything with absolutely no filter. I know everything about him and he knows everything about me, so it’s pretty great. We don’t look at each other as opposite sexes.
TJ: OK, cool. So Staxx, I understand you did some modeling for a hip hop magazine. Are you still doing that?
STAXX: I modeled when I was in my teens and I’m trying to get back into it.
TJ: Minami, have you done any modeling?
MINAMI: No, but I’m really into fitness right now. I work out 3 or 4 times a week at the gym. Fitness has become a passion of mine, so I do want to get into modeling. My dream or goal for this year is to land a campaign with a big sports brand like Nike or Adidas.
TJ: Do you have a favorite band that inspired you?
STAXX: Dragon Ash, Black-Eyed Peas.....
TJ: So are you the Japanese will.i.am?
MINAMI: No, he’s a Japanese Staxx T!(laughs). He really likes Dragon Ash. They did a lot of early hip hop stuff and were huge in the early 2000s. I love Mariah [Carey] and Whitney Houston. Utada Hikaru is amazing. I really love Bruno Mars. I love people who can write music for others as well and are successful at doing that. We are also really inspired by a lot of producers. He likes Swizz Beatz....
MINAMI:I’m all about that L.A. pop sound like Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco.....
TJ: And Minami, you’ve written songs for other people as well. Who did you write for?
MINAMI: Amuro Namie, BoA, m-flo and others. I actually did a charity song for Kylie Minogue for the earthquake appeal in Japan. Staxx has also written lyrics for a lot of artists too. Actually, right now we have a song out with Hey! Say! JUMP, which became #1 on the Oricon charts. That was a pretty big deal for us. There are some other really big projects coming out.
TJ: And with whom have you collaborated?
MINAMI: I did a bunch of songs with m-flo for their SQUARE ONE album and featured with VERBAL on his solo album. WISE and Tarantula were on our album; they are both rappers.
STAXX: ...and Matt Cab.
MINAMI: Matt also started on YouTube. Staxx did a song with AKLO recently. His music is really cool.
TJ: How many cover songs have you guys done?
STAXX: A lot: Around 30.
TJ: And do you enjoy doing cover songs?
MINAMI: Yeah, we do, but at the same time we try to make sure that we are not portrayed as a cover artist because our creativity is really important to us. So right now we aren’t really doing a lot of covers and are focusing more on our originals. But we did enjoy doing covers and putting our own twist to them. They’re always fun. We thought they were a great way to reach out to fans of those artists and to let them hear our sound.
TJ: What are your upcoming plans?
MINAMI: Our second album is coming out April 30th and the title of it is going to be “#nofilter.”
TJ: Why did you choose that name?
MINAMI: The first album was a first time experience so there were a lot of things we hesitated on. We kind of adjusted to things that we didn’t really believe in. For the second album we made it a mission to really do the music we believed in and wanted to do and say the things we wanted to say without putting a filter on it. The second album is more true to what CREAM and our sound is, so that’s the reason we named it #nofilter.
TJ: So what’s going to differentiate you from all the other bands out there?
MINAMI: The thing about the Japanese market is the top-selling artists are all girl or boy idol groups. We are artists. We write our own music, come up with our own concepts, we even share our promotion ideas with our marketing team. We are very hands on. I think we have a different sound. We look different; we act different. I don’t think I’m like a typical Japanese girl. We stay true to who we are and I think that’s why people like us. We do what is not the norm in Japan and I think that’s why we have the fan base that we have.
TJ: That’s great. Do you have any advice for musicians who are just starting out right now?
MINAMI: Dream big. No dream is impossible. Envision what you want to be in the future and how you will feel when you get there. Also, if you want to get out there, you can’t wait for a chance to happen. You have to make it happen. Whether it’s putting your video out on YouTube or sending out for auditions, you have to move and take action. STAXX: Studying English is a good idea! If you learn English, it will give you more opportunities all over the world. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #274 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.