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Two years ago, Tokyo’s Revenge was homeless. Today, the enigmatic rapper’s breakout single “GOODMORNINGTOKYO!” is a viral hit, having peaked on Spotify’s Global Viral 50 and Rolling Stone’s Trending 25 charts at No. 1 and 2, respectively. At the time of this article’s publication, the track has accumulated over 26 million streams on Spotify (six million in the past week alone). Tokyo’s track “THOT!” featuring New Jersey rapper ZEDSU is seeing similar success, climbing to No. 11 on the Global Viral 50 chart.
As Tokyo arrives to our interview at Complex’s L.A. office, the Swarovski crystal accents on his designer denim flicker in the sunlight. All ten of his fingers are adorned with heavy silver rings, and a Totoro knapsack is wrapped snugly around his back. His posse is small—only Jackson, his 18-year-old manager, and ZEDSU accompany him. For a young artist generating so much attention, Tokyo is surprisingly soft spoken and reserved.
It takes Tokyo a while to open up, but once he does, he becomes lively and passionate. He explains that after graduating high school, he was left without a permanent residence, resulting in frequent couch-surfing and nights at a local marina with a backpack for a pillow. From a young age, Tokyo enjoyed rapping and would freestyle in the cafeteria during lunch break, but he never recorded his own songs. That changed once he crashed on a new friend’s couch—a friend who had an audio interface and an Audio-Technica mic. “If I had never met him, I don't think I would even be where I am today,” Tokyo admits. “Maybe if we hadn’t met I would be working a regular job or something.”
Thanks to the success of “GOODMORNINGTOKYO!” the fledgling rapper never had to work a 9 to 5. Within months, the song became a viral sensation on TikTok, with more than a million individual videos set to the song on the short-form video sharing app. Over the track’s distorted, bass-heavy instrumental produced by Cliiiford, Tokyo maneuvers through disparate flows, jolting from a belligerent scream to a cartoonishly meek whisper. The end result sounds as if multiple characters are interacting in a single verse, which gave TikTokers all the legroom they needed to film creative skits to the abrasive yet playful track. Almost every kind of video imaginable was made to “GOODMORNINGTOKYO!”—makeup tutorials, dance routines, exercise videos, e-boy mating calls, and (inexplicably) one kid eating cereal out of his collarbone. Tokyo didn't see it coming: “It's kind of blowing my own mind to be honest, the power of TikTok.”
Having been quickly thrust into the spotlight, criticism shortly followed. Some skeptics have been labeling Tokyo an industry plant, pointing to his massive streaming numbers and limited discography. Others have been quick to call him an XXXTENTACION or Ski Mask The Slump God clone, pointing out similarities in flows and beat selection. In a recent Tweet, Tokyo shared, “I’m learning to deal with comparisons and exposure, I make music to make people happy, not to be graded, judged, and compared ... comparisons are normal.” With all of this buzz surrounding Tokyo, Pigeons and Planes spoke with the rapper about the pros and cons of virality, his desire to remain anonymous, controversy, and more for his first ever interview.
Growing up, who would you listen to?
I listened to a little bit of everything. I've listened to Fleetwood Mac, I've listened to things from Disturbed, to Slipknot, to JAY-Z. I listened to a lot of JAY-Z, Eminem, Busta Rhymes. I've listened to a lot of South Florida music—I’m highly influenced by them—SpaceGhostPurrp, SmokePurpp, Denzel Curry. I get a little bit of inspiration from everywhere
Why do you choose to not share your real name, age, or location?
For now, while I'm still a dickhead, I can be like, “I’m 444 years old.” I want to stay as anonymous as possible. I want people to listen to my music and not worry about where I'm from, because I think that certain places are associated with certain sounds. I don't really care that much, but I try to hold back as much information as possible so people think about me and the music separately.
If I say my name is “Lil Something” and I'm from Chicago and I'm 19 years old, you'll probably have an expectation of what my music is supposed to sound like, right? Or if I say I'm 22 years old and my name is “Slime Something” and I'm from Atlanta, you’ll have an expectation of what my music is supposed to sound like, right? You can't guess what my music is going to sound like because I don't tell you who I am as a person.
How did you get the name Tokyo’s Revenge?
The Tokyo part kind of just came from culture stuff, like having a huge admiration for Japan, because I'm a huge anime head. The reason that I have the Revenge part is because the best revenge on n***as who was doubting you, or felt some type of way about you, is to outdo them and do better than them in your life, so that way they have to suffer and watch you from a completely different perspective. They can't shit on you—they're at home suffering, like, "Damn, the same kid we thought was going to be a lame SoundCloud rapper is on Pigeons and Planes now.”
How did you connect with your go-to producer Cliiifford?
We met over Instagram through another artist who had sent me an open verse on one of Cliiiff's beats; I didn't know who Cliiiff was at the time. And I just bodied it. Before we went and dropped it, Cliiiff reached out to me, and he wanted to work with me more. Since then, we've been a dynamic duo, killing shit. We met over the internet, and since then he was like, "I think you're the artist I want to invest my time into constantly working with, and constantly making beats for, and we're going to grow together." He was actually pretty new to making beats as well, and we grew together, and now here we are.
Did you expect your song “GOODMORNINGTOKYO!” to get as big as it did?
I mean, I had a feeling the song was going to blow up. I knew it was at least going to get a lot of plays. I had this premonition about it. You could literally go back to my Twitter, I predicted it the day that I dropped the song. I was like, "This is going to be my first song to get a million plays." I bet literally both my nuts, I was like, "Yo, I'm betting both my testicles right here, right now. This is going to be my first song to get a million plays. I'll literally lose my nuts if it's not." And it was. There's just something about it. I felt like I was at the place in my underground career and I had just enough eyes on me that if I hit it right, and went about it the right way, the song would go crazy. And I was right.
I felt like I was at the place in my underground career and I had just enough eyes on me that if I hit it right, and went about it the right way, the song would go crazy. And I was right.
What's really interesting about is how playful the track is, with all those different flows. Is that intentional?
Well, sort of. It kind of happens on its own. It's the same way in real life, it's almost like multiple personalities. It almost sounds like I'm arguing with myself, or yelling. It's like multiple different people are trying to share the same mic, trying to rap at the same time. That shows through in my actual personality, because a lot of the time my mood will switch crazy fast, or the way that I'm talking with my friends will switch like it's multiple different people in one body. I'm glad that's an aspect that people pick up on in my music because I think it makes the music more engaging. I don't want to hear the same delivery for the entire song, I want to hear all kinds of different crazy vocal inflections, and all kinds of different voices.
What was it like to see hundreds of thousands of people making TikToks to the track?
I didn't realize it was blowing up for a while. I guess it got picked up on TikTok by a friend of mine actually—his name is Han, I love that kid to death. He uploaded my song as an original sound over a video of him traveling to Japan. And it just went viral out of nowhere. It was for Halloween, I think. So in Shibuya they had all kinds of crazy costumes, and cosplays, and it was super cool. That went viral, and I think that's one of the things that kicked it off, but I didn't know it happened. He sent it to me, and it wasn't that big. But a little while later, he just texted me and he was like, "Yo, this is getting crazy numbers, and crazy views."
Then a bunch of people started using the original sound, and it really started going crazy. With their own creative minds people can make it be different types of kids in class, or make it seem like multiple different personalities I portray in this video. And it became a trend. There were so many different mini trends that people made out of the song by itself, and now it's sitting at over a million TikToks made to that song.
Even [internet personality] James Charles made a TikTok responding to the song’s lyric about him, right?
Yeah, it's crazy. He made a TikTok to this song, but he downloaded the song and cut out a completely different part of the song, used that, and uploaded his own original sound. So that part of the song went viral again, entirely independently from the part of the song that was already going viral. It was the hook of the song that was going viral, and then James Charles did a TikTok to the verse, and he barked in the TikTok, which was crazy, seeing James Charles bark. So that original sound of my song that he uploaded also went viral.
Have you two communicated after that?
No, no. The TikTok he did was super funny and super cool, I think it was G as fuck actually, I think it was dope that he did that. But I never got in contact with him about it. I should probably try to do that because that's dope, he's cool as fuck for that.
What’s your response to people saying your lyrics are too controversial?
I want to have fun with my music. I want to be able to say whatever the fuck I want, even if it is wrong. I'm not going to be OD to the point where it's cringe-y but if I think the bar hits, and it's funny, and I like my flow in it, I'm not going to redo it. A lot of “GOODMORNINGTOKYO!” was entirely freestyled. The majority of it was not written at all—the hook is freestyled, the majority of the verse is freestyled, and then sometimes I'll write in punchlines for wordplay, so that way n***as can't say I can't rap. Even with the controversial bars, it's just like when you're freestyling at the lunch table and you say some crazy shit, and it's kind of raunchy, but you were just freestyling and it hit and it rhymes. You keep going, 'cause it's just hard. That's what it's like when I make my music. When I'm freestyling to that mic, I say some crazy shit, but it's because I imagine I'm sitting with a bunch of people and we just freestyling and having fun.
If people listened to Tyler the Creator's old music, or old Eminem, the type of shit I'm saying should be nothing crazy. Eminem used to... I'm not even going to go there, but if you ever listen to Relapse: Refill, that's all I got to say. Listen to that album from beginning to end, n***a, tell me I'm bad. It sucks, because part of what made that music so good back then is that you see the growth in the artists from having juvenile, controversial lyrics to making music that is so much more thoughtful. Look at Tyler now. Look at his music now and the type of fan bases it reaches, the type of impact it has on kids.
I like to be able to have fun and say what the fuck I want, even if it is controversial. I come from listening to controversial music. I chose to bleep [the James Charles lyric] because it just sounded cool. I have another song that's unreleased, where I just put bleeps in certain parts, where I didn't even say anything crazy, but I just liked the way it sounded. It makes the listener fill in the blank. Like, what came to your head? What words do you want to put in my mouth?
It's really interesting that “GOODMORNINGTOKYO” wasn’t even uploaded to TikTok by you, since there are skeptics saying it was a carefully orchestrated tactic and that you’re an industry plant.
Denzel Curry—again, one of my favorite artists literally of all time—originally blew up off of Vine, from the bottle flip challenge. It's the same type of platform just a couple years ago, and he took that and he used that to his advantage, and became one of the most popular modern age rappers, period. You know what I mean? It has nothing to do with being an industry plant, it's like, that app gave him the limelight to do more with his career, and he took advantage of it. I feel like I should do the same, and I will do the same.
It's funny when people say the industry plant thing, because I've been underground for a while now. My first song was uploaded in 2017. I remember there was someone, a YouTuber, who was trying to make a video saying that I was an industry plant because I didn't have that many songs up. But I think of it like if you're an artist who draws and does paintings, when you put together a portfolio, out of the 100 pieces of art that you make, you want to put together maybe your top five, top 10 best pieces for your portfolio. You don't leave the other 100 half-scrapped together ideas—you put those back and you let your best work sit in the front.
I did the same thing with my SoundCloud. SoundCloud, just like Instagram, gives you the ability to archive your music. I have a lot of music, I archive a lot of music. If I make a song today, two months from now I might not like it so I'm going to archive it and drop some new thing. That's what I do. It keeps my SoundCloud fresh and really clean, like an artist's portfolio.
I think it's funny when people see you doing things that are different from the way the rest of the industry handles them. Then they assume that you're either an industry plant or some kind of industry experiment.
Another reason why people may be skeptical is because you have a song with over 20 million streams, yet you have very little media coverage. You don't even have a music video out yet.
Right. I've been holding off on [a music video] for good reason though. I can't really spoil it right now, but I have very good reasons for doing that. I think it's funny when people see you going against the grain and doing things that are different from the way the rest of the industry handles them. Then they assume that you're either an industry plant or some kind of industry experiment where they're trying something new and giving you a leg up in the game. In reality, it's just that I don't want to handle things the way every other artist in the game handles things. That would make me like everybody else, and then I wouldn't be able to outperform everybody else, and that's my goal.
Since you started making music and putting it on SoundCloud, you're called a "SoundCloud rapper." Yet you didn't even get popular off SoundCloud. People are starting to use the phrase "TikTok rapper" now. What do you think about that?
The labels they try to apply literally don't matter to me. I know that I started on SoundCloud, and I took pride in that honestly, you know? A lot of really, really talented artists came from that platform, and made amazing careers for themselves, and impacted millions and millions of lives. If anything, I'm happy that I'm to the point where I’m at now, where I have that much reach, and I started on that same platform.
Do you ever wish you didn't go viral and your career took more of a steady incline?
Literally all the time. Not even to cap, but literally all the time. Because as dope as it is, with all the cool stuff that is happening... I am super grateful by the way, especially for my fan base and a lot of the people that made it happen in the first place. But it's kind of stressful, because now a lot of people that I've never met in my life are trying to have input in the things that I do. A lot of people that I've never spoken to in my entire life are trying to speak on me as if they know me. And a lot of people who have platforms that are already larger than mine, and established platforms, want to have entire conversations on me without having me there in those conversations.
So now YouTubers, or other artists, or anybody who maybe is threatened or feels some type of way about me getting big now, they use their platform to say things about me and spread hate towards me. It's like, I don't even fucking know you, why are you talking about me? You're weird. And if you wanted to get to know me, you could have gotten to know me/ I'm one text away, I check my DMs, you know what I mean? And if you have such a big platform, why not use that to reach out to me and get to know me?
Is that why you’ve been hesitant to do interviews?
I've seen a lot of artists I look up to, almost every genre, have negative press that's warped versions of what really happened, you know what I mean? Regardless of how the interview goes, the headline or whatever the reason is that people click on the article could be something totally negative, no matter how good the actual interview was. That's just how a lot of the media works. Even in the worldwide news, sometimes things are spread as crazy and awful, when in reality they're not that bad. It makes me wary of a lot of people, whether they be entertainers, or media, or interviewers.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm not the one-hit wonder type, you know what I mean? I like making all kinds of music. I'm glad that I started making all types of music and not just one sound—that way it gives me the freedom, now that I have a bigger platform, to do whatever I want. And hopefully the people that came here will hear my voice, and how weird I am, and how crazy I am, and they will listen. They'll stay because I didn't come to play, I came to be the biggest, you know what I mean?
I want to be one of the biggest artists in the world. I want to make sure that my impact is everywhere. I have the ability to reach as many people as possible, you know what I mean? I want to break records, I want to literally shatter any low expectations that any of the people who talked about me had for me.