I’m a CD addict and a hip hop music fanatic (or call it “rap” if you prefer). I’ve been buying CDs since their introduction to the world in the 1980s and my collection totals in the thousands. Whilst I acknowledge that digital music has its benefits, a bunch of MP3 files seem totally soulless to me compared to the tangibility offered by a CD. Some of the fondest memories of my younger days revolve around spending hours in music stores looking for the next gem to add to my collection. Unfortunately, the good old record store is rapidly becoming extinct in many parts of the world. Despite being a country that leaves most of the world behind with its technological advancements, Japan hasn’t surrendered its physical music shopping experience to the ease of sitting at home downloading MP3s, as music stores still abound.
Tokyo has enough music stores to be classified as an audiophile’s paradise. The popular shopping area near Shinjuku Station’s (新宿駅) South East Exit has a few music stores in close proximity to each other where you can get your CD shopping fix. So let’s take a look at three stores in the area that will more than likely meet your hip hop shopping needs!
— タワーレコード新宿店 (@TOWER_Shinjuku) July 24, 2017
Although every store in this article is within easy walking distance from Shinjuku Station, Tower Records is the one you will probably see first as it is right next to the station’s South East Exit (南東口) i.e. if you can find the right exit in an enormous train station that is notorious for being hard to navigate.
Tower Records actually occupies the uppermost four floors of the 10-storey Flags Building. Each level of the store represents different genres, but you’ll want to head to the 8th floor for Japanese hip hop, and the 9th floor for Western hip hop flavors.
In the Western section, you’ll find music from well-known artists such as Kanye West and Jay-Z, but you’ll also find a decent range of artists from the underground. Just don’t come here expecting to find anything too obscure or rare. If you know your hip hop, there won’t be too many names on the shelves that you aren’t familiar with.
On the same floor as J-pop and J-rock, you’ll find an aisle dedicated to Japanese hip hop (right in front of the cash registers). I don’t profess to be an expert on Japanese hip hop, but I know enough to tell you that you’ll find a broad selection that ranges from the essential new releases and stretches back to some of the earlier artists from the 1990s such as King Giddra and Buddha Brand.
Even if you know nothing about Japanese hip hop, you can (and should) give it a try as there is a listening station setup at the end of the aisle where there are something like 30 different albums for you to sample. In fact, these listening stations exist throughout the store for all types of music and you can end up staying for hours checking out new music.
All the CDs here are new and thus come attached with standard Japanese new CD prices, which means you’re looking at somewhere between 2,500 to 3,500 yen or more per CD. Therefore, shopping here isn’t cheap, but if you end up becoming a regular customer, you can take advantage of the store’s point card system which can lead to discounts and specials for future purchases.
— ディスクユニオン新宿クラブミュージック (@diskunion_shcm) July 24, 2017
There are numerous disk union outlets all around Tokyo, and Shinjuku has an eight-level megastore in the Yamada Building with different genres between floors. Seemingly though, hip hop doesn’t qualify for megastore status, so instead, you’ll need to make your way 100 meters or so to the west, to the third floor of the Fukumoto Building. Here you will find the “Hip hop/Dance Music” store (also known as disk union Club), which aside from hip hop also stocks techno, house, and R&B.
This store takes me back to the days of digging in crates for hip hop at record stores in Sydney during the ’90s. It’s very small and cramped, to the point that you can barely move if there are more than a handful of patrons in the store, but that’s part of its retro music shopping appeal. Another cool factor is that your fellow customers will probably be like-minded hip hop heads.
You’ll find both new and used Western and Japanese hip hop CDs and vinyl here, although the Western material outnumbers the Japanese products. The great thing for people like me is that you will be looking at more rarities than you’d find in Tower Records or BOOK-OFF. You’ll find some albums that go as far back as the old school days of the ’80s, the golden era of the ’90s is very well represented, and of course, they also sell post-year 2000 releases. A real bonus here is that you’ll find a separate section labeled “Gangsta Rap” where you will find a number of releases from known and lesser-known American regional gangsta rap artists from years gone by.
Prices here vary, so don’t come here expecting too many bargains. Some CD prices are reasonable, others are overpriced, but a few actually are surprisingly cheaper than they probably should be. Expect to spend more than 1,000 yen for most CDs here. As much as the ambiance of the shop takes me back in time, it’s also a little bit old school in terms of not really knowing what you’ll find and at what price, but the possibility of a lucky discovery makes it a worthwhile place to seek out. The best part is really the nostalgic vibe here, I really miss places like this.
BOOK-OFF is Japan’s largest second-hand bookstore, with over 850 stores around the country. They also sell other used products such as CDs, DVDs, magazines, video games, etc.
I actually recommend this store for more than just shopping for hip hop CDs, but I’ll stay true to the mission at hand. So head down to Shinjuku-dori, and next to Kinokuniya, look around skywards and you should see BOOK-OFF signs in the windows of the building on the next corner. Head for that building, jump on the escalator and step off at level 5.
I have to admit that you’ll need to be pretty committed to your CD search to find what you want here as there must be thousands upon thousands of CDs in the store. The aisles are long and the CD racks run from more than head height right down to the ground. I suggest eating before you come here because if you are being thorough, expect to spend at least a couple hours scanning through all the CD racks for your gems.
There is actually a separate hip hop section, but it’s a rather small area with nothing much more obscure than artists like DMX or Wu-Tang Clan. However, it seems the staff don’t know their genres that well as you will actually find more hip hop scattered around amongst the very large section of general Western pop/rock music. Admittedly, I’ve never spent a great deal of time scouring the shelves for it, but I didn’t notice much Japanese hip hop here (aside from some mainstream releases).
In summary, there is little along the lines of lesser-known hip hop to be found here, but if you’ve missed some albums over the years from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Onyx, Busta Rhymes, etc., then this place is well worth a visit.
BOOK-OFF is absolutely a bargain hunter’s paradise. The racks are divided by price, with sections for 108 yen, 280 yen, 500 yen, and then prices jump beyond 1,000 yen for newer titles. From a hip hop collector’s perspective, you can definitely unleash your inner completist and fill a few gaps in your collection by spending the equivalent of a few dollars on albums that you may not have been too keen to pay more for in the past.
Whilst this article is specific to one genre, you can apply it to ANY style of music as all stores mentioned here cater to any musical preference (although obviously for disk union you’d need to go to the outlet relevant to your genre of choice).
Needless to say, I’m only touching the surface of Tokyo’s CD shopping by focusing on literally a few blocks within one section of a city which must be one of the best cities in the world for music collectors to visit. However, if you are a hip hop fiend and only have time for a quick visit to Shinjuku, then check out the places I mentioned and I’m sure you won’t leave without at least a few hip hop CDs to add to your collection!