One Decade Down: J-R&B Artist Who Are Still In The Biz

1.10.11 ShaSha LaPerf 10 Comments

So recently I wrote a blog post about K-Pop and artists that I really missed hearing music from. As I'm learning from many of my friendly commenters, it's pretty clear what an impact K-music is having in the general music industry. There's is definitely tons of talk about K-music, so much that J-music is possibly being overshadowed as a result. The Japanese music industry has been doing fairly well with it being one of the larget music industries in the world. So I'm not too worried bout them losing too much steam. However, I do think that the Japanese R&B scene is losing steam and exposure. So I wanted to give some love to a few artists out there that could use a bit more exposure! But I selected a special group of people for this.

One reason why I find it so difficult for me to get on board with K-pop is because artists only seem to last for a few years at most. Feels like every year 20 new people come out, groups break up and become solo artists, another 20 comes out, blah bla blah, it's a long cycle. On the other hand a lot of J-pop artists like Hamasaki Ayumi, SMAP, and Mr. Children have been in full force for at least a decade now. This doesn't apply to just pop artist as many Japanese R&B artists have been going strong for quite some time. Kubota Toshi is probably one of the longest with his career spanning 25 years...the man just released a new single last week! Since I already gave a bit of spotlight to Chemistry and EXILE, I want to focus on some other artists that have been around for at least ten years, some of them reaching up to 20 years. I won't be able to cover everyone, but these are a few artist that I like to listen to and are still making music these days. Some of these artists I may have mentioned a while ago but hell, they're so damn good they need to be talked about again! So here they are in order their first official debut single release years:

Debut Single - L.L. Brothers no teema (1991)
Most Recent Release -
Damn Girl! (2011 as members of SUGAR SHACK)

I debated adding this group to this post, but I figured some people might get a kick out of this one. L.L. BROTHERS are a pretty underground group that was mostly know for their dancing. They're appeared an several dance shows since their debut including appearances on the Japanese dance show Shonen Chample in the mid-00s. Brothers Takanori and Masaya make up the group. L.L. BROTHERS have a serious case of "thugabee-dom" more so than some of the other people I'll list on this page.Seriously they dudes actually rocked FADES back in the day. Their music is contemporary R&B though it goes into straight fucking music territory from time to time (think of groups like Jodeci and Silkk). But they're very sporadic with music releases so it's pretty hard to music from them. Their largest album release was with Sony Music records in 2004 for their BACK AGAIN album. Since then they've appeared on different collaboration projects, the most recent being SUGAR SHACK which is a group of male R&B artists and groups. "That's My Life" isn't one of my fave songs by them, but I'm posted it because of the WTF-ness of it.

Other recommended songs: Love Is On the Way

Yonekura Toshinori
Debut Single - Mikan no Android (1992)
Most Recent Release - My Dear Friend (2010)

Yonekura is a lesser known version of Kubota Toshi. Though he has a decent fan base in Japan, he never seemed to reach the same kind of fame. His music style is mostly Neo-Soul, and he sites artists like Donny Hathaway, Luther Vandross, and Erykah Badu as his favorites. It's a bit hard to find out a lot of info on him, even from his Japanese website. Recently he appeared in a the stage production of "Rent." On a shallow note, he's pushing 40 but still looks damn hot. Here's an older video from him for his single "Do Something Real" which was released in 2000. This concert performance took place back in 2009 though. I did find the video version of this song but the tight ass black leather pants he was wearing scared me a bit. Plus I think this version sounds a bit better.

Other recommended songs:
I'll Harvest in Your Soul, Butterfly

Debut single -  No Make on de Bed (1995)
Most Recent Release - ANOTHER LIFE ft. KUREI (2011); Untitled singled (2011)

Skoop on Somebody was a three member band with vocalist TAKE, drummer KO-HEY, and keyboard/piano player KO-ICHIRO. Their music style is mostly neo-soul and contemporary R&B. But the guys have branched out, even doing an ending song for the anime series, BLEACH. They've collaborated with artists like Chemistry and EXILE/ In terms of vocals, I think Take the most soulful Japanese voice out there, even better than Kubota Toshi and Atsushi from EXILE. He even released a solo album a few years ago. Recently, KO-HEY decided to leave the group so now TAKE and KO-ICHIRO continue on. They will release a new single within the next two months. The video below is from their 2006 concert and titled "Happy People" which is the song they did for BLEACH. This video is pretty special to me because me and my friend Teri went to this concert the day after Christmas back in 2006 and it was one of the best concerts I'd been too. This video doesn't really showcase his voice, but just watching TAKE broke out into "Oh Happy Day" with a choir is simply worth watching! This video features all three of them as a group.

Other recommended songs: Still, Sha La La, This New Morning, Eternal Snow, Butterfly

Hirai Ken
Debut Single - Precious Junk (1995)
Most Recent Release - Itooshiki Hibi Yo (2011)

Hirai Ken competes with Yonekura and Kubota when it comes to male singers. Though he debuted in 1995, it was his The Changing Same album (my fave album by the way) release in 1999 that really got him attention. He's also pretty know for his looks. He's on the tall side and is considered to be "foreign-looking" by many Japanese people (he's 100% Japanese). He's also know for his falsettos. His music style changes from pop to sappy ballads to neo soul to contemporary R&B, and he's consistently charted for the past few years. Hirai has not tried to break into the US market but he has hell several concerts in the states. He's also collaborated with Babyface and sang with John Legend. For him a choose a recent song called "Sing Forever" which was released last year and is on his album, Japanese Singer. It's one of his more upbeat songs with a bit of a gospel sound to it.

Other recommended songs:
Girls3x, Rakuen, Miracles, Why, R&B

Debut Single - The Way We Were (1998)
Most Recent Release - LOL depends on the m-flo era.

m-flo originally consisted of members TAKU, LISA, and VERBAL. The name m-flo is actually short for "media-rite flo" and they often used space/sci-fi related themes in their videos and on their albums. LISA was the singer/rapper while Verbal and Taku also rapped and produced their music. All three members are bilingual, which reflected in there music. As a group, they were hip-hop and R&B. In 2002, LISA left the group. VERBAL and TAKU continued on as m-flo, but created the "m-flo loves" project which featured artists like Crystal Kay, Yoshika, WheeSung, MINMI, and Amuro Namie. With the new project came a new style, which the music blended more electronic, house, and techno into their style. The "loves" project when from 2004 and ended in 2007. Later, the release two m-flo tribute albums which featured new artists singer their songs including ICONIQ and AILI. VERBAL and TAKU are both pretty well known in the J-pop world as VERBAL has done a lot of collaboration work outside of m-flo and is a member of the hip-hop group The Teriyaki Boyz. TAKU is a prominent DJ and sought after producer. The two went on a short hiatus but recently announced on Twitter they would be teaming up again. It is unknown if LISA will rejoin the group or not. For m-flo, I choose "Hands" which is probably my all-time fave J-music song ever. The music, Lisa's vocals, and Verbal rap blend so damn well on this song. I have to say that I prefer m-flo's older music than the "loves" stuff. While I enjoyed a few songs, nothing has really got to me like the Planet Shining and EXPO EXPO albums.

Other recommended songs: L.O.T., Yours Only, Magenta Rain, Love Don't Cry (with Crystal Kay), Let Go (with Yoshika)

Debut Single - Tsutsumi komi you ni... (1995)
Most Recent Release - Kioku (2011)

MISIA is a very known artist in Japan, mostly for her powerful voice and dreadlocks. Compared to some of the other artists here, it didn't take MISIA too long to rise to fame. Her third single, Believe was No. #2 on the Oricon charts when it was released in 1999. In 2000 "Escape" and "Everything" were back-toback No.#1 released. "Everything" broke the 2 million sold mark (which is actually a huge deal in Japan). MISIA blends soul and R&B with house and techno. I got to see her perfrom briefly at a club one night and she is the real deal vocally. She's worked with many big time artists like Kubota Toshi and Erykah Badu. I choose "Any Love" for MISIA. I did find the video version pretty easy (which I think was filmed in Nairob), but I like the live version because it really showcases her vocals. 

Other recommended songs: Any Love, Escape, IN MY SOUL, Maware Maware, Everything

Debut Single - For Me (1998)
Most Recent Release - Tatto (2011); Untitled Single ft. Junsu from 2PM (2011)

DOUBLE was actually a pair of twins named Takako and Sachiko. However just before the release of the Shake album in 1999, Sachiko died of brain complications. Takako went out a solo artist but kept the name in memory of her sister. DOUBLE is considered to be the "Queen of Japanese R&B" and has worked with Japanese artists like ZEEBRA, Hirai Ken, AI, Amuro Namie and Shota Shimizu. She even released a jazz-inspired album called "Life is Beautiful" in 2004. She didn't try to break into the US market but does have an all English version of her "double" album which was released in 2001. DOUBLE took a short break from the music industry due to health reasons but made a comeback this year, releasing a video for the song "Tattoo." Tattoo doesn't do a good job of showing off Double's voice because of autotuning, but I have to say I was never a big fan of her voice anyway. Yet, I like the drama of the song and video. A lot of DOUBLE's videos feature partying or sappy romance, so I was surprised to see her try something different with this one.

Other recommended songs: Wonderful, Driving All Night, You Got To, You Took My Heart Away, Handle

Crystal Kay
Debut Single - Eternal Memories (1999)
Most Recent Single Release - Journey ~ kimi to futari de (2010)

Crystal Kay is black and Korean but was born and raised in Japan. Actually I figured a lot of people knew about her already which is why I didn't give her a special post like I thought about doing a while ago. Anyway, she was pretty slow to rise to fame but made it big when her album Almost Seventeen made a high debut on the Oricon charts in 2002. She was the first to appear in the m-flo loves project with TAKU and VERBAL after LISA left the group. She was also the "last" to appear on the project bringing it to full circle with the single "Love Don't Cry" in 2007. She's collaborated with a quite a few other people like BoA, CHEMISTRY, and Jin Akanishi from the J-pop group KAT-TUN. She's fluent in both English and Japanese and has relesed some English versions of her songs. I do think at one point she toyed with the idea of trying for the US market. Crystal Kay has done music for many anime series like Full Metal Alchemist, Pokemon, and Nodame Cantible. She also broke into the acting scene as a hacker for the Japanese TV drama "Hidarime Tantei Eye." It's a bit unclear on what she's doing now as she may no longer be with Sony Music, but I'm sure she'll bounce back in a minute. Crystal Kay has moved a bit away from her R&B style and more into a pop sound over recent years, so I debated actually adding her this list. Then again so have many of the other artists I listed here. Anyway, I went to Crystal Kay's first single, "Eternal Memories" a my song choice. I still listen to this song quite often and shows that the girl definitely had potential.

Other recommended songs: Lost Child, Telepathy, Magic, think of u, I'm Not Alone

Full of Harmony
Debut Single - Be Alright (1999)
Most Recent Single Release - Over Again (2011 as members of SUGAR SHACK); Back to the Floor (2011 split release with artsit LEO)

Full of Harmony (F.O.H.) is a very underrated group. Despite their early release they were overshadowed by groups like EXILE, DA PUMP, and CHEMISTRY. The group consists of three members, ARATA, HIRO, and YUTAKA. The group has released 7 albums though the highest they're charted on the Oricon is with their PROJECT VIKING album in 2002 (It peaked at #40). They've done a lot of collaborations with Japanese hip-hop artists like ZEEBRA and RHYMESTER. They've also worked with DOUBLE, and Palm Drive. In 2006 they teamed up with Ne-Yo for their single "Brand New Day" then released "G.O.O.D. Times," a collaboration with Teddy Riley later that year (they also covered Blackstreet's "Before I Let You Go" on the same single). HIRO has released two solo albums under the name "Mihiro". However the members are still a group as they recently appeared as members of the SUGAR SHACK group. Speaking of, I choose "Over Again" from that album. FOH tend to make good R&B ballads their vocals are on point in this one.

Other recommended songs: AROMA, SWEET NOVEMBER, G.O.O.D. Times, Typhoon, magic

Debut Single - Cry, Just Cry (2000)
Most Recent Release - STRONGER ft. Kato Miliya (2010)

Where as MISIA is know for her high notes, AI is known for her rapsy, deep voice. She's spent a lot of time in the US and is white and Japanese. In her early years she appeared on Janet Jackson's "Go Deep" video. AI was originally a B-girl which reflected in her clothing and music styles. She's also a rapper, showing off her skills in songs like "I Wanna Know" which was released in 2006. Her biggest single hit was the 2005 release of her ballad STORY. It was also a huge hit in karaoke places.  If anyone could break into the IS I though it would be AI. She's worked with Boyz II Men, Snoop Dogg, Chaka Khan, Trey Songz, and blasian R&B artists Judith Hill (many peole may recognize her as a performer on Michael Jackson's last tour and his televised funeral). She's worked with Japanese artists as well including rapper AK-69, Amuro Namie, DELI, and Atsushi from EXILE. Over the years AI has shed her b-girl style but still brings out some great music. "I Wanna Know" is a hot song but I couldn't find the video for it. I actually like the video a lot because it features a random tap dance scene and AI breaks out some of her own moves. But I found this live version which I think is pretty damn good.

Other recommended songs: My Friend, Thank You, STRONGER, Story, I'll Remember You

Honorable Mention
Debut Single - Step Into the New World (2002)
Most Recent Release - World Go Round ft. Lecca (2011)

I had to give SOULHEAD an honorbale mention since their "official" release was in 2002. But they were the other reason why I decided to do this blog post. SOULHEAD is a sister act consisting of Tsugumi and Yoshiki. Although the duo didn't appear on television TV shows like Hey!Hey!Hey!MUSIC CHAMP and MUSIC Station, the did quite well on the music charts with their first album, "Oh My Sister" debuting at No. #3 on the Oricon charts. SOULHEAD is on the few Japanese group groups that use harmony, and they often mixed a bit of rap into the music. They took a short break in 2007, and re-emerged in 2010 with a new record label and a new look. SOULHEAD have appeared on the tribute album to Kubota Toshi in 2004 and had a bit hit with their 2005 collaboration with Koda Kumi. I got a chance to see SOULHEAD when I was in Japan (interestingly at the same club were I saw MISIA) and they definitely put on a show. One of my fave songs by them is "Pray" which is an upbeat song. Actually I like to listen to this song when I'm driving around.

Other recommended songs: 9 Dayz, Forgive Me, Got to Leave, ANATA, Whatever

Already that's enough for now. I suggest everyone head to get some music by these folks!


  1. Love this post!! I saw you over on BWLB have been lurking for a little while. I am really feeling Yonekura Toshinori, Skoop On Somebody (artist singing Oh Happy Day has my vote any day) :) Crystal Kay I love her voice. I am definitely going to add a few of these artists to my music library.

    Currently I am Gackt enthusiast and can’t get enough of his music.

  2. I must say that I really like this post. Most of your recommendations I am not familiar with, with the exception of Crystal Kay. She is very talented to me. I have to look more into these artists. xD

  3. Aww man.. I'm convinced that I have missed out on some really good music here. LL Brothers have it going on. Now that is really good music.

    The Hallyu wave is all over the world. but I concur with you, I may listen to one or two songs that may get my attention from K-pop,but so far I cannot grasp that connection with most of K-pop.

    With K-pop you cannot get a "relationship" with the singers and other entertainers because there is always someone coming out. I could be wrong,but another problem with K-pop is that it seems to be geared..sometimes unintentionally, to younger people. Even you have for example people Like Rain, Se7en who goes R&B/pop,but overall, they are ignored by many of their fans. Rain is going to the military, you would think his sending off party would be bigger on some of these Kpop websites considering that he is one of their most biggest Korean stars in their country.

    I only remembered some Japanese entertainers, like my favorite group Hiroshima. Back in the days, Japan was it! They were recognized by everybody..especially with the Black community from business to entertainment.. people just thought that the Japanese was the coolest people in the world.

    I could be wrong and I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in Japanese/international affairs,but( correct me if I'm wrong about it)but when it comes to entertainment, the Japanese seems to be more inclusive of foreigners being in there than Korea. That is one of several gripes some people have about it is that they are shielding some of them off, especially Black people..the very people they like to model after. The Japanese may be a homogeneous society and some of the natives may prefer for it to be that way,but when it comes to music/drama business like this, they don't seem as quick to dismiss them like that.Right now, the sun is shining on Korea,but if they are not careful, some other Asian country may be in their position.

    I only say that Japan is down right now,but I would never say knocked out. I don't know....there is something about the Japanese impact in the world that will never die. They will be back bigger and better.

    1. M I agree with you. I actually like the LL Brothers. When I saw all of those sistas in their video, I was like damn! "They ain't scared!" They have that Jodeci, Silk vibe (I love 90's r&b)

      They definitely seem more inclusive than Korea, and they seem to embody the essence of r&b/soul/neo-soul music. What some Korean artists call "r&b/soul" I don't agree with. Most of it doesn't sound like r&b to me.

      Thanks for this post shasha! I'll be on youtube tonight doing research!

  4. @M, another fan of, I still love their music. And you’re right, they were the Shish back in the day.

    “you would think his sending off party would be bigger on some of these Kpop websites considering that he is one of their most biggest Korean stars in their country” You think??!! I was wondering that myself. It’s like he is an after thought already.

    I’ll stay a fan if Japanese music I don’t care what they do. Well, almost. Good music is good music. I enjoy the melody of the song most of the time rather than words anyway.

  5. @Lady Orchid,

    What those fans don't realize that if it wasn't for Rain, Korea wouldn't be on their map. The man is so big there that their tourism board are awfully worried about the effects that his impending departure will have on his country. For now, I think that Korea will be fine,but if those fangirls and their entertainment managers aren't careful, they will destroy a great thing.

    I miss Hiroshima. Now those were some guys who could claim that their music was theirs. Mixed Japanese/RB what a great combo.I loved " San Say""One Wish" and" Nichi pi san she Go"( can't spell the Japanese words for 1,2,3,4, 5,) Oh how I miss their music.

    Rain said that after his stint in the military that he will heading to Hollywood. I'm hoping that he'll become more famous and if he does,some of those same fans shouldn't have no say about it. They weren't there for him now. Why does he need them in the future.

  6. Woohoo! Glad to hear that you all are looking into these folks! :D

    @M: I think you're spot on with the age thing. I know generally pop music is targeted at younger audiences but Korea seems to have a cut off age of around 30. I think most of the people in the article I wrote about K-Pop artists are pushing 30, but none of them are really around anymore. Rain is pushing 30 and is probably already seen as "old" by a lot of people despite his popularity. I think there's a feeling of, "well we can easily find someone younger who does his music style and has his swag in a minute." Meanwhile, most of Japan's biggest artists like Amuro Namie and Hamasaki Ayumi are over 30 and selling mad amounts of CDs and having sold out concerts. Most of the artists I listed here are 30 and over with the exception of Crystal Kay. Even though they are all R&B artists, they're also very distinct: MISIA has "the voice," Skoop on Somebody is "the band," AI is the "rapper/singer." Even though I said Hirai Ken, Yonekura Toshinori, and Kubota Toshi has similar music styles, they're still distinct enough that when you hear them you'll say, "oh yeah, that's DEFINITELY a Hirai Ken song right there!" I've been listening to J-pop since about 2000-2001 so I've seen a lot of these artist grow and even when they don't make No. #1 on the charts, I'm still excited to see them release music.

    As for foreigners in Japan, I think Japan is more open to them, but I also think they seem them as a "novelty act." While Japan has it's fair share of artists from idols to J-R&B, there's also a segment of novelty artists that come out. Check out "Matsuken Samba" that song was crazy popular in Japan. when Jiro came out, his appeal was that he was a black man who looked like a "thug" but did enka. Although I think he's established credibility over time, he was clearly seen as just a novelty when he first came out. I'd say the same for MONKEY MAJIK, Leah Dizon, etc. (though I also think MM estbalished credibility pretty quickly too). I'm not sure of when the Hallyu wave started in Japan, but I remember BoA not being that popular when she first started out there. I do remember the hoopla over Winter sonata in maybe 2004-2005 and I remember documentaries about Japanese women who loved the show, and wanted to learn/visit Korea because of it. Rain and SE7EN were not that popular when they did their Japanese releases but Tohoshinki seemed to rise fast in comparison. Seems like after Tohoshinki the wave fully rushed into Japan. But even though you can find K-pop stars getting on the Oricon, I don't think any of them will come remotely close to the fame that J-pop stars get.

    Okay I'm seeing two recommendations here for Hiroshima so I'm gonna have to check them out! ::heads to Youtube::

  7. Oh mentioned Jero and I've got him. I like how he deceived his audience with his thug look and then he comes out singing that beautiful Enka to the ears!

    In spite of the dry spell that Japan is experiencing with their entertainment, I still am more inclined to their entertainment that Korea. Don't get me wrong, it's a great thing that K-pop and K-dramas is getting a lot of recognition,but with Japanese entertainment it's more inclusive of it has been for years.

    I don't know about you,but Hiroshima was it for me in the day. Their Japanese-American music long with the Rb and jazz just gave them a distinct flavor that kept me glued at my radio when I was listening to jazz.Now if some of those K-pop fangirls want to know what " distinct" music is they should listen to them.

  8. The first chance I had, I looked up Double on youtube. I love her music and her mv's are so artistic. I also think highly of Full of Harmony now. Japan is seriously giving the U.S a run for its money in R&B.

  9. @M: I got to see Jero when he perform in DC for the cherry blossom festival a few years ago. I'm not an enka fan but I have to give him props for doing so well with it. He even got more young people into enka and I think he got a movie role last year. LOL don't get me started on K-drama! I'm not a big fan of it outside of Goong and Full House, but I am a fan of J-drama. Again I think there's more variety. People rave about the Korea version of Boys Over Flowers but the acting was so bad...give me the Japanese version any day.

    @Lady: Yaya another FOH fan! These guys are SO underrated. Like I said I'm big fans of Chemistry and EXILE but I think FOH should be a more popular group than they are. As for DOUBLE, she's had some songs that were pretty blah, but then she brings me back with something like Spring Love or Tattoo. I'm looking forward to her new album!

    And I finally got to check out Hiroshima. Thanks ladies for the recommendation. It's good stuff!