I met with DJ Muro one evening at his store in Tokyo on Senta-gai or “Center Street.” On my way, I got slightly off track and asked directions, in my very broken Japanese, how to get to the store. The reply was simply, “Ah, you’re looking for Muro-san?” I found his store nestled toward the end of the narrow, bustling street. The orange illuminated sign read, in black lettering, Savage. When Savage first opened, it was like minions following their king: Four other record shops opened in the same building soon after.
Entering the store, I gazed around, taking it all in. Among the records, Muro’s mixtapes, and other diggin’ paraphernalia, I noticed something I did not recognize. Attached to the wall near the ceiling was a model that looked like a small house adorned with relics, which I later found out is called a Kamidana. It originates from the Shinto religion. It is believed to enshrine God in order to protect all the people in the store.
But even then, I had a slightly unsettled feeling. It was this man’s title, “The King of Diggin’.” I wasn’t sure how to take it. Was it just a cool-sounding title, or did this guy really believe he was the true king? Names like Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay came popping into my head, reminding me of the legends who had been digging since the beginning of this culture’s inception. Possibly it was a cultural mistranslation of sorts. Either way, I was about to find out.
Muro emerged from his office in full Carhartt garb, standing surprisingly tall. His outfit matched, and his beard seemed neatly trimmed, demonstrating a certain care for his appearance. His eyes still have the gleam of youth, yet his face is a reminder that he is no novice to the diggin’ craft. Muro’s demeanor is calm and relaxed, although he proves through his raps and mixtapes he certainly ain’t no softie.
What started off as a hobby of collecting records for fun in middle school eventually led Muro to a lifelong career. Thinking back, he recalls his first record. “It was an anime record. The anime was by Go Nagai, and the record was the soundtrack to it. It was either called Devilman or Mazinger Z. It had nice sounds.”
From a young age, Muro had a yearning to get out in the Tokyo nightlife. Although during the tender years of his early teens, Muro wasn’t old enough to get into the clubs. The next logical place to go: the roller rink. “I used to go to the roller rink to hear some of the disco music. In the middle there’d be the b-boys dancing and stuff. I still wasn’t old enough, but later I started sneaking into the discos and getting into the club scene. I used to be dancing to the bumpin’ music, and I kind of realized I wanted to be the one making the people dance.”
Unfortunately for Muro, turntables weren’t sold in pairs back then, nor were they cheap. He worked some part-time jobs to save up enough money to buy just one 1200 back in ’85 when he was fifteen. “My first mix was with the turntable I bought and a tape player. There was a store you used to be able to rent records from. So I had some records I rented with some tapes I recorded the records onto. I was sitting there one day trying to match the beat of the record to the beat of the cassette tape until eventually I got it.” Muro later threw down for his second turntable and a mixer to make things official. It was the guy who sold Muro his mixer who explained that in a section of Tokyo called Harajuku there was a guy named Krush doing the same thing with two turntables, mixing records. Muro’s curiosity was piqued.
When he went to Harajuku to check out Krush (who turned out to be the now world-renowned DJ Krush), it completely flipped the script for him. Seeing this guy mix the records back and forth, playing the same record on both turntables, blew Muro away. Muro went back to see Krush in action on many occasions, but eventually it was Krush who actually approached Muro. The two of them would go on to form a crew called the Krush Posse in ’87 along with DJ Go. Muro played somewhat of a different role in this group, as Krush and Go served as the DJs. Muro was the mic controller, embodying some of the earliest Japanese rapping. The fact that the Krush Posse was one of the earliest crews in Japan to dig for records, mix them, and rap over the breaks created two main results. The first was that the inspiration they got came from within themselves, and the other was that what they did was often misunderstood.
It would be almost ten years before Muro would see hip-hop taking hold in Tokyo. When it did take root, there is no disputing the fact that Muro and Krush were some of the key people planting those seeds. It was in late ’92 that the Krush Posse broke up. Muro would soon begin another crew called Microphone Pager, along with a steady production of seriously classic mixtapes. Another element in the scene back then was the Major Force label. Hiroshi Fujiwara, Kudo, and Kan Takagi were the music heads spinning for the label at the time. “Those guys had the resources with the label, because they were the first to put out actual hip-hop records back then,” Muro says.
Muro began to develop relationships outside the borders of Japan, and Lord Finesse was one of the first American cats to reach out to him around the time of Muro’s trip to the States in ’95. As the two cross-cultural beatdiggers joined forces, some rare collaborations were produced, such as “The Vinyl Athletes” 12-inch, which shared their production and rhymes and featured AG from DITC. “It was different, but it was different in a good way,” Finesse says. “Because while Muro was in the booth doing his vocals, me and AG looking at each other like, ‘What is he sayin’?!’ He sounds like he killin’ it, but what is he really sayin’?” The only mixtape Finesse has ever done with selections from his crates is the collab mixtape he did with Muro, simply called King of Diggin’: Muro & Finesse. Since he’s close with Muro, I felt Finesse would be a good person to shed some light on Muro’s title. He says straight up, “Over the years, being around Muro, he’s proved he’s earned that title.”
The early record scene in Tokyo had somewhat slim pickings when Muro began tearing through the record shops. “The shop owners started going abroad to supply us with the records after we began a buzz,” tells Muro. The primary destination was to the States to gather up collections and bring them back to Japan. Today you can find just about any record you want there, however pricey it may be.
Currently, Muro has thirty-three mixtapes on the market, and he still makes new ones almost every month. Muro gives dap to his former partner Krush for honing his ability to push the boundaries and stand out from the rest. “I learned a lot about doing your own thing, having your own style, from Krush. I’ve always tried to take that concept with me when I make a mixtape.” The King of Diggin’ series was the first one Muro developed when he began his mixtape career. “I come up with a concept for each series. I’ll put planning into it before I get to work and conceptualize which genres will go together.” The King of Diggin’ series unearths some true gems from the bottom of Muro’s crates—all intricately laced together. It was the King of Diggin’ series that helped Muro build a fan base, but then it was the Diggin’ Ice series that he says expanded audiences for him. “For the person who has never listened to any of my music, listen to the King of Diggin’ series and they will understand,” says Muro, almost as if doing so is a step on the path to enlightenment.
During his trip to New York in ’95, Muro attended a party thrown by Biz Markie and Kid Capri. When he saw Kid Capri spinning ’70s and ’80s funk and disco records, he was inspired to get the crowd back in Japan more involved with this type of music. Hip-hop started to really pop off around this time in Japan, but for Muro it came with mixed emotions. On one hand, he was happy to see that what he had dedicated his life to was appealing to mass audiences. On the other hand, the fame and profits resurrected the profiteers. Muro saw people who used to make records in the early days start to come out of the woodwork, trying to get their share. Plus, with the prospect of money, new people who were never previously interested in the culture were jumping on the bandwagon. Muro had distaste for the people who were in it for the money and not the love of it.
Hip-hop clubs started opening and hip-hop music filled the dance floors all over Tokyo. Muro remembers when they couldn’t book more than one hip-hop event every three months. “I never got discouraged during the time before hip-hop started to really gain in popularity, because I was just doing my thing. I liked doing what I was doing. People could take it or leave it.” Muro’s attitude is still the same today as it was thirty years ago.
Hearing Muro’s tapes, seeing his collection, and getting Finesse’s perspective helped settle my opinion about this DJ who called himself the King of Diggin’, but I wanted Muro’s take on it. I asked Muro, “What do you say to somebody that may challenge your title?” He replies in the same calm, relaxed manner that he maintained during our whole meeting, but as firm and assertive as the toughest hardrock hip-hop head: He looks at me and laughs, “I’ll take him on.”