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For now, though, Hikaru has taken leave from school (she plans to return soon) to focus on her music and establish her career in the U.S. She recently performed a song called Blow My Whistle, which was included on the sound track of the movie Rush Hour 2. Produced by the Neptunes, one of the hottest American hip-hop production duos around, the song features a cameo from gangsta rapper Foxy Brown. Hikaru said her producers were worried at first that she and Brown might fight, given their different temperaments and backgrounds. They got along just fine. The idea of having her on the song came from Pharrell (Williams, one-half of the Neptunes), says Hikaru. "He said Foxy and I would make a very strong combination, the two of us being such contrasting characters: the crazy, revealing, in-your-face Ill Na Na [Foxy's nickname] and the more settled and slightly mysterious Asian girl."
The music industry is ruled by stereotypes: whites rock, blacks rap and croon soul, and few dare to cross the color line. There are hardly any Asian pop acts of prominence in the U.S. (no wonder some see Hikaru as mysterious). Hikaru is mounting a challenge to the status quo. On Blow My Whistle, her voice is more resonant than on her Japanese-language songs, and the track boasts beats that are more forceful. She leaves no doubt: she's got Mary J. Blige, 125th Street-type soul. There's another twist. The credits bill her as "Hikaru Utada"--using the Western custom of listing the surname last. Says Hikaru: "I just figured it's a good way to separate my English and Japanese personas." After the interview, she sends a follow-up e-mail that begins, "This is Hikaru Utada. (Or is it Utada Hikaru...oh, whichever!)" She's still a freshman. She'll work things out.
--With reporting by Toko Sekiguchi/Tokyo