Underground hip-hop has always been HUGE in Japan, and while I have never been there, speaking to Japanese hip-hop fans and reading interviews with some of the underground's finest artists emcees like the D.I.T.C. crew, Biz Markie or even Swedish greats like LoopTroop are seemingly being treated as royalty amongst Japanese heads who knows what time it is. This has resulted in those very same rtists showing love back, releasing incredible albums, compilations and singles (on both wax, CD and cassette) for the Japanese market only that goes for absolutely ridciolous prices in the Western world on sites like Discogs. Good examples is the "All Love" and live album put out by DITC (the former being the third and final version of their '99-'00 debut that's just fantastic), 12" singles by producer Nigo featuring GZA/Prodigal Sunn ("Kung Fu Fighting 2000") and Rakim ("Once Upon A Rhyme"), exclusive mixtapes by Pete Rock and Lord Finesse, or the Next Level Recordings sampler EP which features exclusive music by Biz Markie/DJ Premier, OC/Lord Finesse, Showbiz/Zeebra, Da Beatminerz/Rino, Sadat X, Rhymester/Buckwild and Zeebra/DJ Premier. It's a beautful thing though of course you can get a bit jealous that you don't have a chance to cop these amazing records without shelling out a fortune.
This post focus lies on the aforementioned "lost" classic that is "Once Upon a Rhyme in Japan" (not to be confused with Ra's '95 song "Once Upon a Rhyme" as they have little in common beside the artist and the similiar title). Nigo is these days, since 2004, a founding member of the Teriyaki Boyz which is a bit suprising considering the vast differences in sound between them and Nigo as a solo producer. In 2000 he released a mini album called "Shadows of the Ape Sounds" via Toy's Factory, featuring collaborations with Biz Markie, Beatnuts, Flavor Flav, GZA/Prodigal Sunn, and of course Rakim. "Once Upon a Rhyme" makes use of some traditional Japanese/oriental instrumentation, the sitar, and most importantly agressively hard bass and drum combination that's absolutely perfect for The God MC. While I definitely don't feel his "The Master" LP is even half as bad as many people try to make it, this experience was unbelivable, this is that true headbanging shit you've been fiending for with Ra, through his commanding voice that are never drowned out by the loudness of the beat and lyrics so strong he really gives you that "Oh Shit" feeling, while hanging on every syllable Ra utters, It's a real shame this maxi-single was never released overseas
As if the in-your-face punch of the original wasn't enough the always impeccable DJ Muro got the chance to remix the song for a single release, and the version which takes a totally different stand still manages to be just as good. DJ Muro is probably more of a strict hip-hop producer than Nigo, especially siince he almost since the beginning of his career, and still, has worked with a lot of US heavyweights. The BPM is much more laidback in typical hip-hop fashion, somewhere around 85-90, which manages to put Ra even more at the forefront of the composition. Muro cooks up a lovely Rhodes sample over a pounding, yet somber drum- and bass-combo that I'm very well familiar with, but at the time of writing I actually can't place it for some reason - it's definitely not something I have in my record collection but I believe I've heard someone else use it. It's a good thing how different these two remixes are, and depending on my mood, I could really go with either one of these bangers that NEED to be heard by any serious fan of Rakim. Both songs are in 320 kbps and ripped form CD sources; there's no instrumental or accapella though, unfortunately this was released as two separate singles both on vinyl and CD, with one containing the original (plus instro and acapella), while the other featured Muro's remix (plus intro and acapella). They sound great together though so pless play while we eagerly await new music from Mr. R to the M.
01. "Once Upon a Rhyme in Japan" [Original]
02. "Once Upon a Rhyme in Japan" [DJ Muro Remix]