The following two videos are about the Hip-Hop scene in Japan. The first is from a presentation done at UCLA of the results of research done by a student of Japanese Hip-Hop by the name of Dexter Thomas on Racism and Right-Wing ideology in Japanese Hip-Hop. The second video is a similar presentation but with footage of the presenter.
First, check out the two videos:
If you spend any time out and about in Yokohama, sooner or later — usually sooner — you’ll come across some Japanese youth who appear to be enamored of Hip-Hop. They mostly dress like they went shopping in some Hip-Hop accessory shop and stocked up on baseball caps and jerseys, jeans designed to hang off the ass and sneakers that swallow them whole. In other words, some kind of cringe-worthy parody of Hip-Hop. This style they will parade about in with a great deal of pride and aplomb…that is, until they see me. A person with whom they identify the fashion they’ve appropriated. Then, perhaps for a moment, they see themselves in a different mirror than they usually do. One that reflects their inner wares rather than their outerwear, and, to varying degrees and durations, there appears to be a moment of shame or embarrassment…similar to what I felt, I imagine, that one time I broke down and wore a yukata to a hanabi.
From time to time, I find myself at a club in Yokohama or Tokyo, and there’ll generally be a few seasoned Japanese hip-hopsters on the premises. Upon spotting me, in all my boundless blackness, they’d approach me…like their choice of fashion and “lifestyle” has torn down whatever artificial walls of decorum and separateness had been erected between us by our superficial cultural differences and has mystically bound us, and he or she will hit me with a “what’s up?” accompanied by some neurotic rhythmic nodding to whatever song might be playing aloud or in their heads. I usually cut them some slack and respond, but always withholding a bit of disgust at how pathetic they are…sometimes. I know they’re just trying to be friendly and believe that by being adorned in garb they associate with my kind they’ve made a clear-cut, irrefutable peace-offering. I even know that there are blacks in Japan who have accepted this as such, and reward this effort by positively reinforcing these ignorant presumptions about what “we” do and do not approve of.
But, for the most part, I give Hip-Hop in Japan as much thought as I give Hip-Hop in America these days. That is to say, not much.
I don’t get Japanese Hip-Hop lyrics. I have enough trouble with casual and polite forms of the language. Japanese slang is a whole other animal I simply don’t care enough about to be bothered with. And as for most popular American Hip-Hop artists and songs that find their way to Japan these days, I really can’t see the appeal. I don’t know if that’s because Japanese have fucked up taste in Hip-Hop, if it’s the result of a combination of living damn near a decade in Asia away from Hip-Hop’s sway and a lack of exposure to the vernacular, if I’ve simply somehow “outgrown” it or disowned it, or has the quality of Hip-Hop sunk so low that I’ve simply unconsciously taken a sabbatical until it gets its shit together.
I really can’t say.
I stay connected to Hip-Hop music and culture these days almost solely through one respectable and authoritative source: the “Hunter S. Thompson of Hip-Hop,” the Donsiglier himself, Bonz Malone…a man I’ve found to be a connoisseur, as well, of all genres of music, arts, and other fineries, and thus retains a fuller appreciation of the universal ties that bind than most. I follow his feed on Facebook and my hunger is sated for he’ll post everything a music lover like myself needs to know.
I came across the above videos by Mr. Thomas the other day and, like Bonz himself, he reminded me of the power of this majestic and influential art form I was in the delivery room to watch as it came kicking and screaming into this world of ours. Baby pics, like flash cards, popped into my mind, of how precious Hip-Hop was to black people in its infancy, how it was nurtured and indoctrinated into the ways of our world, nursed on our joy and pain, fed with our shortcomings and successes, bathed in the sweat from our tireless bodies and and dried off with the breath borne ingenuity from our lungs and gusts caused by our rhythmic dancing (the Japanese have apparently discovered the secret to).
And, as was done with Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Rock & Roll, Funk, R&B AND even disco before it, we served, supported, reared and unleashed Hip-Hop on the greater world.
And, so, to hear how it is being used here in Japan…well, honestly, I can’t say I’m surprised. It almost seems like the natural evolution of misunderstanding. Like that game I play with my Japanese students, where I tell a secret phrase to the student in the first seat and each passes the phrase back in a whisper, but by the time it reaches the last student in the row, it’s another creature entirely.
On the dark side, I’m also reminded of a great mockumentary called Bob Roberts.
Watch this scene and you’ll see what I mean:
Bob Roberts was a brilliant film, though not as well-known as it should be.
Anyway, I still don’t know enough about this issue to say much more, and I don’t see this changing my listening habits at all. Japanese Hip-Hop will remain off of my playlist. But I will be following this gentleman, Dexter Thomas, to see where his future research takes him.
BTW, WELL DONE, DEXDIGI! Impressive work! I’m totally feeling your project here, and I wish you continued success!
(follow him on Twitter @dexdigi)
And, I’ll probably pick up that crazy titled book. Maybe someone has truly found the secret to this rhythm I supposedly have cuz it certainly eludes me whenever I take to the dance floor (-;
I’ll let y’all know how that goes…