virgil abloh's fave japanese streetwear kid is all grown up
At just 16, Yoshi has released a debut album and bagged his first movie lead.
Remember that impossibly cool Japanese streetwear kid? You know the one. Well, he grew up. A few years back, Yoshi was catapulted into the fashion world after Virgil Abloh spotted the then 13-year-old punk-inspired fashion fan at the opening of his Off-White store in Tokyo’s Aoyama (Yoshi had seen it on social media and simply rocked up). Impressed by the yellow industrial logo belt the teen was wearing around his neck instead of his waist, the Louis Vuitton designer told Yoshi he looked sick. And the rest, as the say, is history. Predictably, the rest of the fashion world loved him too, and Yoshi was soon befriending Nicola Formichetti and shooting campaigns for Ambush and Helmut Lang.
This summer he released his debut album, Sex Is Life. The album’s lead single “Cherry Boy” is a heavy rock track named so because, in Japan, a cherry boy is a virgin. As is Yoshi, it transpires. The joke of the opposing titles isn’t lost on him. In fact, the album name was lifted from an abstract painting that the young Tokyo talent did. The album itself is a real mash-up of genres, across which Yoshi jumps between 90s rap and grunge, rock and ballads -- very obviously paying homage to some late and great acts along the way.
Clearly not exhausted from all of those fashion month appearances, music making, painting and, oh I don’t know... attending high school full time, Yoshi has somehow found time to branch out into acting too. He’s gone and landed himself the titular role in Japanese film Taro No Baka -- out 6 September -- opposite mega-famous singer and actor Masaki Suda. His character Taro is mysterious wild child with no family, no home and no idea how old he is. Adventures ensue.
Keen to get to know him better, we invited the teen to swing by i-D HQ for a tall glass of water and a good old chat.
Yoshi, you’re 16 now. How did you celebrate?
I just hung out with my friends and ate cake. It was a surprise party.
Are you still in touch with Virgil?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s my good friend. I have a lot of respect for him and I’m grateful for what he’s done for me. The first time I met him, he posted a picture of me on the Off-White official Instagram, which is how I got my followers. So crazy. Before I met Virgil, I loved fashion but I never thought I could be involved in it. It changed my life.
So before that happened, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I just wanted to be rich. I still have the same plan. It’s coming along okay!
I read that you’re interested in design, in working on your own collection?
That’s the plan for next year. For now I have some merch for the album…
Talking of which, how do you explain your music?
This is a hard question. I think it’s crazy, in a good way. I wanted to show the world that I can do every genre; I can rap, I can do ballads, rock. It’s like how I also do art, I act, I do fashion. I just want to show people what I can do. I want to be a star.
A star like Kurt Cobain? You wrote a song about him… you must be a big fan?
Yeah, the lyrics go "they say the good die young". I’ve always really loved him, but with all due respect to Cobain, I’m not going to die young. I want to go more and more. That’s kind of the message here. I always sing my song “Cobain” when I’m walking down the street. It’s always in my head.
You go on to reference Cypress Hill’s “Insane In The Brain” on “Insane”?
Yeah! This is the only love song of the album. I basically had this image of being in a sneaker shop and seeing this girl and the girl makes me go crazy. I reference some phrases from the 90s in the song, so it will be interesting for the people who realise.
The music video for “Cherry Boy” is cool.
In the music video we used a lot of fires, and we wanted to do some promotions with the video but it was too crazy that YouTube didn’t want to promote it.
How very Sex Pistols of you. Was that in case it encouraged people to start fires?
Exactly, it was too dangerous!
Who introduced you to so much 90s music?
I basically researched different music styles myself, starting in the 1920s and working my way up. I really loved 80s and 90s songs, like rock and hip-hop. I like orchestras too though. My generation just listens to new songs --I wanted to show that old songs are great too.
So what’s your earliest musical memory?
It’s of a Japanese traditional genre called enka, that old people listen to. Just singing along to it. Really emotional ballad music.
I guess that’s one genre that didn’t make it onto your album.
Which London musicians are you a fan of?
Sex Pistols, Dua Lipa and Skepta. Skepta follows me on Instagram. We’re internet friends.
Collaborate! What are you obsessed with right now?
My girlfriend. She’s my classmate at school. I feel so shy about this. On the first day of school, I saw her and though, OH MY GOD. I love her! My girlfriend helped me pack my bags for this trip. We started to date the day before the album release. I was actually more nervous asking her to be my girlfriend than I was on release day. I had my first show at a Fendi party recently. It was a private party and I could only bring one guest, so I bought her with me.
Cute! How did it go?
I was so nervous. My label boss was there and after the show, he told me that out of 100, it was just a 3. I was so shocked. I’m a positive guy though, so the next day I started practising and now I’m ready.
Way harsh of him. So what’s the plan for shows going forward?
I’m a Japanese guy, but you know, there are no Japanese artists who do world tours on the level of Jay Z, Kanye, Justin Bieber. I want to be the first Japanese artist to do a world tour on that level.
Finally, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Before I turned 16, I was thinking only about myself. But from now on, I’m going to cherish my fans and care more about the people around me. My boss told me that I’ve got to keep on believing in my dream too, to keep on pursuing it. And also to practise my English.