Shing02 is known around the world as a multilingual rapper, but we found out that there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to this mystic artist. A portrait on one of the artists who collaborated on the first season of 1+1, a worldwide recording project by Norient and Sound Development in Summer 2015. Together with Iranian rapper Salome MC – read portrait here – he produced the Track «Passenger». For more material (tracks, videos, articles, photos) on 1+1 check the project website here.
If Shingo Annen, known as Shing02, were an animal I’m convinced he would be a chameleon. As a multilingual rapper, producer, director, illustrator and activist, Annen thrives off of anything that gives him room to be creative and hands-on. His mind is always churning out ideas for himself or others and if he ever comes to you with a project, you should take it because he’s been in the game for over twenty years and is no stranger to putting in work.
Usually if someone excels in one area, by default we expect them to be weak in an opposite one, like how people say they’re bad at math but good at English. Likewise, a combination that never seemed likely to me is that of a rapper and college graduate, yet Annen is both.
This fact is of particular interest to me because I’m currently in college and contemplating how my English degree will translate into a career other than teaching. So when I see Annen, who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, I have to wonder how the hell that relates to becoming a rapper, if at all.
«I had to study a lot of different things that regular computer science majors don’t really need, so it exposed me to a lot of different subjects … I had to take a lot of humanity credits, too, so I did a lot of ancient Japanese literature. I started comparing hip hop to rapping and I would turn in essays about that … so in my head it was just like a whole mix of things», he said.
This wasn’t exactly the clear-cut parallel I was looking for, but then I realized that’s because there isn’t one. Annen dips his toes into whatever is pulling at him at the time, and it usually works in his favor and opens doors for even more diverse work.
Beginnings in the Bay Area
For example, one of his first relationships with the rap world had nothing to do with his musical abilities. It started with his penchant for drawing. He approached Del the Funky Homosapien, rapper and founder of the Hieroglyphics rap crew, at a record store with a portrait he drew of Del. He liked it, and it turned into a friendship that helped Annen realize that he wanted to pursue music more seriously.
«Every time I went over to his place, I would learn something new and he would share a lot of his creative processes. Even himself, he started learning about music theory and started composing on his own … His progression inspired me a lot. Apart from the actual music, I was really getting into the DJ culture as well, because all my friends were scratching DJ’s», he explained.
Then he dropped his first cassette in 1995, entirely in Japanese. It marked the launch of his music career in Japan as he started to make more music and performing steadily. Around 2000 he met Japanese DJ and producer Nujabes, which later led to their most famous work together, a hexology entitled Luv (Sic). They also created the theme song to the popular show Samurai Champloo, which aired both in Japan and the U.S.
«(Nujabes and I are) about the same age and we shared a similar passion for the sound we wanted. Even though we started working in 2000, we really grew up in the 90s sound of sample-heavy, drum break-heavy freestyle-type, freeflowing rhymes. It’s a big contrast to the clubby type music now», said Annen.
In 2000 he also performed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country located in Southeastern Europe that was still reeling at the time from a war ranging from 1992 to 1995. This is when he opened himself up to the possibility of activism. Until visiting, Annen was low-key in the press, partly in an effort to remain an underground artist.
«That really opened my eyes up because I went to a war zone … After talking to people my age that were in the war, I was just there to listen to their stories, I felt like whoa, maybe I can touch on these subjects and still play a role as an artist … I thought that I could achieve the balance of keeping that anonymity, while also reaching a wider audience. So I started putting more effort into writing songs in English», said Annen.
Since then he has taken a more active role in Japanese politics. The current issue is that the Japanese government wishes to rewrite the constitution written by the U.S. at the end of World War II so that it allows for Japanese troops to fight abroad. The change is greatly opposed in Japan and protesters have asked Annen to get involved and perform at rallies.
In addition, Annen has claim to a long list of multimedia projects. For one, he participates in POW!WOW! Hawaii, particularly its School of Music. There, he shares his knowledge of making music and his experience in the music business with youth as well as performing at POW!WOW! events and contributing various graphic design work. He also recently worked behind the scenes on a music video with Japanese artist Aoi as well as various projects with producers around the world, like in Spain and Shanghai.
All of these things could never have been foreseen or planned back in 1993 when he was living in the Bay Area as a college student. Annen himself didn’t even know where he’d go from there.
«I’ve never thought about pursuing anything, let alone a career. I just keep doing it because I like to do it. To be perfectly honest, when I started I knew that I had a lot of work cut out for myself. I wasn’t a refined anything. I wasn’t a refined performer or recording artist. I really had to work hard through trial and error to find my own voice», he expressed.
For people like me who have yet to really sink their teeth into anything, it’s easy to assume that those with careers have always had an innate sense of knowing that that’s what they want to do and have been steadfast in pursuing that one thing. Annen’s trajectory is a welcomed contradiction. He’s been led not by a sense of certainty, but just by his desire to remain creative.
«I always knew that I had a knack for coming up with ideas. That, I was super confident in. The execution, not so much. But I was very confident in the way that I can find ideas, provide humor to a situation, and find other talents as well. I was very confident as a fan.
As a testament, what I’m also very proud that 90% of people that I’ve worked with, ever, are still doing what they’re doing. I don’t work with people that are in it for the minute and just get out», he continued.
Annen is in the process of dropping a new album at the end of this year (2015), called Zone of Zen with Cradle Orchestra, a Japanese jazz and hip hop band. Zone of Zen will be Annen’s third album in English.