SKY-HI EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rap Guru and BMSG CEO rips the lid off the Japanese music industry

SKY-HI Interview: Rap Guru and BMSG CEO rips the lid off the Japanese music industry

CEO to 22 Japanese music artists, voice of Baki Hanma S2’s opening tune and face of YouTube’s D.U.N.K. series, SKY-HI talks industry shackles and breaking boundaries

IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, 36-year-old rapper, singer and CEO of BMSG, Mitsuhiro Hidaka, known professionally as SKY-HI, talks to TheReviewGeek about the evolving face of the Japanese music industry and how he’s personally taking responsibility to galvanize that change. Like rolling thunder, he’s been fighting against the tide in the Land of the Rising Sun. And asserts he’s exactly the right person to scream about it.

As a member of J-pop group AAA turned solo rapper, he’s been there, done that and shredded the T-shirt. SKY-HI has put everything he is into building an entertainment management agency that’s artist-centric, shattering the traditional porcelain.

A pure renegade, he’s aiming to change the Japanese music industry by example. A mere three years since establishing his own company and label, he’s been proving his theories, step-by-step, enhancing the industry from the inside.

The timing is perfect. The voracity of the Asian wave seems to only be rising, with dramas, movies and music earning recognition and gaining spots on popular streaming channels. Such as Netflix anime Baki Hanma S2, with a soundtrack featuring SKY-HI and BMSG group BE:FIRST. The appetite for international material is ravenous and doesn’t look to be slowing down.


Yet, even so, Japan primarily sticks to its borders. While the rest of the world’s entertainers are vigorously collaborating – such as with nearly half of Jung Kook’s recently released chart-breaking Golden album – in Japan, they’re falling behind. SKY-HI is horrified at the loss of talent and missed opportunity for development.

From this, BMSG’s mission seems clear – actively stimulate creativity and share it with the world. SKY-HI is already driving collaborations and building an open environment for his roster. Such as earlier this year, he quite consciously launched a globally streamable weekly dance series D.U.N.K. (DANCE UNIVERSE NEVER KILLED) on YouTube, offering a view of various styles and providing participants an invitation to work together.

Photo credit: BMSG Japan

“In Japan, we have few opportunities for groups from different labels to collaborate or perform together. Now that D.U.N.K. is on YouTube with English subtitles, anyone can easily see what we’ve been working toward – a memorable experience for fans around the world.”

Having spent several decades in music under multiple management companies, SKY-HI has witnessed quite a bit. Even now management typically leads talent, ‘packaging’ groups and blocking creative freedom as a result.

Having started his career at 15, SKY-HI details, “Coming from years of my own experience where I couldn’t focus on the music I wanted to make, I realize something was seriously wrong with the environment. But back then those decisions were ‘discussions for adults’ – the entertainment world norm.”

Gazing at how freely singers seem to work in other countries, his supposition was reinforced – Japan is missing a huge trick. “The progress in other countries’ entertainment industries is significant, proving my takeaways are not wrong.”

Not new in any part of the world, I’m still curious about why entertainment agencies choose the packaging route. SKY-HI elucidates, “Past successes, such as Japanese boy band SMAP started the trend. Creating specific personas among members in the same group can trigger competition among fans to support their favorite, leading to more sales. Some companies may want to follow that route for quick and easy gain.”

Debuting in 2005, he talks of being packaged early in his career and the difficulty of trying to ‘live’ an ill-fitting role. “Fans may not accept artists who don’t fit the pre-arranged personas. I often had to play the clown and as a result, saw myself as a substitute within the group. That alone was okay, but when some fans didn’t accept me, it was hell. This is another piece of my own experience that led me to create an environment for artists to be true to themselves.”

It’s been so chronically insular in music, that it was frowned upon to even chit-chat with ‘competitive’ performers. But since D.U.N.K., there’s been a marked shift. Now that other TV production companies have seen its success, more collaborative music performances are beginning to pop up. SKY-HI’s bold vision is making an impact.

But it’s more than just formally produced TV shows. There’s a change in interpersonal interaction as well. “We now often see what’s happening backstage thanks to artists posting on their social media accounts. While this seems normal, it is VERY NEW to our industry – yet it’s happening – and becoming part of the culture in Japan.”


SKY-HI stands for ‘infinite possibilities’ a concept that seems to keep the performer thriving. While his initial experience was discouraging and dissatisfying, he simultaneously worked to break out of that frame, performing solo in Tokyo clubs. A twinkle of the performer he’s become today.

Grasping his predicament and observing advancement in other countries, he took on the responsibility of creating the type of company he would have wanted to join. “I realized this management-led scenario creates a loss of talent. We cannot repeat history. To save many talented people out there and to allow them to freely shine, someone like me who has suffered and knows what it’s all about must take the first steps. It is that simple.”

Ready to be the change, SKY-HI created BMSG – Be MySelf Group. “I bet with everything I had. One thing my experiences taught me is how crucial it is to own your music rights. Since I couldn’t raise funds or get bank support, I had to come up with my own everything, using all my time, contacts, skills and expertise in every direction possible.”

But even working his way through what sounds like a daunting and exhausting period, SKY-HI notes, “It wasn’t an easy process, for sure. But it was a time filled with joy and precious memories – I had nothing to lose. Now we’re at a point where we have to prove our success with numbers – like being No.1 in Japan or charting in global markets. After everything, there’s an expectation for us to achieve overwhelming results.”

SKY-HI refers to his groups and soloists, many originating from a self-made 2021 audition broadcast. “What I’ve tried to establish is an environment for artists to focus on creativity and being themselves. You can see this in the THE FIRST audition series. As an independent company, we’re able to free ourselves from unnecessary power games or politics.” In this first episode linked above, you can catch a deeper glance at his concerns.

He continues, noting an adjustment in the wind. “Since starting BMSG, and launching D.U.N.K. in particular, I feel a shift. There now seems to be a budding openness among artists from different labels. As a result, proposing collaborations has become more acceptable. I also see a change in the way the business side of the industry regards idols. With healthier competition among artists, I’m hopeful it will lead our music and entertainment industry in Japan to grow as a whole.”


Growth seems to be the perpetual watchword, prompting SKY-HI to continue smashing old containers. He’s not content to sit still but filled with an energy to expand and improve. Additionally, he’s got a keen marketer’s eye. “If we can incorporate the world’s music trends with a Japanese essence to create a fusion – just imagine it – Japanese culture has been long loved around the world. I want us to try endlessly.”

While the business end is constantly moving, there are also the individuals to consider. As any public figure knows, it’s the supporters that make or break a career, particularly in Asia where devotees feel a level of ownership for their favorites. From a well-being perspective, especially with young people, how does one manage it?

“It’s my responsibility to keep showing a strong presence in the industry to ensure we share our beliefs. If we keep talking about it, fandoms will start to show respect and understand that artists are people too. Equally, we’re creating an ethos of openness so artists don’t feel alone and educating them on communicating with fans. But ultimately BMSG is responsible.”

And with several young talents already joining the scene, there’s a lot for which to be accountable. In the last few months, BMSG performers including BE:FIRST, MAZZEL, Novel Core, Aile The Shota, edhiii boi and REIKO have been pouring out tunes, covering a number of different genres.

Will they demonstrate the proof SKY-HI is banking on? Already BE:FIRST is making significant strides, winning the 2023 MTV EMAs ‘Best Asia Act’ award earlier this month. And this Autumn, BMSG released new music over a two-weekend, double-venue music event, BMSG FES’ 23, featuring all the performers solely and in cooperative groupings. With the rate of motion even over the last six months, more is sure to keep coming. 

“I’m thrilled to see how each of our artists has grown in their unique ways. Our presence in the industry has undeniably strengthened and I’m sincerely grateful. We’ve shared J-pop entertainment that everyone in the world can enjoy. This includes BE:FIRST who have been crushing the charts in Japan.”

Whatever happens next and the numbers reflect – we can confirm – SKY-HI continues to boldly walk the talk. 

Who’s your favorite BMSG group or artist? Click the links above to hear more of their music. Then shout it in the comments below. For more interviews, click here.

6 thoughts on “SKY-HI EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rap Guru and BMSG CEO rips the lid off the Japanese music industry”

  1. I completely agree. I love that he’s willing to speak out so openly and that the movement is clearly starting, as if waiting for him to get in there and shout. More power to him! Thank you for reading and for commenting!

  2. I’m right there with you – it’s fascinating to see someone strive for change. And it looks like he’s succeeding. Thank you for reading and for commenting!

  3. It’s hard to take a chance that can make a difference. I like Sky-Hi’s approach to changing how the music industry is being represented and shared. This article was inciteful and interesting.

  4. He sounds like a very courageous young man and I have total respect for the chances he is taking to bring forth his vision. My hat is off to him.

    Thank you for this article

  5. Thank you for the interview with SKY-HI!
    I am very glad that you described in detail his establishment of BMSG, his thoughts on D.U.N.K., and how he is with his fans.
    I hope many people in many countries will read it.

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