Everything about Chanmina can be described with one word: “unique.”
Well, there are a few more words. She’s vibrant, she’s eclectic, she’s memorable, she’s in love with Disney and she’s even visited Walt Disney’s grave for inspiration, and her music will make you rethink the way you view the world of Japanese music.
Based in Tokyo, 21-year-old Chanmina (Otomonai Mina) is a rapper with a flair for drama, and she shares her saucy rhymes and impactful verses in a mix of Japanese, English and Korean. She most recently released her duo of note-book EPs — note-book -u. and note-book -Me. — which focused on the different parts of herself and her musicality, flip-flopping seamlessly between rambunctiously catchy hip-hop tracks and more intimate melodic moments, showcased, respectively, on singles “Picky” and “Voice Memo No. 5.”
“This note-book series was like something that I went into deepest,” says Chanmina over a video call shortly after the album’s release. “It’s taking time to kind of go back. So I went so deep. Normally, I create something and I can come back to normal life [during the process]. But when I was creating the note-book albums, I was into it really deep and honestly I’m still in that mind-set.”
The albums’ tracks are inspired by writings Chanmina herself has penned in diary-like notebooks, with each one drawing from various emotions and experiences. She opted to release a pair of dual EPs rather than one two-toned LP to reflect the divergent elements of the different facets of her personality that she was expressing through not only the music, but also the visual trappings, such as album covers and music videos, which she feels sets very different tones for each of the note-book albums. “I sort of realized that, ‘Oh, this is like a new character and this is another character,’” she recalls. “I wanted to show both sides on these EPs.”
As for the singles, she opted for “Voice Memo No. 5” and “Picky” because the first was “a Chanmina-ish pop song” and she felt that her recent fans like her for that part of her musicality. “Picky,” however is geared more toward fans of hip-hop and rap, whom she hopes to attract to both sides of her music, with the aim of being a forerunner of hip-hop in Japan’s highly pop and rock-oriented music scene.
“The reason why I believe that I’m unique in this industry is that blending things together, like pop and rap mixture, is still kind of hard,” says Chanmina, describing herself as “uncommon.” “In Japan, it’s not like in the U.S. industry where there’s crossover [of audiences]. Let’s say I go for, like, a really hard rap theme, the pop people might be like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s scary, she’s too hard hitting.’ But if I go all pop then hip-hop people might be like, ‘Oh, she’s too soft for a rapper.’ But I love these two elements, and I want to make and create and deliver these things to people. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Chanmina, who is Korean-Japanese and flits between the two languages throughout the interview with some English thrown in, draws clear inspiration from K-pop’s visuals in her music videos, which is fitting because she nearly went down the K-pop route. But though she spent time preparing to pursue a career in the Seoul-based music market, she ultimately determined that her place was in the Japanese scene. “At that moment [when I was preparing to enter the K-pop world], I realized that there were no distinct female rappers in the Japanese music scene. I never really looked at the Japanese music scene; growing up, I listened to a lot of Korean music. And I just wanted to know why there are no female rappers in Japan. I’m actually really happy that I stayed and decided to do music in Japanese, because I’ve now been able to learn a lot about the Japanese music world that I didn’t know, and learned the beauty of songwriting Japanese lyrics.”
Chanmina grew up around music, thanks to her mother who was a professional dancer, and she perceives her relationship with her craft akin to something like flower gardening. “I get all my nutrition, let’s say, from what I’ve been listening to ever since I was a child,” she says. “Water-like inspiration is poured through things like my mother’s lullabies or my best friends’ humming, let’s say. And I’m like a flower, who brings these inspirations to bloom into something to share with the world.”
Signed to Warner Music Japan, Chanmina’s eventual aim is to go beyond Japan, and Asia, to become a globally recognized artist, and eventually set up her own entertainment agency, referencing K-pop companies like YG, JYP, and SM Entertainment with her desire to set up “CM Entertainment” someday and guide artists on her own.
For now, though, she’s just eager to show the world what she has to offer. “I don’t want everyone to think that I’m great yet because I’m all ready to create something even more exciting in the future so that they can be like, ‘Oh, she’s that great.’ Keep an eye out for me.”
This interview was conducted in Japanese, Korean, and English, and edited for clarity.