Japanese-American MC Kensho Kuma is more than a rapper. He is a teacher, NGO board member, organiser and an activist. His latest project is a mix tape where on some of the songs he covers current issues (of the U.S.) such as the brutality that the police have forced on its citizens, the opioid crisis, the education system and more. The tape is mixed by veteran DJ Kevvy Kev.
The mix tape showcases Kensho’s skills as a lyricist as he goes off dropping rhythmic bars left and right. There is an old school feeling to his flow as he throws down rhymes over the occasional scratching beats. A unique flavor to Kensho’s rap is his bilingual use of English and Japanese – a truly fascinating touch to the music.
Via email Kensho told Shouts about his projects outside of his music. He serves on the Board of Directors for Bay Area NGO Hip Hop 4 Change. The project “provides self-determination for local hip hop culture, and provides another form of representation for hip hop culture that is not given to us by the hip hop industry. We are dedicated to fighting socioeconomic inequalities through the implementation of Hip Hop culture. We do this through our three pillars, which are the grassroots campaigning team, educational outreach with a hip hop curriculum, and events, which highlight local artists.
Our grassroots officers were known for canvassing all over the Bay Area before the pandemic struck. Our educational outreach team has taught 22,000 students in grades K-12 thus far; our classes focus on not only the 4 elements of Hip Hop culture, but the history of it as well. Our local showcase series books local artists, as well as well-known legends like Talib Kweli and KRS One. Furthermore, we have recently received a grant to create an in-house studio which will be free for artists under 24. HH4C also recently received the Ellen Magnin Newman award for Outstanding Arts Organization from the SF Symphony, and the Award for Social Change from the Zellerbach Family Foundation.
I am also a Director of Return of the Cypher event in San Francisco. ROTC is an weekly open-mic jam session which occurred every Sunday night at the Boom Boom Room in the SF Fillmore district; MC’s, vocalists, and instrumentalists rocked with our in-house band. We started back in 2013, and with an exception of several Sundays, we have never missed a show. Many supporters consider ROTC to be “where Hip Hop culture resides in the SF Bay Area.”
In addition to featuring a traditional dance party segment with DJ Kevvy Kev, ROTC has had weekly featured performers who came from around the world, freestyle competitions and producer showcases. Hip Hop legends, including the RZA, Large Professor, and Lyrics Born have made appearances on our stage as well. ROTC has also done charity work for the community, such as holiday and Christmas toy drives, working closely with Hip Hop For Change. Although we have been closed since February due to the pandemic, we cannot wait to continue the event when we are able to.
Furthermore, my daytime career has always been teaching. The vast majority of my experience took place in marginalized POC communities, so I am naturally more aware of the conditions in these urban communities.”
Although Kensho does all this community work he does not see himself as a protest musician: “I do not consider myself to be a political MC or an activist. I just feel that the current sociopolitical climate demands that adults with morals raised by Hip Hop culture vocalise what is going on. In other words, we must voice certain controversial topics right now, because we are products of this culture.”
Check out more of Kensho’s work via his webpage, kenshokuma.com.
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