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Best known as a street fashion designer behind internationally succesful brands like BAPE and Billionaire Boys Club, Nigo is also a DJ, hip-hop producer, and label owner. His debut album, Ape Sounds, was a mixture of trip-hop, dub, indie rock, and mellow psychedelic pop, and it was given an international release by Mo Wax in 2000. He then formed the Japanese hip-hop supergroup Teriyaki Boyz, who released collaborations with the Neptunes, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Busta Rhymes, and many others. He returned to making music in the early 2020s, releasing singles with A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, and Pusha T, leading up to the release of his long-awaited second album, 2022's I Know Nigo. Nigo (Tomoaki Nagao) was mentored by Hiroshi Fujiwara, the godfather of the Japanese street fashion scene who helped popularize hip-hop in Japan during the 1980s. While in university, the two played in a punk cover band called Tokyo Sex Pistols, along with two other major Japanese fashion designers, Jun Takahashi and Hikaru Iwanaga. Nigo founded BAPE (or A Bathing Ape) in 1993, its name and imagery inspired by the classic movie Planet of the Apes. He began to throw parties in celebration of his fashions that would draw a collective of Japanese artists such as Cornelius along with others from around the world, namely James Lavelle (an advocate of BAPE). The two collaborated on a 1997 compilation, A Bathing Ape vs Mo Wax, which was only released in Japan. Lavelle's U.N.K.L.E. and Nigo released the 1998 single "Ape Shall Never Kill Ape" (with Scratch Perverts), and the first Nigo album, Ape Sounds, appeared in Japan in 1999, followed by an international release in 2000. The album featured guests such as Ben Lee, Money Mark, Shawn Lee, and Cornelius. Several non-album singles arrived, including collaborations with hip-hop legends Rakim and Flavor Flav. Remixes and singles were collected on Ape Sounds Remix and a series of Shadow of the Ape Sounds releases, and Nigo additionally released two Japanese hip-hop compilations, (B)APE Sounds and Return of the Ape Sounds. Nigo founded the streetwear label Billionaire Boys Club with Pharrell Williams in 2003. Soon after, he formed the rap group Teriyaki Boyz with Rip Slyme's Ilmari and Ryo-Z, M-Flo's Verbal, and Wise. Their 2005 debut, Beef or Chicken, included tracks produced by the Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock, DJ Premier, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, and others. Nigo created an MTV Japan show called Nigoldeneye, which premiered in 2006. The group recorded the popular theme song to 2006's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, then released single with Kanye West, Pharrell, Busta Rhymes, and Chris Brown. These singles appeared on 2009's Serious Japanese, which also featured Big Sean and Towa Tei, among others. Nigo largely concentrated on fashion during the 2010s. He launched the brand Human Made in 2010, and left the BAPE brand in 2013, then became a creative director for Uniqlo in 2014. He managed and produced the girl group Billie Idle, who formed in 2015 and released five studio albums before disbanding in 2019. After working on a capsule collection for Louis Vuitton and becoming the artistic director for Kenzo in the early 2020s, Nigo released his first music since the 2000s. The singles "Arya" (with A$AP Rocky), "Want It Bad" (with Kid Cudi), and "Hear Me Clearly" (with Pusha T) all appeared in 2022. The full-length I Know Nigo featured additional appearances from other famous friends such as Lil Uzi Vert and Tyler, the Creator.
© Paul Simpson & Jason Birchmeier /TiVo
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