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I was born in Hong Kong in 1980. My father is Chinese and my mother half-Japanese. We came to live in Japan when I was 10 years old. It was my interest in skateboarding that got me into street culture, and I started rapping while messing about as a dancer and DJ.
At first I didn’t have the slightest interest in rapping in Japanese, but when I was 15, I met a rapper called RINO and was inspired to try to express my opinions about the world in Japanese.
I went to Soka High School and then to New York State University in 1999, but I got into drinking and taking drugs every day to the point where I started hallucinating. After three failed suicide attempts I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital.
Suffering from depression and debilitating apathy, I came back to Japan to rehabilitate. It was at this time that I started practicing Buddhism seriously. When I chanted, I felt an energy welling up from my inner self; and this energy became a conviction. The doctors told me it would be at least three years before I was cured and that I would likely experience serious trauma in the years ahead. In fact, to everyone’s surprise, I was cured within a half year.
I spent the next year working in a factory, and started to visualize what would become the O’LIONZ PROJECT (“Only Life In Our NecessitieZ”), as well as starting to perform again in small events. I started mixing Japanese, Cantonese and English, trying to produce trilingual work.
I feel rap is a way of fighting with words, the most human way for people to approach things and deal with difficult situations with hope.
There are many kinds of rap, but the way I understand it is that rap began as prisoners calling out to each other, without any musical instruments: so rap is a tool to call on people to speak the truth. In that sense, I feel rap is a way of fighting with words, the most human way for people to approach things and deal with difficult situations with hope. It’s also interesting to me that rap rhythms and chanting Buddhist sutras sound alike.
In hip-hop, people often say, “Keep it real.” When I create a song, I try to put my experience, truth and Buddhist philosophy into my music. The name, O’LIONZ, is trying to express the idea of keeping it real, that the truth inevitably lies within your own life. Whatever the topic, it is related to the core and essence of life and all phenomena. Whatever we experience leads us to seek out the truth of life. For me, Buddhism is about reason and the underlying principles of the universe.
In February 2003 I put together a group called O’LIONZ 11, consisting of friends and acquaintances. Our first gig was in front of 1,000 people. In March 2005 we released an indie CD, and that July we were the Japanese winners of the urban section of Diesel-U-Music, a competition held across five countries (Belgium, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.).
related article SGI Youth in Nicaragua Hold Culture Festival On September 27, SGI-Nicaragua held a youth culture festival at the Nicaraguan Academy of Dance in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. In August 2005, the O’LIONZ PROJECT performed at the Hug the World with Music event in Indonesia, a charity concert raising funds for the victims of the March 2005 Sumatra earthquake, which was broadcast throughout Indonesia. I then was able to quit my day job and become a fulltime artist at the beginning of 2006.
In August that year I took part in a 200-member Soka Gakkai youth exchange visit to China, and was able to perform during our exchanges in Shanghai and Beijing.
In 2007, Universal Records offered O’LIONZ PROJECT our major-label debut, then our single, “Daijobu,” was taken up as the theme song for a TV show, and in June we released our first full album. I’m currently trying to write a song for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
I have found that by putting Buddhist philosophy into action, the positive effects come back to me in my daily life. I feel now that it’s just impossible to predict how great this driving force in my life will become in the future.
[Courtesy, January 2008 SGI Quarterly]
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A Fierce Determination to Live
by Jharna Narang, survivor of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks
Creating a World Where All Belong
by Sinéad Lynch, Ireland