Disc jockey, music producer
Hip-hop pioneers aren't what one would usually expect to come out of Japan. Growing up in Tokyo, Japan, turntabalist and producer DJ Krush has forged new ground with his jazz infused, hip-hop style of electronica music since the early '90s. Unlike many of his peers and followers, DJ Krush's career has prospered not only in Japan but in the United States and all over the world. His entrancing music and production aesthetics have earned him the credentials to work with some of the world's finest MCs and singers. Remix's Bill Murphy summed up DJ Krush's admirable career by stating that the DJ has "established a sound that extended the DJ lexicon of backspins, samples and loops into new areas … molding live musicians and a lush, orchestral production style into what could easily be identified as the first real recorded instances of hip-hop composition, almost in the classical sense." Murphy continued writing that, "Krush has been at the forefront of innovation in hip-hop, lending his distinctive touch not only to his own albums but also to remixes for Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Bill Laswell, Galliano, Method Man…."
Born Hideaki Ishii in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, as a young child, Krush would hear the jazz records his father played in the house on a regular basis. He couldn't have known at the time that years later, jazz would be one of his biggest musical influences. In grade school, like many of his peers, Krush listened to loud rock music on his headphones, while daydreaming of playing guitar on stage in front of thousands of people. His love for rock 'n' roll only lasted through his early teens, after which he began to ditch school to hang out with his friends and get into loads of trouble. In 1983, Krush's world would change forever after watching the hip-hop/breakdancing/graffiti documentary film Wild Style. Krush credits the film for his venture into hip-hop, which would become a lasting obsession. "There is no one word that can express my fascination with hip-hop," Krush told Billboard's Rashaun Hall. "It isn't an exaggeration to say that hip-hop is my life."
It would be another four years before Krush debuted as a hip-hop artist in a group called Krush Posse. In 1992, after Krush Posse disbanded, Krush went off on his own and reinvented himself as a solo DJ. He quickly gained a name for himself as one of the first prominent DJs to use turntables as live instruments, performing sets with live musicians. "The hip-hop I want to do is different from U.S. hip-hop because I am Japanese," Krush relayed to Hall. "I continue to look for 'DJ Krush hip-hop.' So the best way to express my appreciation for hip-hop music was to create my own hip-hop." Krush released his debut solo album, Krush, in the early part of 1994. As soon as he started in the field, he kept on going. Later in the year, London label Mo' Wax put out Strictly Turntablized and followed that with his next release, Meiso.
Featuring a collaboration with DJ Shadow, Meiso foreshadowed the beginnings of the burgeoning trip-hop sound—a down tempo, jazz and soul-affected ambient style of hip-hop-beat driven music. With 1997's MiLight, Krush enlisted a score of guest MCs and female soul singers. Salon's Michelle Goldberg wrote that MiLight had a "deliciously narcotic groove," with "dense complexity." Writer Justin Hardison summed up Krush's unique and prolific style in the online magazine Hybrid as, "Like a minimalist, he is able to express so much with a small amount of sound, only the essential gear and a close attention to detail."
With collaborations left and right for his own records as well as others', Krush continued to release a score of impressive albums that showcased his originality in the field. "Lots of artists take a famous song, loop it, and rap over that. That's fine for other people but I'm not satisfied," he told Hardison. "I want to do the total opposite and create something different in which I come up with the idea that I'm going to bring to the track. I don't sample sounds directly. I always want to tweak them and make them different."
In 1998, Ki-Oku, an entire album partnership with trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, hit and was soon followed by Kakusei in 1999 and the mix albums Code 4109 and Tragicomic in 2000. That same year Krush spent six months recording his next record in cities all over the world including, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and New York. Zen appeared in 2001 to international rave reviews. With album cover art designed by Krush himself, the album was a mélange of sounds and included a bevy of respected vocalists. Guest singers like Zap Mama, The Roots' Black Thought, and singer N'Dea Davenport (of The Brand New Heavies) all appeared on what Remix's Ken Micallef called "a set of ruptured beats and brooding productions." The album's title was a culmination of the formation of the record's tracks. "By Zen, I mean slowly or gradually—little by little," Krush said in his interview with Hall. "The 20th century was the century of destruction for man. In the 21st century, we have to re-create what we've destroyed slowly and gradually. I explained the concept to all the guest artists, so the tracks are the outcome of their interpretations of their own Zen." Zen was awarded Best Electronica Album at the AIFM Awards in the United States in 2002.
Inspired by the September 11 tragedy, Krush's 2003 output, Shinsou: The Message at the Depth, was as much a spiritual journey as it was musical. Collaborations with Anti-Pop Consortium, underground rapper Anticon, and Sly & Robbie made for a heavy collection of songs. Shinsou also marked the beginning of Krush using more computers in his work; something he consciously stayed away from in the past. In a review of Shinsou, All Music Guide's John Bush wrote, "His beats are digital, heavily resampled and quantized, splintering off like drum'n'bass patterns but possessing a depth and clarity not seen since the heyday of Massive Attack."
With moody and mellow atmospheres, Krush quickly followed up Shinsou with the release of Jaku, an album that Creative Loafing's Tony Ware said was "fraught with delicious tension." Def Jux rappers Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock put some hip sounds into the now legendary DJ's productions. Still performing live and recording albums, in 2006, Krush remixed 25 of some of his best tracks of all time, releasing a record titled Stepping Stones: The Self-Remixed Best. In his 40s, Krush sees no sign of stopping what he's doing. "I think back to when I first started playing for people in Harajuku [a district in Tokyo] and how exciting that felt. It stills feels the same way today," he admitted to Remix. "But I wouldn't still be doing this if it weren't satisfying creatively and if there weren't still people out there who seem to enjoy what I'm doing. So I'm grateful for all of that."
For the Record …
Born Hideaki Ishii in 1962, in Tokyo, Japan.
Joined hip-hop group Krush Posse, 1987; debuted as a solo artist, DJ, and producer with Krush and Strictly Turntablized, 1994; released Meiso, 1996; MiLight, 1997; Zen, 2001; Shinsou: The Message at the Depth, 2003; Jaku, 2004; released his own remixed album of his greatest tracks as Stepping Stones: The Self-Remixed Best, 2006.
Awards: AIFM Award, Best Electronica Album, 2002.
Addresses: Record company—Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website—DJ Krush Official Website: http://www.mmjp.or.jp/sus/krush/.
Krush, Shadow, 1994.
Strictly Turntablized, Mo' Wax, 1994.
Meiso, Mo' Wax, 1996.
MiLight, A&M/Mo' Wax, 1997.
(With Toshinori Kondo) Ki-Oku, R&S, 1998.
Holonic: The Self Megamix, Mo' Wax, 1998.
Kakusei, Columbia, 1999.
Code 4109, Red Ink, 2000.
Tragicomic, Sony, 2000.
Zen, Red Ink, 2001.
Shinsou: The Message at the Depth, Red Ink, 2003.
Jaku, Red Ink, 2004.
Stepping Stones: The Self-Remixed Best, Sony Japan, 2006.
Billboard, September 15, 2001, p. 43.
Creative Loafing, October 21, 2004.
Remix, February 1, 2003; December 1, 2004.
"DJ Krush," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 30, 2006).
"DJ Krush," Salon, http://www.salon.com/music/sharps/1997/11/24sharps.html (October 30, 2006).
"DJ Krush: A Conversation with the Zen Master," Hybrid Magazine, http://www.hybridmagazine.com/level/interviews/1101/djkrush.shtml (October 30, 2006).
DJ Krush Official Website, http://www.mmjp.or.jp/sus/krush/ (October 30, 2006).