Photography Kodai Ikemitsu

elle teresa is redefining what it means to be a female rapper in japan

Using her femininity as a weapon, she's bringing a fresh perspective to a male-dominated world.

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Jan 15 2019, 5:54pm

Photography Kodai Ikemitsu

This article originally appeared on i-D Japan.

“I feel like Japanese female rappers are all like, ‘hey yo!’ or ‘screw you!’ Watching them makes me wonder, ’do we really need to use such phrases?’ I'm a woman, can’t I just be a woman and use my womanhood as a weapon?” says rapper Elle Teresa.

We may be living in the era of #MeToo and Cardi B, but in Japan (which is ranked 114th in the world in terms of gender equality), it is still difficult for female rappers to stay true to who they are. It often seems like they can only attract attention by taking on hyper-male personas, in both their lyrics and image.

When Elle talks about womanhood, it's nothing to do with the cuteness often projected on Japanese women — what she talks about is self-affirming your femininity. When listening to the two mixtapes Elle has released so far — Ignorant Tape and PINK TRAP, the image that comes to mind is one of an ordinary girl who enjoys fashion and spends time with a dreamy boyfriend, and is still able to identify their own brand of “cool".

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Elle Teresa was born in Numazu City, Shizuoka prefecture in 1997. As a child she says she was always confident, and her parents, who both loved dancing often took her to clubs with them. "I hated it when I was little; ‘I’m sleepy! Why should I come to a place like this?’, I'd moan. But when I was a junior high school student I started clubbing with my friends. There was nothing else to do in Numazu and it was fun. I got to meet all these characters I wouldn't have met otherwise.” That was how she met Yuskey Carter, a prominent local rapper.

Yuskey, who has been working as Elle's producer since her debut, says she impressed him at first sight. "Although she was a junior high school student, she did not look like one. She had this sense of style which was rare around these parts of the country. She was different from other kids," he says. Elle chuckles at Yuskey’s comments, saying she "was more flashy, than stylish.”

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Eventually, Elle made an appearance as a dancer in one of Yuskey's music videos, and when she was spitting out KOHH's beats on set, Yuskey casually said “Why don’t you try rapping?" To his surprise, a month later she came back having written 10 original songs.

"I grew up in a family of dancers and that is how I used to identify myself too. So I would find it difficult to imagine doing anything other than dancing as a job. Yuskey's presented me with an amazing opportunity. I've always been good at writing any way. I had a great talent for writing apology letters for my behaviour at school [laughs].”

Elle's ideal female existed in the world of animation rather than reality. Her song "Make Up" was inspired by a signature phrase from the cartoon Sailor Moon, for instance: “Their catchphrase goes something like, ‘Moon Prism Power, Make Up!’ The characters in Sailor Moon are also pretty cute but strong, and I like that. I think that animation also influenced my sense of fashion and lyrics. I also wanted to be like Android 18 from Dragon Ball, so I grew my bangs for a year or so. Then I decided I wanted to be Bulma so I cut it again. "

"Elle Teresa doesn't always fit that ideal, though. Elle Teresa is just pure me. I’m not that cute, or sexy, but I think I am cool. And I think that maybe if I keep saying it, everyone else will also eventually think that I'm cool."

You can listen to Elle Teresa's debut album, KAWAII BUBBLY LOVELY, here.

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Credits


Text Ryo Isobe.
Photography Kodai Ikemitsu.
Styling Chie Ninomiya.
Hair and Make-up Kyoko. Photography assistance Maho Yamaguchi.
Styling assistance Yoshie Nunoda.
Hair and Make-up assistance Akane Miyamoto.
ELLE TERESA WEARS TOP AND TROUSERS COACH. BRA TOP, GRILLZ, NECKLACE AND EARRINGS MODEL’S OWN.

This article originally appeared on i-D Japan.

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