A Japanese female rapper named Akko Gorilla (akko gorira) released a song earlier this year that prominently features samples taken from a song used in the popular Super Nintendo game Donkey Kong Country. The samples, which are from the Donkey Kong Country song titled “DK Island Swing,” are clearly audible at several points in the song. Given this and the fact that the song is called “Donkey Kong,” you would think that the song is about the classic video game character but that is not the case. Lyrically the song has almost nothing to do with the classic video game character aside from the occasional mention of his name. Nevertheless it’s still a fun song and music video.
After I stumbled across this video it got me curious about who exactly Akko Gorilla is. Certainly this video makes it clear that she is quite an interesting character. Her unique visual and musical style make her stand out in a Japanese music scene which sometimes feels like it’s filled with generic teenage idols. Interestingly enough though, Akko Gorilla herself began her career in that world of “cute” and “innocent” female music groups.
Akko Gorilla, a Tokyo native, made her major debut in 2011 as the drummer of the 2 girl pop rock band HAPPY BIRTHDAY. One listen to a HAPPY BIRTHDAY song and the last thing you would think is “one of these girls is going to be a rapper one day” but that’s exactly what happened.
Akko Gorilla, who during her pop band days was going simply by Akko, used to fool around and rap on stage as the Akko Gorilla character during the band’s live performances. She explains in an AOL Japan interview that even back then she would think to herself “I’ve got a knack for this rap thing.” However, it would not be until the band broke up in 2015 that she would take on the Akko Gorilla moniker full-time and start devoting herself to becoming a rapper.
Of course, becoming a rapper and getting accepted by other rappers is easier said than done. Although she had the musical ability and the drive she still was unfamiliar with the whole hip hop scene and its culture. So after getting some advice from a rapper friend she decided to participate in a well-known rap battle competition called “MC BATTLE THE bato” (罵倒/bato = abuse, disparagement). Interestingly, in an AOL Japan interview she reveals that when her rapper friend told her she should participate in this competition she did not even know what a rap battle was and had never freestyled before. In case you’re curious what a Japanese rap battle looks like, check out the video below. Although it isn’t from the first competition Akko participated in, it does feature her going up against a rapper named KZ.
In her interview she explains how she was so scared on the day of the competition that she threw up 3 times. Despite her nerves and a few rough patches she did actually make an impression on many of the rappers that were there that day. It was after this event that her career as a rapper started in earnest. Since then she has been extremely active doing regular live performances, blogging, making youtube videos and creating original music. Her song, “Donkey Kong” is actually a single from her latest release, an EP entitled “Back to the Jungle.” Prior to this though, she had already released her first full album as Akko Gorilla, entitled “Tokyo Banana.” The music video of the title track of that album can be seen below.
Although several of Akko’s songs do play off of the “gorilla” portion of her name, many of her other songs do not. One particularly interesting song from her first album is called “Beautiful Woman” and tells the true story of a woman who leaves her rural home in Kyushu with dreams of becoming a nursery school teacher and getting married someday. She goes to university and there she meets a guy. They get married and she tries her best to cook and clean even though she’s not any good at those things. The woman and her husband try for 10 years to have a child but they are unsuccessful. It is in this difficult period in her life when a shady religious group comes knocking at her door. She falls in with them and begins trying to sell their strange “power stones” and doing missionary work for them. But then, one day, she finds out that she is pregnant. This is the child that she and her husband had wanted for so long. Unfortunately, the child ends up being very difficult and a source of great trouble. And her misfortune continues and she can’t help but think that this is not the way her life was supposed to turn out. A truly interesting and unique song, which I recommend listening to even if you don’t understand what she’s saying. Check out the music video below.
Although Akko Gorilla has only been performing as a rapper for a relatively short amount of time (not even 2 years), she has definitely made an impact on the Japanese rap scene. I think that she’s definitely an artist to keep an eye on and I’m looking forward to whatever she has in store for us next.