Category Archives: Hip Hop

Dancer Mao Kawakami Glows on Stage and Screen

Japanese dancer Mao Kawakami’s graceful, kinetic precision and peerless creativity have earned her a fabulous career. Whether appearing on the movie screen, touring with major pop stars or performing show stopping numbers at major televised award shows, Kawakami’s vibrant, high-energy style commands attention. Even in an ensemble troupe setting, the charismatic Kawakami stands out—audiences can’t take their eyes off her.

The Los Angeles based Kawakami’s fascination with dance has been life-long. “At age 3, I was going crazy dancing with my fairy stick at home,” Kawakami said. “So my mom put me into a ballet studio, which turned out to be amazing! I was strictly a ballerina until I joined a dance club in middle school and was introduced to hip hop “

photo: Joseph Cultice

Even at this young age, Kawakami remained focused, steadily expanding upon her foundational training and always progressing. “I moved to Canada when I was 15,” Kawakami said. “I went to dance studio after school almost every day and that’s when I learned all genres in dance, because I wanted to learn more and have fun. I grew a lot as a dancer and teachers and choreographers also started to notice ne. The dance industry world seems really big yet it really is such a small world, so choreographers always talk to each other and you never know who’s watching.”

By the time she arrived in Hollywood, the stars were aligning in Kawakami’s favor, and while the dancer’s professional life is often a fast moving course of one-off freelance gigs, Kawakami easily established a steadily building momentum.

“Once I got to L.A. and started to work with on music videos, the choreographers referred me to other big name choreographers,” Kawakami said. “I was working with Oththan Burnside [MC Hammer, Snoop Dogg, Rihanna] a lot, music videos for Keyshia Cole and some other projects, and she referred me to Jamaica Craft, who choreographs TLC, Usher, NE-YO, Justin Bieber, she was looking for a dancer the FOX Teen Choice Awards. I got the job and that’s when my career grew from small projects to big award shows and tours.”

 

photo: Wes Klain

Things began to move fast for the ambitious young dancer. Before long she was getting assignments for jobs with alternative hip-hop sensations N.E.R.D., interpretive dance collaborations for pop princess Pink and hitting the road with rap superstar Iggy Azalea—some of the best, most high profile performance opportunities in all of show business. Kawakami’s signature combination of high energy, interpretive skill and flawless execution make her an in-demand asset to any dance presentation.

“I have worked with Mao on multiple gigs,” Burnside  said. “She ‘gets’ all aspects of work and has an ability to figure it out, in a matter of seconds, which makes things easier for all of us. Her presence is like a diamond—she brightens up the stage and makes the whole production look better. That’s the reason I keep hiring her.”

Kawakami’s sterling professional reputation professionalism and very impressive roster of credits are the result of one thing—her artistry. Her innate gift for dance colors every aspect of her life on stage, and off stage, and Kawakami embraces her art, life and career as equal parts of a holistic philosophy,

“My career really grew when I started to know myself more as a person,” Kawakami said. “Not only as a dancer, but also as a whole person. That is a big part of any successful career. Even if you’re a really good dancer, if you can’t figure out who you are, you just don’t glow the same. I think you glow the most when everything is aligned; your dance, your personality, character, and your health, mentally and physically. Everything shows from the inside out, and when I figured this out, I definitely started to book more jobs.”

photo: Wes Klain

Kawakami is rarely found relaxing at home between gigs and is constantly expanding her skillset and exploring new avenues of creative expression. “I love touring!! You get to see different cities and countries on top of doing a job you love.” Kawakami said. “But I also love doing movies—I just played the new Bella in Pitch Perfect 3. I got to work with my favorite choreographer Aakomon Jones and also learned to act and took vocal lessons. Singing and dancing require extra energy, so we took boot camp classes at night to keep our shapes. The whole movie experience was so amazing, we got to shoot at the biggest aquarium in the states in front of huge whales and turtles! The process went by so quickly but I would do it all over again.”

Kawakami’s intoxicating mix of raw talent, striking good looks, dynamic moves and limitless enthusiasm for her work places the dancer in a league of her own, one where she has already achieved great success and stands poised to ascend ever higher in the entertainment world.

“Everything is connected,” she said. “One experience fuels another, and that fuels another. It’s a chain reaction. So if you experience a lot, your creative flow just becomes so smooth and colorful. Dance is my job but it always has also been my escape, it is like therapy to me. It helps me express things that I can’t say with words, it is a nonverbal communication. It is art.”

Fiercely Talented Producer Lil’ Lyss On the Hip-Hop Radar

Music Producer Diana D. aka Lil' Lyss
Music Producer Diana D. aka Lil’ Lyss

While there’s no shortage of female vocalists and performers in the mainstream music scene, a major gender gap definitely exists between men and women working behind the scenes in the music industry with women fulfilling far fewer producer and engineering roles than men.

In a 2014 article published by The FADER, Ruth Saxelby wrote that less than 5% of music producers and engineers are women. While the number of women in the male-dominated industry remains unjustifiably small, there definitely are some talented female music producers making their name known in the scene, even if they’ve had to work a little harder to do it.

Diana D., better known as Lil’ Lyss, is one of the fiercely talented female music producers who’s made her way to the forefront of the industry, and she needs to be on your radar. Holding producing credits on several hit tracks for American rapper Ca$his, over the last few years Lil’ Lyss has become one incredibly sought after music producer, especially in the rap and hip-hop scene.

Originally from Bulgaria, Lil’ Lyss was instantly drawn to music during childhood, but it wasn’t until she heard 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” produced by Dr. Dre as a teenager that she realized she wanted to produce music.

She explains, “That opened my eyes for music. It was so simple and so great at the same time, then I thought I could do this too. I downloaded a bunch of programs and started messing with them and with time I taught myself to sound like I sound now.”

It’s been 14 years since the release of “In Da Club,” and Lil’ Lyss, now 27, has definitely utilized that time wisely. She spent those early years mastering the vast plethora of software necessary to be competitive in modern music and teaching herself the ins and outs of producing; and what she’s accomplished since is nothing short of amazing. Her unique beginning, flawless style and musical genius have definitely made her a rarity in the industry; and her drive to produce new and innovative tracks are what’s kept her ahead of the curve at every turn.

In 2013 Lil’ Lyss gained major industry credit when she was tapped by well-known Shady Records producer Rikanatti to come in as a producer on a few tracks for Ca$his’ second studio album The County Hound 2. How she landed that distinguished role as a producer on an album that features guest appearances from rap and hip-hop mainstays such as Crooked I, Obie Trice, Mistah F.A.B., Kuniva (D12), King Los, Boaz and more, is unique in itself– and it definitely proves that her skill is enough to catch the attention of the industry’s best.

She explains, “I am constantly looking for people to work with and that day I saw Rikanatti had tweeted that he was looking for producers to feature on Ca$his’ next album. I contacted him and sent him several examples of my work and he instantly responded with an offer. From the thousands who submitted music to him, I made the cut.”

And that was that. Lil’ Lyss landed her spot as a producer on the tracks “Imma Hustla” featuring Crooked I and Sullee J, and “Imma Hustla [W.C. Remix].” The hit single off The County Hound 2, “Imma Hustla” definitely thrust Lil’ Lyss’s skill as a music producer into the spotlight. Those in the rap game who didn’t know her name before definitely did after.

Undeniably one of the album’s standout tracks, “Imma Hustla [W.C. Remix],” which features Mistah F.A.B., Roccett, Crooked I and Goldie Gold, is hard, heavy and rhythmically energizing, which is due in no small part to the beats and overall musical backdrop that Lil’ Lyss masterfully created. It’s no secret that production is the foundation of any hip-hop song. The beats and tempo are the vehicle that allow the lyrics to flow, and Lil’ Lyss definitely nailed the production on both versions of “Imma Hustla.” It’s impossible not to nod your head to the song as it plays; and the way Lil’ Lyss creatively melds together the elements of gangster rap with energy amplifying cross fades and perfectly timed pauses throughout the track definitely deserves a nod as well. Her talent as a hip-hop producer is evident from the first few bars of the track, and the fact that she holds production credits on an album where four of the other 16 tracks were produced by 15-time Grammy Award winning rap icon Eminem doesn’t hurt her street cred either.

After producing two of the album’s most popular tracks, it’s not surprising that Rikanatti and Ca$his tapped Lil’ Lyss to come back to produce the track “A-Rod” on Ca$his’ 2015 album The County Hound 3.

The lead single off the album, “A-Rod” features New York heavy hitter Emilio Rojas. While it’s on the opposite end of the spectrum tempo-wise compared to the “Imma Hustla” tracks, with “A-Rod” boasting more of a low-key fluid vibe, the track is yet another hit under Lil’ Lyss’s belt as a producer.

“It was an honor and a challenge to work with Ca$his and Rikanatti, their talent is always very inspiring for me and their work ethic made me a better producer,” says Lil’ Lyss. “I created the music for the projects we did together, and Rikanatti adjusted the arrangements and mixed and mastered the whole album.”

While Lil’ Lyss’s reputation for producing epic beats has made her a highly sought after producer for rap and hip-hop artists, her skills are by no means limited to any single genre. Last year she released her first EDM/Trap track “Beast Race.” The dynamic, bass-heavy track generates an energizing, dancey vibe that will make you want to bob your head and get your booty shaking. “Beast Race” gained immediate traction with listeners through the internet with Crazy Pellas, Smash The Club, EDM Nation and other popular music outlets featuring the track on their website.

About what drives her to produce, Lil’ Lyss explains, “I love good music and I want to be a part of it. Especially now in the current state of music, I think the industry needs creativity more than ever. There are millions of people out there that crave the good music but all they get is mumble rap and 3 chord pop songs. I’m here for them!”

From producing hits for rap and hip-hop artists to creating tracks that strike a chord with EDM fans, Lil’ Lyss clearly has a stockpile of tricks up her sleeve, and the more music she produces the more we get to see just how dynamic a producer she really is. As long as we have creative female music producers like Lil’ Lyss who are driven to push the boundaries of the main stream, we can faithfully look forward to the direction rap and hip-hop music is going, while also opening the gates for more women to enter the field, because producing good music is not defined by gender, Lil’ Lyss is proof of that.

Up next for Lil’ Lyss is the upcoming album for The Marine Rapper, which she will be producing later this year. A 10-year US Marine Corps combat veteran, The Marine Rapper is an LA-based hip hop artist who’s created a recognizable name for himself by addressing military, civil and political issues through hip hop and rock music.

The Marine Rapper says, “I would like to work with Diana because she brings a unique production style that has not been introduced to modern music. I think with her worldly travels and various techniques she can bring something new to American music with a collaboration effort.”