Ok Fam, we’ve all made it to the end of 2019! While some expats have returned to their families and holiday traditions back in their home countries, the rest of us are making our very own traditions with end-of-the-year bonenkais, strawberry shortcake, and an all time Japan holiday favorite: Kentucky Fried Chicken. FYI, the chicken isn’t that great…but like I said, we make it work.
To ring out the old year, we’re doing something a little different for our next profile. So far, we’ve presented you with artists living in and around the Kansai area of Japan, but for the month of December, BCJ is pleased to present to you one of our members that does not actually reside in Japan, but is currently touring here from the United States. Visiting all the way from Los Angeles, California, Yung Student Loans, a.k.a. The Milkman, is an electronic & hip hop project, producer, and performer “illustrating for us all the consequences of Emotional Debt with brooding late night vibes.” Hot off the heels of a pending album release and music video in tow, we found time to have a local coffee sit down and discuss the Milkman’s grand return to the land of the rising sun:
Black Creatives Japan: I know you’ve already had a brief visit to Japan earlier this year so firstly, okaeri “welcome back”! How has your trip been this time around?
Yung Student Loans: Thank you! I just arrived about a week and a half ago, but it’s been good so far. I’ve been busy and hanging out with my friend who’s in town. Been getting used to the city again and getting lost on trains, haha. Thanks for asking.
BCJ: Yes, on your way here, you were a bit lost in transit, haha, but getting lost is the best way to explore a city so it’s all good. Now, you’ve done quite a bit of touring already back home so what made you decide to tour in Japan?
YSL: Well, when I was younger, I always dreamed of coming to Japan. It was kind of a super pipe dream and I never imagined that I’d actually come here. When I visited earlier this year, it was fantastic, but also very short lived and I just made the determination then that if I can make it happen—if I could just do a bunch of different things to have the resources to come back, play music in Japan and try to grow my fan base and just do it, it’d be awesome! So I’m glad it was manifested and I’m back. I’m happy that I’m here because I also feel that my music sonic-wise and aesthetically fits a lot of textures that match well with Japan even though it’s not in Japanese. Somehow my fan base has grown significantly here, haha.
BCJ: So, you’ve seen those end-of-the-year Spotify charts then! Perhaps the last time you were here, you made some good connections at that time.
YSL: Yeah, it was that and also just finding a way to promote. Recently, I’ve been working on a project and figuring out the aesthetic that I want to go along with it. When I’m working on music, I’m not the kind of person who goes out and records everything they’re doing every night while they’re actively making music. If I’m in the zone of making music, then that’s what I’m actually doing. I feel I can often be very incognito and I’ll just be “in the house cooking up” is what they would say. And then people will ask “What’s YSL look like now? What’s he doing?” For things like that, I’ve been using anime that I like and making music videos to my songs in order to give a visual that can connect people to things. I think that has worked very well here.
BCJ: Makes sense, especially for the many anime lovers out here! Earlier you mentioned your current project. Can you give a little introduction to the album, for our readers, who may not know. Since it’s currently being “cooked up in kitchen” and all!
YSL: Right, so the album is called I Stay Lonely. It was going to be just one song—one vocal song and then I was going to add a bunch of instrumental songs that fit along with the vibe of it. That was over the summer. I think when I came up with the concept of the album, it was May 17th, 2019 exactly. Originally, I wanted to reimagine the song I Get Lonely by Janet Jackson and I had actually already made all the melody lines and vocal notes, so then I figured out how I wanted to design the soundscape and I made a new synth specifically for that song. As I went on, however, a bunch of other things came up and I ended up releasing a separate summer album including some other things I had made. So at that point, what had started out as a small project—something I thought it would just be a one off became something way more.
I started working on more songs and also really got back into songwriting. I just realized I had all these songs and melodies so I started crafting more. It was definitely a next stage thing and worthy enough to be a project on its own. I wanted to release it before I came to Japan, but I kept changing things and my plan now is to release it in December. I can’t tell you an official date, but it’ll be very soon. Most of it is done, it’s just about connecting all the final pieces properly. This project includes a couple of songs featuring other artists and I don’t usually work with other people so I want to make sure they’re also okay with what I’m putting out there.
BCJ: After hearing a few previews of it, I’m definitely excited! To shift gears a little, can you tell us how Yung Student Loans came to be the artist we see today? I know you used to DJ and performed under the name HJMS, as well.
YSL: Yes, my projects were usually production only, but when I first moved to LA, I did have one song that I was rapping on, as my former electronic name, HJMS. A friend of mine, Shannon, after hearing it, said “Oh I like this, I like your voice on it.” She was the first person to ever say that and I was happy because I used to be very weird about my own vocals. I just didn’t have a lot of confidence in them and people just expected me to do a lot of stereotypical rapping and singing, but I’m happy that Shannon said that because it sort of set the stage.
And technically, the first song I made for HJMS was back in 2009, but my first project that got attention and led to me performing at venues and such was a project called Death of Hawn in 2012. Then after that, the Yung Student Loans project didn’t start until 2017.
It started out as a very ‘tongue and cheek’ thing and there’s a lot of lore behind it. I had made one project before, where I was doing a lot of production and these weren’t just regular electronic songs; I wanted to put vocals on them, but was figuring out what exactly I wanted to do. During that process, I realized some of the core things that I like are songwriting and melody construction; I just find a way to merge those and then finally with my vocoder. So I developed that and started performing as Yung Student Loans. At that time, I released my album Milkwave, which is the first project that crafted my sonics.
Conceptually with Yung Student Loans, the whole idea is that people around our age are in this group. We’re millennials and a lot of us have collected student loan debt because of whatever choice, but student loan debt has a lease of monetary value that can be paid off eventually. However, emotional debt doesn’t have a value, so a lot of my music is about the “emotional debt” that we accrue in our lives; that we knowingly build up or that we find, but never get that debt forgiveness from other people so we never move on from it. When I write songs, I never put out a song unless I’m over whatever I’m writing about and my writing process is therapeutic in that way.
BCJ: I think many artists can relate to that; their work being therapeutic, but that’s a really interesting way of describing that process. What was it like for you to transition from creating mixes as a DJ for your music to full on performing your own with vocals?
YSL: It was weird going from just making really instrumental bass music and then knowing what those songs mean and that people can interpret them however they want. So I have to deal with people listening to my songs and having their own interpretations, even though I never try to make a song about just one thing. Just knowing that people are listening intently is crazy. I used to not think anyone was ever listening to what I was saying and then people started responding to songs saying, “I like this song because it talks about this…” or “I really connected with that…” and it was so weird for me at first. My friends back home never paid attention to my songs, so yeah, it was different.
And then DJing was also a way I could get my music out there because if you stream it or you can DJ your stuff out loud for people, they’re likely to want to follow you. That was the finesse; you’re an electronic producer and make a remix of a bigger artist and if people come and see your remix of that, next they might go back to your original stuff and start getting into that too. It’s hard to get people to want to listen, especially now that people have access to everything; it’s hard to get people’s attention so some have to also focus on a visual that appeases.
At one point, there were definitely a lot of people who were fucking with my aesthetic, but weren’t actually listening to the music. They were just like, I like this leather jacket, and white turtleneck and gold chain and his hat—I like this look. It’s probably why my biggest building fan base started with Instagram, because it was an aesthetic thing and people liked it, but then for a while I wondered, how can I actually connect and get people to listen to the music aspect and not just look at my pictures, haha!
BCJ: Well, can’t help that; it’s both a blessing and a curse to be an attractive creative, huh? So you have described your music a little bit, but are there any other words you’d use to identify your genre/sound and creative process?
YSL: My songs are a mix of electronic and hip hop. Since I do all of my own production, I try to build this aesthetic, that I call “the feeling of drowning.” I like making production, bass wise and also synth wise. Melodic wise, you feel like you’re just engulfed in the sound and my words, which is also why I mix my vocals a certain way. It’s not for some people; many people like vocals that are upfront, but that’s not how I like doing a lot of my songs.
It’s funny how I figured out the “feeling of drowning” thing: I have this song called PSA which was on the intro to my summer mixtape last year called On the Run from Sallie Mae Pt. II, but when I made the beat, the original concept was that I wanted to use a whale song and have that be the main thing that carried it. In the production, even though other things are happening, the main thing is just a whale singing in the song. Added to that, was a simple chime, from the KONAMI theme of Metal Gear Solid that isn’t used anymore. I’m a huge fan of Metal Gear Solid. So I took that, then made the main line of the song and combined that in the whale song and then with the production around it, I just made this super heavy song and it was just the epitome of drowning to me. It’s very aggressive and rappy rap, but it’s very weird. A lot of people like the rappy rap songs and then others sometimes want to just hear the vibe, but then you can just get different things out of me.
About my process, I make everything based off story. That’s why I always end up making these little mixtape projects in between my main projects, because so far I consider my main projects Milkwave and then Emotional Debt ’cause those have a theme and when I don’t have a theme, I don’t like just making music. It was also weird to have people care about me singing & rapping about emotions. The first song I made that became more popular was my song Ore Wa (which is Japanese for “I am”) and it was technically a diss song, but no one really knows that except for like two people. The whole song is about being a joke kind of, but then being very arrogant and saying “I am” in that way is a boast-puffed-out-chest kind of thing. So there’s all that, but it’s also about my paranoia & not being able to trust people. At that time, someone was making idle threats towards me and that was my mindset when I made the song. But because it’s catchy and the delivery is a certain way, people just say whatever and I don’t think they really think about it. In the second verse, I talk about how I take all this Xanax to stop this paranoia and I don’t trust my friends or anything, but people just happily sing along and I don’t think they really get it. I guess that’s just the weird line in between… Like when people are too close to the subject, when they listen to it, I wonder whether they feel uncomfortable or not?
BCJ: I couldn’t tell you for sure, but I’d say that aspect definitely comes hand in hand with creative expression. People will interpret it however they like, but that’s really cool that your work is multifaceted and can inspire different opinions in others. Now I know you’re forever a sad boy, but can you name any enjoyable experiences you’ve had so far working on/performing these projects?
YSL: One time when I performed Ore Wa and people knew the words…that was a good moment. Or when I perform my song, Shut Your Bitch Ass Up, that’s also a crowd favorite. I don’t know, just to have people experience connections is cool. It’s weird to connect the internet to your real life. I remember last time before I came to Japan, I made this song for the record release of a collective. It was just an electronic song, but they wanted me to live perform so I decided I would and do all the new stuff I’d been working on, at that time, that people never heard before. At the live, there were just people there that I’d never seen before. People who were there to see me and I was just like…what? I never know what people expect because my moods can be different. I start off with high energy songs and then I get into the more sing songy stuff, but yeah it’s nice. I’m excited to finally release this new project and perform it live. I think it’ll be my most catchy, likeable, and approachable yet. It’ll definitely be a significant sound.
BCJ: Have there been any major difficulties in your path as an artist and producer? Do you have any other advice for artists out there on the same road?
YSL: Yeah, there were a lot. When I first started this project, many people, like I said before, were there for this comedic aspect of me being called Yung Student Loans. I knew it was gonna be a name that people would find funny, but then when I came up with the Milkman concept and all of the deeper lore behind that, it was a bit difficult to connect that to everything else.
When I made my first mixtape. All the production I did was super dope and the only thing left was to vocally perform on it so I did that, but even though I liked all the things I made production wise, some of the things I was rapping and singing about I wasn’t fully on board with because I used to make songs that were just completely in hyperbole and now that didn’t really fit.
So people may not know, but while the first concept of Yung Student Loans is the idea of emotional debt, there’s also a second one. That I’m this guy, who has a lot of student loan debt and uses the money he received to finesse a lifestyle that’s just living lavishly on boats and buying a bunch of stuff. And since he never has any reportable income, he can just keep deferring his loans and they can never get money from him. So the whole idea is that I’m on the run from Sallie Mae; they’re on to me and my lifestyle, but they can never prove that I have money ‘cause anytime I make money, it’s off the books.
Then the Milkman concept is just “milking” situations to benefit yourself. Anyone can become a Milkman if you know how to milk a situation. As the Milkman, I create the Milkman Academy, where I teach others how to milk different situations. That’s when the whole project went a little off, because conceptually, I was saying things that were very high in shock value and while the rapping of the performances isn’t bad, it’s just that in hindsight, looking back on it, it was just very cringe worthy to me because of this disconnect.
After performing live for the first time, I had just made the mixtape and a person had invited me to come play a show. At that show, people were fucking with it and going “Oh yeah, Yung Student Loans, how can I find all your other stuff?” But as I got more serious about the production, I didn’t want people to view my songs as just a joke. I respect people’s craft, but I know if people only take it as a joke, even if you do something as deep, it’s really hard to take yourself out of that. It was a kind of thing I had to do a switch on and that’s what led to my first project Milkwave.
I’m always comedic because that’s just part of my personality; I’m always tongue & cheek and never too serious. The I Stay Lonely project would probably be the most serious and vulnerable you’re going to hear from me. For the ending song, I talk about something that I’ve never spoken about before and it’s just a ballad of me singing.
That experience was a hardship because I had to make a decision on how I wanted to go; did I want to develop a sound and make songs that are funny and might not be taken seriously. The biggest thing is if you try to set my music to other people, they’ll say, “Oh, this is too electronic” or “I like the production, but I don’t like your content.” I went through times when people would say they would post/write about it on a blog or whatever, but then their editor would reject it. There were people that definitely got the concept, but thought some parts were corny so I just had to deal with that.
For advice, I’d say keep going, don’t listen to your friends. The hard thing for me in music is that when I start making music, I don’t have a reference point. I think for many people who create music, they hear a sound they like and want to replicate that. So then they find tutorials on how to replicate it, and from there they can grow and do other things that might be their own sound. However, when I do stuff I don’t really listen to one person and say I want to replicate this. Usually I’m just doing stuff that I already have in my head and then from there I’m just figuring out how to take only the best parts, the best ways to mix it, deliver it and pulling it all together you know? It’s also a little bit of sonic learning. I’ve figured out how to adjust people’s ears to what I want to do, but ultimately I know I’m not always for everyone.
So to everyone else, if you have a particular sound and a good idea then keep pushing through and just find the best way to take it. One hundred percent don’t listen to friends. No disrespect to my friends, it’s just that I think within my music circle, some people got it and supported it, but then all my friends who weren’t into music, they’d just listen to things casually and it becomes really frustrating. If people can only listen from a casual standpoint and they don’t get it then they don’t get it. They might lie to you and say they get it, but they don’t. So if you’re bending what you like to your friends or your casuals, then you’re going to get lost in your identity. Don’t get stuck making goofy songs for your friends unless that’s what you really want to do.
BCJ: Solid advice, it’s always best to be true to yourself! Finally before you go, you’re here on tour and always working on new projects so I suppose everyone should just be on the lookout for your release of I Stay Lonely and your new music video?
YSL: Yeah, the music video is probably going to be the main single. It feels weird to say that ‘cause like nowadays, you don’t really have a main single unless you have someone funding you a budget. It’s probably the most catchy and straightforward, and yeah I’m working on the I Stay Lonely project and it’s going to be a bummer of a project, but it’s gonna slap. It’s sad boy bops, SBB… I finally finished the track listing so I know how it’s all going to play out and it’s going to be songs for every mood. Like car music; for when you’re in your car. I found out a lot of people listen to my music at night, if they’re working and going through the night driving or just working on late night stuff. Also my friend, Lee, who’s my main videographer and photographer and my friend Shannon, they always make jokes that whenever they see a red light, they call it a Yung Student Loans vibe. In my house, there’s red lights everywhere and I realize to some people, that’s very brooding and can seem like a horror scene, but to me it’s just my red light mood. I make music for when you have red lights on in your house…
And that’s a wrap, Everyone! Come ride with us on the Milkwave and check out the Yung Student Loans project available on Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Music, and many other music platforms. You can also find updates on the release of his new music video & album I Stay Lonely via his IG handle @yungstudentloans.
Additionally, if you’re currently in the Kansai area of Japan this holiday season, come out and see Yung Student Loans along with other amazing local music artists such as the band, 4th Tribe and Drape, live at our upcoming bi-monthly BCJ event, Knight Riderz Volume 4: Bonenkai Vybz @ 8pm on December 28th at The Castle Behind the Bar in Sannomiya, Kobe. Then catch 4th Tribe performing again at Hard Rock Cafe’s event, New Year’s Eve Party @ 9pm in Universal City Osaka. Finally later on that night, pull up and see Yung Student Loans once more before the New Year, spinning alongside our Kansai DJ Collective members during our last BCJ event of 2019, Countdown into 2020 @ 10pm at the The Sound Garden Cafe & Bar in Shinsaibashi. Gas up, gear up, and get ready to spend some long nights, listening to the smooth sad bops of The Milkman and let yourself drown in his red light mood. Cheers!