Chicago jazz rapper Sen Morimoto shows us his camera roll


“I finally lost it, yaaay,” sings Sen Morimoto, sweet and lazy, on his song “Cannonball,” the title track of his forthcoming solo record. It’s a clever song from the Kyoto-born, Chicago-based jazz-rap musician, cool and breezy but in a charmingly anxious way. With lines about “the moon’s favorite turn of phrase” and throwing a Supreme brick through Trump Tower, it will hook you on Morimoto’s bubbling, playful music.

Morimoto’s lyrics are as tickling as his compositions, and Cannonball, released May 18 on Chicago free-jazz staple Nnamdi Ogbonnaya’s Sooper Records, is an engrossing listen. It’s the kind of album to sit down and really pay attention to, because you’ll want to catch every single one of Morimoto’s punny pop culture references. It’s delightfully complex and brainy, but also full of feeling. Morimoto sings and raps about “glass half full shit,” love, sincerity, and learning lessons from the stars, and all his grooves, subtleties, and wry humor make it casually sexy.

To give us a little sneak peek into his life, Morimoto shared a collection of recent photos, which he explained over the phone from his home in Chicago. We talked about family and friendship—including his fresh dad and his bestie Kaina, who’s featured on Cannonball—saxophone solos, and crafts.

SEN MORIMOTO: My mom texted me this photo and said “Treasure or trash?” And I said “trash,” but then I decided “treasure,” ‘cause I think it’s kinda psychedelic. I made it when I was a kid! She used to read me Green Eggs and Ham all the time.

MORIMOTO: That was a show in Milwaukee. My friend Mike Hines took this. I was playing with the band that I’ve been playing with recently, and they’re really dope. There’s only one song that I play solo ‘cause I think it’s kind of obnoxious but I was kinda drunk that night and I played a long solo. We were doing a couple gigs with my friend Kaina, who’s one of my best friends and is on the record.

MORIMOTO: These are my friends from Massachusetts. I just got off the phone with the guy on the right side, with the beanie on. His name is Elliot [Hartmann-Russell], we used to call him Sweat Enzo. That’s Gods Wisdom, making that weird face in front in the driver’s seat. And my friend Cooper who goes by Lucy, in the back. And then there’s this kid Ian St. George who’s a Western Mass legend. He was a lil’ shredder back in the day, he was in all the rock bands. This is maybe the last time I was home—we went to my friend Elliot’s little studio and we made a song. Whenever we make music, it’s more like exploring or something. We all play drums, and then we all play guitar, and then we all play bass, and then we all sing.

MORIMOTO: I went to visit my sister, she lives in Maui. My family is all pretty spread out—my parents live in Massachusetts, I’m in Chicago, my sister lives in Maui, and my brother lives in Kyoto. So we all met up. I was there for like five days, and I made the music video for “Cannonball” there with my brother, who’s been making videos for a long time. We did that in Maui, on this really insane volcanic crater.

There was a mistake—whoever’s job it is to press that button that tells everyone that a missile is coming pressed it prematurely. I think it was like 15 minutes before anyone said anything. The first place that they told everyone that it was a false alarm was on Twitter, but my family is not on Twitter, so they were freaking out for like a half hour. And there’s no shelter or anything on Maui, so they were like, “I guess we’ll just stay here, watch TV, and see what happens.” I was on a plane at the time, and when I landed I had all these texts, and this screenshot of this missile alert that my sister got. But they’re all fine! I just called them.

MORIMOTO: That’s my brother. Everyone thought he was a girl! We were both a little androgynous. Now he’s got a beard and everything. That photo is in Wendell, the town we grew up in. My brother was really good at basketball; he always had a basketball. I think he was captain of his high school team. I don’t know why I’m wearing what I’m wearing here. I look like I’m 80 years old. But I’m always really jealous of my kid clothes!

LEAH MANDEL: What were you like as a kid?

MORIMOTO: I was really shy. Really quiet. I was into basketball when I was really little, and then I got nerdy, but I wasn’t allowed to play video games so I played Dungeons and Dragons. And then I got into music when I was like ten, and that’s all I’ve been into since, pretty much.

MANDEL: What’s your first musical memory?

MORIMOTO: I used to sing “Rockin’ Robin” by the Jackson 5 in the car all the time. I would play it on repeat on the CD and my sister would get so mad at me, ‘cause it’s like the most annoying song. It’s like, [sings the hook] over and over again. So frustrating.

MORIMOTO: Someone was showing me their new deck of cards—I think it’s supposed to be famous Chicago people, and that one’s supposed to be Chaka Khan. But that is Cardi B. It looks like Cardi B. Queen Cardi. Like a Queen Card. Bad pun.

MORIMOTO: This was the inspiration for the album cover. It’s a video of this guy Peter Drake, singing a song called “Forever,” on a TV show, and they built this whole set around him that’s like a fake farm. It’s a really trippy video. It looks like a David Lynch movie.

MORIMOTO: I built that diorama for the album cover, based on that Pete Drake video. I haven’t really done crafts like that before, but I went to [the craft store] Jo-Ann and, oh my God, crafts are so expensive! What the hell! They need to be cheaper. But I bought a bunch of clay and I built that little set. My friend Megan Capps took the photo of me that’s photoshopped into the cover image. I’m working on a video, too, that’s gonna incorporate that.

MORIMOTO: That’s Kaina. She’s my best friend. I make music with her out here. That show, she was singing for my set, opening for Nnamdi [Ogbonnaya], who owns Sooper Records which is putting out Cannonball. We were at his show for Drool, his last album. Kaina does my makeup sometimes.

MANDEL: How did you meet her?

MORIMOTO: I met her at a show. I was going to see Nnamdi at this bar called Hungry Brain, and I didn’t know her but she was opening. She played this really amazing set. For the first time, I was getting a band together. Sometimes I just play solo, with a track and saxophone thing, but this was a year a half ago or something like that and I was getting a band together for the first time and I needed some backup singers. I thought she was really dope, and then we just started hanging out. And now we hang out like every day. She’s the best.

MORIMOTO: I talk about my dad a lot. That’s my dad in that amazing fit. He’s a very fresh dude. I am very proud of him.

MORIMOTO: New Year’s Day is a really big Japanese holiday. I try to make it back every year, but this year I couldn’t, so my mom sent me photos. You always have the same kind of food on New Year’s, it’s like hors d’oeuvres. Little Japanese pickles, and you always have this special New Year’s soup with mochi in it. My mom likes to send me pictures of food I’m missing, which is cute.