04 April 2013 ~ 24 Comments

Niggas and Japs: Racism and Right Wing Ideology in Japanese Hip-Hop

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:

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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-black rhythm2worthy 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…

 

Loco

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PS: And if you haven’t read Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist yet, what are you waiting for? A personal invitation? Check it out! It’s available in paperback and E-book version here.

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24 Responses to “Niggas and Japs: Racism and Right Wing Ideology in Japanese Hip-Hop”

  1. Chris 4 April 2013 at 11:42 pm Permalink

    I just wrote the fucking lliad of comments and it took me 40 minutes and when I hit comment it vanished??

    FUUUUUCK!!

    • Locohama 4 April 2013 at 11:46 pm Permalink

      Shit, man! Sorry, if my blog had anything to do with that )-:
      That shit happened to me on your blog more than once. Truth be told that’s part of the reason I’m resistant to even leave long comments anywhere. You traumatized me lol. But on the real sorry!

  2. swb 5 April 2013 at 6:46 am Permalink

    Dexter Thomas lecture was really good. It’s unfortunate that there is an in increasing inability to debate and present counterarguments to these issues without being called anti-Japanese. There is also an ultra-nationalistic trend in parts of the Japanese punk music scene as well. There there has been for a long time but I can see racism becoming more widely acceptable within that genre of music.

    • Locohama 5 April 2013 at 3:37 pm Permalink

      “there is an in increasing inability to debate and present counterarguments to these issues without being called anti-Japanese” Is that the case?? Not sure what you mean…
      Wow, punk music, too? That, like rap, was originally just the opposite. smh. You should do a report on that similar to Thomas. I’d be interested to read it. Thanks for the shout swb

      • Mensa 24 September 2013 at 3:25 pm Permalink

        Dude what an awesome post. Im white, but I get the same treatment. Some Japanese girl came up to me on the train and starting doing the head nodding thing with her music. I was like, go head nod next to that one over there…lol.

        Hip hop/rap is unique to the U.S., its not an original Japanese expression. In the old days of run dmc and others, it was an east coast expression and brooklyn values. Somewhere along the way it turned ugly; I think the west coast did it but thats just me. Japanese cannot relate to hip hop, or pretty much anything else from the outside. They just change it to become Japanese. Japanese rap is unpleasant to listen to

  3. Dennis Bauer 5 April 2013 at 12:02 pm Permalink

    Don’t listen much to current Rap either, i am an old skool fan, but you should try Nitro Microphone Underground , i like the music and the style is kinda retro too, don’t get much of the lyrics either ;)

    • Locohama 5 April 2013 at 3:44 pm Permalink

      Thanks Dennis. Being a New Yorker, and not to generalize, but we tend to be more into lyrics, what a rapper has to say and how cleverly he can state his case, than the beats, though we of course also appreciate the beats. I mean, think about all the rappers that came out of NY. Most were famous for their lyrics, not some damn producer or DJ attached to the project. I’m talking lyricist/MCs like Rakim, Method Man, Kool G Rap, Nas, Raekwon the Chef, GZA, KRS One, Chuck D, etc… And I’m a student/fan of that school of HipHop.
      That Dirty Dirty South shit, and most of the West Coast Gangster rap was more about the beats than the lyrics, for sure. But of course, there are always exceptions (Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Tupac, and maybe a handful of others) so I doubt I’d be able to get into any hip-hop where I have no idea what they’re saying (-;
      Thanks for the shout yo.

  4. Billy 5 April 2013 at 2:22 pm Permalink

    During my first couple of months living in Japan in a medium-sized city I was feeling a bit homesick and one day walking home from work, there was a new rap and hip-hop fashion shop that must’ve just opened that week. There was loud, pumping music coming from inside and a black dude in the doorway, decked out in what were probably that shop’s most expensive items and nodding his head. Me, being a total noob, I figured he was an American trying to capitalize on his American-ness. Bored and hungry for a little conversation, I figured I’d stop and say ‘hello’ before continuing on my way. So, I’m like, “How’s it goin’?” and in the thickest accent from who knows where, he says “What do you mean?” and I feel stupid and just say “Nice shop” (which I knew was lame when I said it), he says “Thank you”, and I go home.
    Apparently the locals weren’t having any of it, though, since it was closed by the end of summer…

    • Locohama 5 April 2013 at 3:57 pm Permalink

      Yeah, most of the HipHop shops up in this piece are owned and operated by black folks with “the thickest accent from who knows where” LOL
      I remember back in the 90s I went to stay with a friend in Haiti for a few weeks. She was a well to do American so we pretty much bounced around the island staying in hotels only a handful of the natives could afford. At one such hotel, in Cap Haitien, they had a patio with a television that had cable TV, a rarity in the country (actually even TVs were a rarity)So the staff of the hotel used to watch it. And here comes, yep you guessed it, Yo! MTV Raps (or BET, or some such program). Now, the staff were mainly black guys my age who couldn’t speak a lick of English, mind you. This is Haiti. They speak Kreyol, and some of the well schooled folk (rare again) could do French. But you better believe these cats knew HipHop lyrics. Nigger this Bitch that Ho this Fuck you that…it was the first time I’d seen what the hell HipHop was exporting around the world, and it changed me. Or at least it changed my perspective on HipHop. I realized how influential it was beyond the borders of the US, and how its message and purpose could be not only misconstrued but reduced to just profanity driven noise pollution.
      Thanks for the shout yo!

  5. Will 5 April 2013 at 4:29 pm Permalink

    Loco…I made the mistake of reading your page, this post, at a time when I thought I should be doing other things. And I want to thank you!

    In my next incarnation in cyberspace, when I am more public about who I am, when I’ve dropped the pseudonym, Dexter Thomas will definitely be on my ‘blogroll’.

    The Bob Roberts/Glen Beck (let’s not forget Sarah) connection as Japan Hip-Hop/Right Wing thing works. And yeah, it sure looks like it’s all about power. Nothing new there. Yet, what’s new is that people are talking about it.

    Listening to Thomas’ presentation, I… he… oh, wow. He pegs it. He outlines what is going on, takes things apart, dismantles the box and then puts if back together again, piece by piece, one person at a time. He gives an excellent narrative, tracing who-is-who and what they do.

    I’ve witnessed the accidental and incidental excavation of history that those who lean opposite of hard left (not that a person like me is necessarily treated any different – both hard right and hard left here have told me things to my face that tends to embarrass the more silent folks)… I’ve held shards of Ainu pottery in my hands that was hurriedly turned under – gotta build them houses – Ainu who didn’t officially exist until, what 2008? I bite my tongue for now about that. Glad he gave them a shout near the end. There are voices of people who do embrace pride, but they are not quite like the appropriated Hip-Hop. Their sounds are more indigenously themed and they are inclusive. (If the video doesn’t link, folks can find Rabi Rabi if they check Youtube for ‘jomonism祭’ by aomorijomon for starters. These people pound out their rhythm, releasing it from the earth. If you ever see them live…

    (Back to the post)

    He’s right, this is not ‘rainbows and unicorns’ or Hello Kitty and Anpan-man. No even close.

    Thomas says something about what’s going on, in that it is “at least as complex as the surrounding base-culture that produced it”.

    Yeah. Lots of layers there.

    Loco, thank you for making this post, framing the videos with words the way that you do.

    If people can’t see what you’re talking about, well, maybe they can at least hear it.

    You’ve found something that is bound to make a lot of people uncomfortable. For starters, those who frame themselves as ‘victim’ and those who can only see people here as ‘victim’.

    (I’ve been careful to type this on Word before moving it over to your comments… heeding Chris’ warning)

    I can’t wait to see more people comment here.

    Regards.

  6. blue 5 April 2013 at 10:05 pm Permalink

    I always wondered what j-boys rapped about “our GDP went down two points” or “28 and still at my moms”, I have been to the beach and had my ears polluted with baaaad reggae . 10 years here and I think I have heard 2 decent songs.

  7. Ben 6 April 2013 at 3:05 am Permalink

    For those of us living in the USA, I should inform you Loco that USA copyright laws have been aah “enhanced” in the last few years such that we aren’t allowed to watch that video: youtube provides a static screen that says “this video contains content from MC MRMX, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds”

    Sure its no Great Fire Wall of China but where on are way!

    • Locohama 6 April 2013 at 3:25 am Permalink

      That sucks.thanks for letting me know. Anyone else run into that problem?

  8. C Ohara 11 April 2013 at 10:51 am Permalink

    Whoa, those lyrics are crazy~ I’ve never seen that in Japanese music until now. That’s pretty shocking, actually. Makes me wonder if I should take a second look at Orange Range the next time I hear a song of their’s.

    • Locohama 11 April 2013 at 5:52 pm Permalink

      Yeah, caught me by surprise as well smh Orange Range is a Hip Hop group???

  9. Will 13 May 2013 at 3:58 pm Permalink

    Thomas’ presentation has stuck in my mind for a while. I can’t help stop thinking that the localized right-wing Hip-Hop is analogous to the dynamics of being a non-Japanese English speaker while having to cope with Japanese teachers of English. Not to say that there aren’t any JTEs here that don’t get it right…my mind keeps replaying that fantastic video where the J Hip-Hop hero somehow becomes a hero.

    (I’m guessing you are busy with a lot of different projects at this time, so I’m not expecting a reply. Just had some thoughts and wanted to put them up here. I can’t help wonder if Thomas hasn’t listened to ‘Die Fantastischen Vier’… I could always try to ask him. Now I’m kind of interested in Turkish-German Hip Hop.)

  10. Shonan Love 5 June 2013 at 6:09 am Permalink

    Dexter Thomas presents a number of interesting arguments, but he seems to rush over many of his points so that everything lines up with his neat hypothesis (hip-hop in Japan is being used for evil).

    His biggest single failure is to parrot the white supremacist rhetoric that America spouted in WW2 and continues to : it was OK for whites to colonize Asia for centuries and encircle Japan: this was ‘world peace’. But for Japan to do so is the ‘colonization and ‘victimization’ of Asia – an argument that Dexter Thomas mindlessly repeats here.

    The line here isn’t between blacks and Japanese, or the oppressed and non-oppressed. It’s between Americans, including blacks alongside whites, who dictate what other nations have to say about themselves and attack anyone who says contrary.

    That is power. And that is oppression.

    • Locohama 12 June 2013 at 11:46 pm Permalink

      Huh?? Made any straw men lately?

      • Shonan Love 17 June 2013 at 4:41 pm Permalink

        You’re the one saying the topic at hand is Thomas’ presentation and ‘Japan’s behaviour – then and now’ (what? are we generalizing racist J-hiphop to all Japan?).

        How about your actually argue the point? Little Dexter’s presentation here is smoke and linear bullshit, given rapt attention by an audience at the Ohio Hip Hop Literacies whatever because his pet topic is novel, and her eon your blog, which lives to demonize Japanese.

  11. Shonan Love 5 June 2013 at 6:27 am Permalink

    PS: Contrast, also, what Malcolm X said about the Japanese war effort and what his role would be therein if he had been so able.

    Then consider who has more, objectively speaking, intelligence and legitimacy when speaking about Japanese ‘nationalism’ – Malcolm, who was far more studied and lived the era, or Dexter Thomas – who seems to rely on rhetoric and the kind of discourse about the Pacific War, and about other cultures, that Malcolm X despised as the white oppressor’s.

    Consider that. Hip hop is nothing in this context, an accessory at most. There is a far greater history and context here.

    • Locohama 12 June 2013 at 11:51 pm Permalink

      Ummm, was that pre or post Mecca Malcolm ? Because anyone who fixates on pre-Mecca Malcom’s words words will probably
      find that Malcolm Would retract a lot of what he said as the same kind of rhetoric you’re calling this guy out at. Rather than try to shove black nationalist rhetoric into this try to focus on the issue which is Japan’s and Japanese behavior, then and now.
      Wait a minute…never mind.

  12. Shonan Love 17 June 2013 at 4:20 pm Permalink

    Not try to shove black nationalist rhetoric in, yet as always, Baye McNeil, you slather all Japan up with the same brush.

    ‘Japan’s behaviour’? Is this even a valid proposition?

    Nor did Malcolm reject everything he said pre-Makkah (that’s Makkah, not Mecca). He rejected the NOI and racist tenets. He did not reject white oppression, and by extension, although he did not speak of Japan’s role in the war after his conversion as a Sunni that I am aware of, it makes more sense to suppose that believing as he still did in white oppression, that he would still have stated, again, that had he had the chance to have fought with Japan against white oppressors fighting for ‘freedom’ (snicker), he would have.

    I think what’s more concerning (aside from not knowing/dismissing what Malacolm said about Japan in the War) is that you’d write off anything Malcolm said before his conversion from the NOI as…what exactly are you trying to say again? That he retracted everything he said before as though he had been a raving, frothing lunatic?

    Bullshit and for bloody, bloody shame.

    • Locohama 17 June 2013 at 9:34 pm Permalink

      …And it would have been idiotic to reject white oppression, but his focus wasn’t on the skin color of the oppressor post Mecca. It was on the commonality of those being oppressed which were people of all races, in other words the masses of poor in America. Of all the revelations he experienced in mecca, by far the most significant for him was that he relaized that he was erroneous in making skin color a significant factor in the oppression. It was “America” that was doing the oppressing, and its racist policies, not white people. He wizened up, and im sure he would have retracted a GREAT deal of the rhetoric he spoke (including statements made about Japan) in the name of the socalled honorable elijah muhammad if he had lived long enough to do so. He was anti- hegemony as we all should be,regardless of who was behind it, or their race. The NOI just limited his focus to white people, which sent his views askew, when it rightfully should have included any nation or race attempting to carry out such actions. Farrakhan and the other elijah muhammad acolytes made sure he never got that chance though. he was also more focused on pan Africanism upon his return.. I think he would have eventually evolved into focusing on the true tyrants such as the corporations and the other blood suckers which don’t necessarily have a racial designation..but that is my opinion based on his speeches post-Mecca.
      As for slathering japan, please, give examples or refrain from generalizing my work. I go to great pains not to slather, though I have done so at one time or another. Nobody’s perfect…my bad. If you don’t want to acknowledge that effort thats cool. You’re entitled to ignore what doesn’t support your position, but please do it elsewhere will you. If you wanted to speak level headedly and tell me where I slather, I’m all ears.
      Demonize? yes, sometimes I paint a not so pretty picture of life in japan, but I give examples, and I endure examples of it every day, and after damn near 10 years of contributing to japanese society in a positive way, i reserve the right to criticize her as i see fit. As well as showcase others who make good thoughtful arguments, though not necessarily perfectly flawless ones. As I did in the US.
      if you don’t agree, again, youre entitled but this is Loco in Yokohama. If you want pretty pictures of japan, free of American opinions of her, free of the demons that are ever present here, you have come to the wrong place. Baye McNeil ain’t the one! There are a whole host of blogs out there just dying to make your acquaintance, reinforce your opinions of japan, and will agree wholeheartedly with you that non-Japanese should adhere to that adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.”
      Douzo, and Happy landings.


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