Nope, I'm not really a rap or hip-hop fan although there are a few songs here and there that I have enjoyed such as "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (and please...save your comments concerning geriatrics). And frankly even with that classic, when I first heard the intro, I thought it was the beginning of a new Yellow Magic Orchestra tune that I had yet to hear. Basically, my love for R&B is geared more towards the old-time soul, disco and Quiet Storm (I love Anita Baker).
And so it goes with J-R&B. Folks like bird and Misia will be more along the lines of that soul, disco and Quiet Storm. However, there is m-flo which does go into the hip-hop/rap area (or maybe purists might say it's more hip-pop), and it was during the turn of the century when VERBAL and company were starting to take a fairly big role in the R&B that was sweeping through Japan.
One of those acts was a sister act called Heartsdales. That name was enough to peak my interest but there was also their catchy debut song "So Tell Me" which came out in December 2001. I still remember the music video (it got lots of airplay on the music channels when I was back there) which was apparently filmed on some sort of military vessel perhaps. And of course, there was no way that VERBAL was going to be left out from being in front of the camera and the recording booth although he also helped write the lyrics with the Heartsdales sisters themselves. The m-flo impresario also took care of the music along with R&B producer T. Kura and his wife, singer and music producer Michico.
"So Tell Me" simply stood out for me for that whirlwind mixture of English and Japanese, the delivery of the lyrics by Rum (Yumi Sugiyama...杉山ユミ) and Jewels (Emi Sugiyama...杉山エミ) especially the "Hearts-da-L-E-S" and "So tell me what you want...", and that shift between the rap and the musical refrain. However, I'm kinda wondering whether VERBAL's grunts on yet another song were starting to get a bit wearying for some listeners.
As I mentioned, the name Heartsdales rather intrigued me as a name for a hip-hop duo. Apparently, Rum and Jewels had spent their formative years in Yonkers, New York and decided to adopt the name from another small district in the state called Hartsdale. Another thing that I hadn't known was that the Sugiyamas had gotten their big break through the TV Tokyo Sunday night audition program "ASAYAN" which then I would cheekily state that they could be "cousins" of Morning Musume and Chemistry.
"So Tell Me" went all the way up to No. 8 on Oricon and became the 96th-ranked single for 2002. With sales of over 100,000 copies, it was their biggest hit. Heartsdales itself lasted from 2001 to 2006 with 14 singles and 4 albums. According to Wikipedia, the sisters are now living apart with Emi in Tokyo and Yumi in New York City taking care of her own studio and a little son.
January 19 2017: I was watching "Matsuko no Shiranai Sekai"（マツコの知らない世界...The Worlds Matsuko Doesn't Know）tonight which is that popular TBS variety show featuring tarento Matsuko Deluxe（マツコ・デラックス）. Apparently back in late 2015, Emi 'Jewels' Sugiyama appeared on the program (with only the smallest blurb stating that she is a former rapper) as an expert on nuts. The above is a product that she introduced known as Mr. Honey... a jar of assorted nuts preserved in honey. Dang, that does look tasty and apparently it works quite well as a topping on ice cream. Too bad I couldn't find any footage of Jewels on the show, though.