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Home > Culture > Music > Tuning In: TXMIYAMA on dark R&B vibes and finding his singing voice
Tuning In: TXMIYAMA on dark R&B vibes and finding his singing voice

We first met Yuri Tomiyama in August of last year through our 27 Questions section. Now, we’re linking up with the Canadian-born Japanese artist again, this time for an in-depth look into his musical style and career.

If you haven’t tuned in to his music videos yet, well, where have you been? With hits like “For The City” and “5AM Minibus”, Yuri Tomiyama, better known by his stage name TXMIYAMA, is no newbie in the HK Hip-Hop scene. When he’s not on the job as the bar manager at Yardbird, he’s making music repping Hong Kong early into the morning — it’s a wonder he gets any sleep.

So, to say he’s passionate about what he does is an understatement; Tomiyama basically grew up with music. Having been experimenting with rap since he was 15, he first began writing journal-style notes to express himself and cope with depression. Seven years later, at the age of 22, he decided to take things to the next level and released his first serious track, “Outsiders”, which garnered widespread positive response for someone who was just starting out. And it’s all been uphill from there.

Despite his success, Tomiyama insists that he’s “just a regular guy, honestly” and when asked about his background, he quickly explains, “Japanese, born in Canada, came to Hong Kong when I was 12, trash at Cantonese but somehow know a decent amount of Tagalog”. And about his identity as a rapper? “Honestly, I wouldn’t call myself a rapper because I feel like that’s disrespectful to the real rappers who live and breathe this shit. I just make music when I feel like it.”

Tuning In: TXMIYAMA

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Y U R I 🇭🇰 J A P B O Y 🇯🇵 日本仔 (@txmiyama)

Who is TXMIYAMA?

A man for the people, I guess? I make music to speak up for the minorities who are often overlooked and rep a lifestyle that the rest of the world doesn’t expect. People think Hong Kong is all skyscrapers, financial centres and money, but it’s far from that — and my music is a snapshot of our reality of extortionist rent prices, shoebox homes and citywide instability. 

When and how did your interest in music begin?

Like every Asian, I was forced to learn an instrument at a young age, but I hated it, so I wouldn’t call it an interest. I found an appreciation for it though when I realised I can still read sheet music and know major/minor scales. I was always good at writing, I sucked at a lot of things like mathematics and visual arts, but creative writing — I could do it all day. 

When I was 13 or so, while battling what I later learned was called depression, I started writing random journal-style notes. Eventually, I started to make them rhyme, then a friend suggested I write over beats and the rest was history. I started writing over these sad, old school, soulful kinda beats, then more boom-bap, then eventually trap, and now I’m working on a more melodic approach. My next tape has got almost no rap on it.

Did you grow up around music? Does it run in your family?

My mom is as Japanese as they come, but she’s hip with all the Western classics. She loves Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, et cetera, so I would hear those around the house sometimes. My dad is into classical music, old school Japanese city pop music, Bollywood music, all sorts of shit. My brown friends know I know every song off Raja Hindustani and that’s probably because growing up in Canada, I was exposed to so many cultures at such a young age. I guess it runs in my family? I don’t know, but I don’t see the point of living life without music. 

When did you realise you were musical? Can you pinpoint a formative moment when you realised you were good?

I am one of the biggest self-doubters ever. I started recording rap music when I was 15 or 16, and I guess I thought I was good? And then I kept going till I was almost 21, and then when I was 21, I realised that all those years I sucked. Like yeah, I had potential, but listening back to what I used to make, I would cringe.

At 22, I decided to put real money into it so I bought a whole studio setup with the money I hustled, and recorded the song “Outsiders” — fun fact, I did like 100 takes on that song and it didn’t sound right so I deleted all of it and gave up, then one day I went back to it and did the entire song in one take — and both the song and music video for it did pretty great for somebody who was just getting started. And then I thought, “Okay, this is kinda fun, let’s make another song and music video,” and here I am. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yp7vZeiBS-8

How have different cultural influences in your life shaped you as a musician?

Cultural influences make up my entire body of work. Without it, I really don’t have an identity. I’m Japanese and speak it quite fluently, but I am considered too westernised in Japan. In the western world, I am Canadian, but “too Japanese”. It doesn’t help that I grew up around Indian, Pakistani, Filipino and African people, so those influences are super heavy on me also, in regards to how I act, how I talk, my circle of friends and the respect that I have. It led me to adopt this “outsider everywhere” approach, where I don’t really belong anywhere, but I make myself belong and I’m comfortable wherever. I’m a minority who doesn’t fit in anywhere, but I love that, and I have been so blessed to be exposed to so many beautiful cultures over the years. Everybody knows that I rep hard for my minorities. I mean… look at my MVs.

What’s the first song you each ever learned by heart?

Everybody who knows me knows I’m absolute garbage at remembering lyrics, including my own, to the point where I have to re-learn my own lyrics before every show. But a song that will stay with me is “Hate It Or Love It” by 50 Cent & The Game. That’s my era of hip-hop that will always stay with me. 50 is definitely my favourite artist of all time. 

What’s the first track we should listen to that best defines your sound?

“5AM Minibus”. I feel like most people will say “For The City”, because that’s the one that blew up. But I wrote “5AM Minibus” while I was in a dark place, and that line — “7k for a house like a cell, but you really think we out here scared of jail” — means a lot to me. I was literally living in a 120-square-foot apartment in Jordan, paying $7k for a house with no windows. So when a line that I literally wrote describing my life went viral, it was a surreal feeling. And I wrote half of that song drunk as fuck in the back of the LKF-MK minibus at 5AM — like for real. After “5AM Minibus” though, it’s gotta be “Immigrants” with my bro Frank. That song honestly sums up my whole life, and Frank’s lil’ gangster ass verse was the cherry on top. 

What song, album or performance had a really important, lasting impact on you, both personally and as an artist?

In one word, JB. Sounds cliche and dickrider-ish but I don’t care. This man made a song called “Fuck the Popo” knowing all of the risks involved, and it paved the way for so many hip-hop artists in the city. And his team gave me tickets to his show and that shit was incredible. Man’s had a whole breakdance battle in the middle of his performance and the set design was next level. And the fact that he’s the face of Hong Kong hip-hop and he’s an ethnic minority? Breaking barriers is all he does. Yeah, I’m a huge fan of what he represents even if I can’t sing along to most of his songs. JB is HK Hip-Hop. 

What does music, or being a musician, mean to you?

I don’t know what it means to be a musician, honestly. Sometimes I feel like I still don’t really take it seriously. I mean I don’t treat it as a job still — I do what I want, when I want. But I do know that music is what I was meant to do. I believe in weird spiritual shit from time to time, and I feel like my purpose, the reason I was put on this earth, is to make music. And getting people super fucked up when I bartend. Hollywood Road demon, ask about me, ’cause they know. But definitely to make music also. 

What’s your creative process?

Back in the days when I lived in Kowloon, I would leave my house at like one or two in the morning after my bar shift was done, grab a drink at every second or third 7-11/Circle K, and just walk. I was living in TST back then and I would walk to Sham Shui Po, Cheung Sha Wan — trust me, it’s far as fuck on foot — and take in all the sights, sounds, smells of the city. And I would jot down notes of how I feel, what I see, things like that. I would come home with a fuckload of material and then on a day that I feel like it, I’ll make songs off the notes. Which is probably why in some of my songs, it feels like you’re there with me, walking in Kowloon. 

What’s your favourite lyric, ever?

“Now it’s clear that I’m here for a real reason, ’cause he got hit like I got hit, but he ain’t fucking breathing.” — “Many Men” by 50 Cent

Gives me goosebumps every single time. That is the hardest bar ever written in history, I don’t care. 

What are your personal most-played tracks on Spotify?

I think it’s “Timezones” by Manila Grey or “10 Fucks” by Tory Lanez. Either way, check my playlist on Spotify called 5AM Drugs, I promise it’s all vibes. No rap on it either, it’s all dark R&B vibes, which is actually what I’m into. 

What’s the toughest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?

Myself. I mentioned I am the biggest self-doubter. I would have a bad show or have writer’s block, and then I’ll spiral, disappear for months and not feel motivated to make any music until something inspires me or pushes me again. Mentally I have always been a mess, and I’ve struggled with substance abuse, depression, anxiety, you name it, and getting up on stage is fighting with my demons every single time. Every time I get up on that stage just know that it’s at least a week of barely any sleep, panic attacks and losing weight from nervousness. And I can quit anytime, but I don’t know. Something tells me to keep going, so I just keep facing the music. 

How has your music changed and evolved over the years since you started?

I feel like it’s getting darker? I feel like I rapped all I can about the minority struggle and not fitting in, and repping for the city and all that, and now I’m moving more towards music that’s more personal. Like the shit that goes on in my head, feelings that will make other people feel uncomfortable but feelings that hopefully a lot of others can also relate to. And it’s getting more melodic because I’ve been working on my singing voice, and I learned that if your singing is 5/10, then autotune will take it to a 8/10, and I can make decent music with a 8/10. 

What’s next? What are you working on?

DARKVIBESONLY. Dropping whenever I feel like it, maybe when the weather gets colder ’cause I can’t stand this hot shit. Or during Scorpio Season. Only one verse on it is rap, I sing on the rest of it. And it features this sicko Jud Flores who is one of the best singers I know. Don’t know how to describe it, just that it’s so far from the music that I have put out so far. I hope people like it but if they don’t, that’s okay because I like it. 

(Lead and featured image: Kenneth Tang of Kennevia Photography @kenneviaphotography)

Charmaine Ng
Editor
Charmaine enjoys eating steamed broccoli and knocking back cups of spearmint tea, all in the name of health.
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