The imprint’s first signing is R&B artist FLEUR.
Warner Music is growing its footprint in the world’s second-biggest music market with the launch of a new label focused on Japan’s fast-growing urban and hip-hop scene.
Entitled +809, the imprint will be based in Warner’s Tokyo office and overseen by Warner Music Japan president and CEO Kaz Kobayashi. He said the label would “help break down barriers and enable Japanese artists to succeed in the global streaming market.”
The launch of +809 comes as major labels ramp up investment in local repertoire on a global scale, with a particular emphasis on urban and hip-hop artists.
In September, Universal Music Group opened new headquarters in Southeast Asia supporting A&R and marketing teams in Malaysia, Indonesia, Indochina, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. The structural reorganization also saw the launch of regional offices for Def Jam and dance imprint Astralwerks.
This year has also seen Universal team up with New York-based media company Mass Appeal to launch a new urban-focused label in India to tap into its own thriving hip-hop scene, fueled by the rise of streaming.
In Central Europe, where homegrown hip-hop artists are currently dominating the charts, it’s a similar story, with all three major labels, so-called fourth major BMG and leading indies committing more cash and resources towards the signing and development of local urban acts.
That strategy is now shifting to Asia, where the popularity of local rappers performing in their own languages has grown in tandem with the rise of streaming across the continent.
In Japan, where physical formats still account for more than 70% of music sales, the transition towards streaming has been slow to take hold compared to other leading music markets, but young music fans there are now starting to embrace streaming services. Last year, streaming sales generated $356 million in Japan, up from $268 million the previous year, according to IFPI figures.
“Urban music is exploding across Asia and the Japanese market has some very exciting talent coming through,” said Warner Music Asia president Simon Robson announcing +809, which is named in homage to the Roland T808 drum machine, a key instrument in the history of hip-hop.
Robson described Warner Music Japan as a “digital-first business” primed to help local urban acts build an international fan base. Kobayashi said the goal was for +809 to become established as the country’s “leading urban label and showcase the future of Japanese music to the world.”
Its first release is the single “Ding Dong” by Japanese R&B singer FLEUR featuring A.G.O., a producer from the Tokyo and Los Angeles-based hip-hop crew CIRRRCLE. FLEUR’s debut EP was released digitally in June and peaked at No. 3 on the local iTunes R&B chart.