Mass Destruction: A Conversation With Lotus Juice

  • Interview With: Lotus Juice
  • Location: Anime Boston 2024
  • Interview Date: 3/29/2024

Anime-Zing Radio: What got you into music, specifically rap?

Lotus Juice: Growing up, I moved here in 1989, for my dad’s work. I grew up in NJ. Hip-hop and R&B was a growing market in the 90’s. Every one of my generation listened to hip-hop. As an Asian, I know we are a privileged minority, but, I didn’t really speak English fluently back then. I always had to prove myself, kind of looked down at outside of school. Listening to hip-hop, my thoughts, my mentality kind of resembled it. That’s how I got into hip-hop.

Anime Herald: When you first came to America, the first friend you made was Travis. Are you still in touch with him?

Photograph of hip-hop artist Lotus Juice, who is wearing a grey blazer and black slacks as he holds a microphone.

Lotus Juice: Yes. How did you know?

Anime Herald: I may have read every interview you’ve ever given.

Lotus Juice: We keep in touch. He still lives in New Jersey or New York. He got in trouble once, but he shows me respect. We’re cool.

Anime-Zing Radio: Your influence in rap helped you get involved with the Persona series. How did that affect your career?

Lotus Juice: It had a huge impact on my career. It changed my career for sure.

It’s funny. I was making music in college. Just having fun, performing in clubs. But it got kind of old after a few years, because, the people who were rapping in Japan… it was kind of a copycat thing. Trying to be bad or looking gangster, like it was in the ‘90s. It got kind of boring for me. And they were doing drugs. I wasn’t. I was like “I want to stay away from that.”

Then I met a duo group Vlidge. They were Japanese R&B singers. They showed me what it was like to be in the music industry. We started performing together all over Japan. I felt like it was something I could pursue.

Then I released a single over the internet. Then a second one, and an album. It didn’t make a huge impact, but it reached the right person. It was Shoji Meguro from Atlus, the composer of Persona.

I didn’t play it because I didn’t have a PlayStation. I kept getting calls from my friends asking “This is you? This is pretty good.”

Two years passed. Persona 3 came out. [Persona 4] came out. Then, I think in 2008 or 2009, we had Persona Music Live. That kind of changed everything. People started recognizing me. That changed everything. I really appreciate Atlus for choosing me. I’m thankful and very blessed to still be working on it.

Anime Herald: There’s an internet legend regarding Persona that you can finally resolve. The legend is that the musical artists composing the tracks had much more freedom than most video game writers and composers have, if they’re not the directors.

Lotus Juice: Oh especially me, because I wrote the lyrics. Back then, Atlus didn’t have anyone who spoke English. When I first got introduced to Atlus and Shoji Meguro, I got a call from my friend. He asked if I was interested in writing a song for a video game. I was thinking 8-bit music. “I need to listen to the music first, I can’t determine that right now.”

Back then, no Wi-Fi. It was ISDN. He sent me a CD. The first thing I hear is “Baby, baby, baby.” It’s a song called Mass Destruction. I thought “This is really dope, I want to get on it.”

I call him. He told me that the lyrics were all already written. I thought, “That’s weird, but I’ll do it anyway. It’s my first actual music job.”

I go into the studio and meet him. It’s broken English; it doesn’t even make sense. I don’t know what they’re trying to say. I tell him, “I can do this… gibberish. But don’t credit me on it. Don’t put my name on it. I don’t want you to put my name on it.”

Mr. Meguro asked me if I could revise it. I said, “Cool. Put it on loop for 20-30 minutes. I’ll try to write it. If I finish it, we can record it.” That’s what I did. About 45 minutes later, we finished recording it. That was the original Mass Destruction. So nobody checked the lyrics. But later on, they started hiring bilinguals. But, they had the trust in me. I try to understand the storyline before I write it.

One time, I was playing a game and the ending had Snoop Dogg on it. But the song had nothing to do with the game. I was bummed out. It just sounded cool because it was Snoop Dogg. I didn’t want that. If I was a fan of Persona, I want to hear something relatable that goes with the content.

I do that all the time. I put a lot of effort into trying to understand the script and the story. They give me a lot of trust. In working with the Persona 3 Reload songs, not once did they ask me to revise my lyrics.

Screenshot of  the All-Out Attack victory screen for Persona 3 Reload, which depicts the main character fixing his tie as his MP3 player dangles loosely from his neck
Persona 3 Reload

Anime-Zing Radio: Being a musician who was able to be a part of a franchise like Persona, do you think it is important that the music connects to the story of the game or the anime or TV series?

Lotus Juice: I think it should. It’s funny, because in the video game, my vocals are a little lower, in terms of volume. Originally, Shoji Meguro didn’t want the music to interfere with the players. He just wanted something like a rap feel.

What I do, when I am making a song for any content, I make sure it sounds good, that I’m not a bad influence on the players or the audience, so I try not to curse. I make sure it’s related to the content. Hopefully, the music makes it better. We can’t always do that. Some of the songs on Persona 3 Reload, they wanted the original lyrics. I didn’t revise it.

Anime Herald: Why do you think Persona has managed to grow and stay culturally relevant, while many games from its era have disappeared?

Lotus Juice: I’m not an expert on this. What I know is that a lot of the scriptwriters and designers spent a lot of time. They don’t compromise. That’s probably one of the elements that led to their growth, and the continuity. And music-wise, Shoji Meguro is just amazing. Persona 3, 4, and 5 all sound different.

He doesn’t listen to new music. It’s all in his head. The songs are already made in his head. He just brings it to life. He doesn’t fix it while he’s recording the songs. It’s already set.

The producers and directors work hard. They love Persona.

Anime-Zing Radio: How do you feel that living in the US influenced you when you came back to Japan? Did it help you bring a different style?

Lotus Juice: Definitely. Hip-hop is getting bigger in Japan. Back then, it was just copycat. Acting gangster, and talking about guns that they don’t have. When I went back I didn’t rap in Japanese. It didn’t feel right. I wrote so many songs. When I met Meguro-san, it was time to move on. Not from hip-hop, but to try something new. We had a chemical reaction. Hip-hop beats are generally from 85 BPM to maybe 100, 105. But Persona songs are usually 120, maybe 140. It was different. I was trying to put my skills and musical background into what he created. I think we had a chemical reaction.

Anime Herald: What would you say Meguro-san has taught you? What have you learned from him?

Lotus Juice: That he’s a genius. He’s so good that I can’t really learn from him. Imagine a guy who’s song is already set. You just have to play it. I usually sit with my keys, my pads, look for samples, and start messing around. I look for something new and go from there. Never in my career have I had a song already made in my head. So, music wise he hasn’t really taught me anything.

Anime Herald: You’re describing him the same way that Mozart wrote music. One cut, no edits.

(Editor’s note: This was covered in Amadeus.)

Lotus Juice: Yeah. And he’s humble. Very humble. He’s not confrontational at all. Very reserved. I told him when quit Atlus that he’s going to receive so many offers from conventions. They are going to want to hear his side of the story. He’s like “No, no, no. I’m nothing.”

That’s what he’s like all the time. I have total respect for him.

Screenshot from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure that features Joseph Jostar holding a hammer as he leaps away from a muscle-bound foe.
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

Anime-Zing Radio: How do you feel anime has helped increase the popularity of anime around the world?

Lotus Juice: It’s huge. Ten, maybe fifteen years, a lot of musicians sent presentations to anime producers to get opening or ending theme songs. That’s exposure. It’s huge.

Anime Herald: Shifting gears, what did you think of The First Slam Dunk, and who are your favorite NBA players?

Lotus Juice: Did you get to watch it?

Anime Herald: I saw it at Anime Expo.

Lotus Juice: What did you think?

Anime Herald: Phenomenal. One of the best movies I saw last year.

Lotus Juice: Very, very cool. They spent a lot of money on it. One of the characters, (Eiji) Sawakita, he’s the go to guy for Sannoh, my friend did the voice for him. His name is Shunsuke Takeuchi. We have a group (Amadeus) at Columbia (Records).

I saw it in theaters five times. I’ve never done that before in my life. It was so good. The music was good. The graphics, tempo, and story. I loved it so much. I even bought the Blu-ray. I thought it was one of the best anime I’ve ever seen. My friend, who’s not interested in basketball, he really got into it. People should definitely watch it.

My favorite player right now? Steph Curry got me back into watching the NBA. Back when I was here, it was the Knicks. Patrick Ewing, John Starks. Post up moves, bully.

Screenshot from The First Slam Dunk that depicts two basketball players, drenched in sweat, as they wear stunned expressions.
The First Slam Dunk

Anime Herald: Charles Oakley, my man.

Lotus Juice: Yeah, Charles Oakley. But when I went back to Japan, I had no access, no way to watch it. But then, NBA League Pass came. That’s when Steph Curry started emerging. I was like, “Whoa!” This was a game-changer. He’s doing something we were taught not to do. Dribbling up the court and shooting from the logo. It had never happened before.

The game has changed. There’s so many players that I like. Luca. Rui Hachimura, because he’s Japanese. Trey Young. Zion Williamson. You name it. I just enjoy watching the NBA. It just sucks though. I was in San Francisco, and the Warriors were away on a road trip. Now I’m here, the Celtics are on a road trip.

Anime-Zing Radio: Are you a fan of other sports as well?

Lotus Juice: I watch the Japanese national team. Not much else.

Anime Herald: Now that you’re back in America, is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to?

Lotus Juice: It’s been seven years. I finally got my visa. Anime Boston was amazing handling my visa. Funny story, though. We’d been emailing back and forth for a few months, making sure all the documents were right. Anime Boston paid a lot of money for it. I went to the US Embassy in Japan, in Tokyo. I went for the interview. It’s funny. I was dressed up. I wanted to make a good impression. I had a binder with 143 pages. I tried to put on a good face.

The interviewer said she couldn’t find anything about me under my real name. I said I have an artist name, Lotus Juice. She said okay. She’s sitting there Googling silently for three minutes. I’m getting anxious. I ask if she’d like to look at the 143-page binder. She says “No.”

He doesn’t have a clue. He says “Hi.” I say “Hi.” It was so strange.

Screenshot from Soul Eater that depicts the main cast standing with their weapons ready.
Soul Eater

Anime-Zing Radio: How did you come up your artist name?

She says “You’re overqualified. You’re good. You’ll get your visa in a week.” She calls over a colleague “This guy raps. His name is Lotus Juice.”

Lotus Juice: I wasn’t really thinking about it. Back then, in 1998-99, so many artists were calling themselves “big” or “little.” Big Joe, Little Shun, something like that. I wanted to do something different. In Greek mythology, lotus is a fruit that gets you high when you eat it. I wanted my music to be a high when you listen to it, but not in terms of drugs. Metaphorically a high. That’s what I was going for. I know it sounds corny.

Anime-Zing Radio: It’s definitely very ‘90s.

Lotus Juice: Yeah.

Anime Herald: Who are you listening to these days that impresses you?

Lotus Juice: I don’t listen to a lot of hip-hop these days. Justin Timberlake just came out with a new album. It’s amazing. Yusobeit. SIRUP. HIMEHINA. Heart Pie Dancehall gets stuck in my head. I’ve been listening to a lot of stuff. There are so many good artists these days.

Anime-Zing Radio: I’ve found so many amazing Japanese artists through video games and anime, even if I didn’t like the game or the anime. I’d go online and search for the artists. Have you found that the streaming apps have influenced your growth as a musician? Are you finding more people finding your music through the streaming services?

Lotus Juice: I think that through Twitter and Instagram, it’s great. It started 10-15 years ago. It’s much easier for artists to get exposure. I’m always like “Man, I’ve got to make more videos for Instagram or Twitter.” But I’m thinking I’m too old for it. I should post more videos, but sometimes when you write a song, you get lazy about making videos.

We all know that, with streaming services, you don’t get paid that much. Even for one million hits, it’s not much money. More exposure, sure. I’m more geared towards Twitter and Instagram. It’s easier for me to connect with fans outside of Japan. It’s probably because I speak English.

Yumi (Kawamura), Shihoko (Hirita), and Lyn (Inaizumi), the other Persona singers, they don’t speak English. When they write something in English, they probably ask someone else to interpret it. When they get responses, they don’t have time to get someone to interpret it. They can’t respond to it, because they don’t understand it. So, I’m more geared to Twitter and Instagram. They have more access to fans than the streaming services.

Anime Herald: When it comes to YouTube, Spotify, Twitter, and Instagram, do you feel a kind of compulsion to feed the beast?

Lotus Juice: I do feel it, but I don’t do anything about it. Because making videos, it’s a lot of work. I have five songs I need to finish by the end of April. I put a lot of time into each song. I don’t have time to make videos. I know I should but… it’s tough.

I am trying for YouTube. I interviewed Meguro-san. That was in November. I just finished editing. (Laughs)

Anime-Zing Radio: When doing the interview, did you find it fun to be the one asking the questions instead of the one answering them?

Lotus Juice: For sure. To be in the same room with somebody as good as Meguro-san. It’s always interesting. The way he handles music is so different from the way I do it. Like I said, I can’t really learn from him, but it just amazes me that somebody that good doesn’t spend that much time making music.

He told me he wakes up around 10 AM. He doesn’t eat breakfast. Five minutes later, he’s on his computer, programming. He’s making his own game right now, Guns Undarkness. He’ll work for three hours, go have breakfast, and then he’ll work for another eight hours.

He was on YouTube live. He wrote a really good song in two hours. I asked him about it. He said that the song was already written in his head. He just had to play it. I was like “You just have to play it? That’s the hardest part, what are you talking about?”

It’s always interesting. Drinking with him, talking with him, doing business with him. It’s always interesting.

Anime Herald: What advice would you give to the next generation looking to make it into the music industry, or the music in games industry?

Lotus Juice: Definitely work on your craft. Get your skills up, every day. You have to pay your dues. But at the same time, you need to think about the business side. You need to be a good businessman and a good artist. There are so many talented singers and rappers all over the world who don’t know how to market and promote themselves. You have to handle your business well.

Anime Herald: Can you give a three-minute course on how to handle business?

Lotus Juice: Basic stuff. You’d be surprised by how many artists who don’t know how to send invoices. Seriously. Taking care of your taxes. Negotiating, moneywise. Contracts. A lot of musicians are very disorganized when it comes to business. Get organized. Maybe hire an accountant if you have a little bit of cash. Very simple.

Anime-Zing Radio: You’ve talked about doing more videos. Have you thought about recording yourself during the process of writing a song?

Lotus Juice: I have. But, I’m not like Meguro-san. I need to get the synthesizer. I started playing guitar a year ago. I still suck, but I’m working on it. Get my pads, play with the drums, play some chords. Then, after two or three hours, I need to stand up, do some push-ups, or something. I don’t want my fans watching that. That’s not interesting, right?

Anime-Zing Radio: You’d be surprised. I bet you would have fans watch that.

Anime Herald: Yeah.

Lotus Juice: Me doing push-ups?

Anime-Zing Radio: People would enjoy watching that. You’d be giving your fans a look at you as a person, not just as a performer. It would help them connect with you more. Something real.

Anime Herald: You never know what’s going to go viral. Maybe it’s you doing push-ups.

Lotus Juice: I have my standards. Those standards come from the ‘90s. When I do something, and watch it, I can hear my friends from high school making fun of it. And I make fun of it too.

Anime-Zing Radio: I understand that all too well.

Lotus Juice: Sometimes, when I go live on Instagram, I’ll look back and say “Man, that was bad.”

But people like it. Gen Z likes it.

Anime-Zing Radio: I think we can be our own worst enemies. You talk to artists who hate their work minutes after they create it. Even though everybody loves it. Next week, we’ll be celebrating ten years of our podcast. I look back at some of the early stuff and think “Wow, that was horrible.”

Lotus Juice: It’s actually good. You’re getting better at it. You can see the flaws. I was telling my audience at my panel how I got into music. I went to college in Japan. My friend from Georgetown came over on an exchange program. He organized an event, in school. He said, “I want you to rap in my show.”

I was like, “What the hell are you talking about? I’ve never rapped before.” He said “But you like rap, right?” I said “Yeah.” So you can “Rap. I’m writing you down as a rapper.” I don’t know why, but I did it.

Anime-Zing Radio: Your friend didn’t let you say “no.”

Lotus Juice: Basically. One thing led to another. My friend, next to my dorm room, was Chinese. He was a composer and had three synthesizers in his tiny dorm room. He made a beat. He had a friend who was a female singer. We performed. I’m so glad they didn’t film it. It was horrible. But it was so much fun. That’s when I knew I kind of loved it.

Anime-Zing: If you could do music for any video game franchise that you haven’t worked on before, which would it be?

Lotus Juice: Good question. Like a Dragon, Yakuza. I just finished Gaiden, the side story. I cried like a baby. So good. Get your tissues.

I love Splatoon.

It’s always challenging. Sometimes, you’re offered a song on something you don’t really listen to. But it’s a job. I try to make it better. It’s always fun doing that.

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