Filed under: Classic Ignorance,Not Your Average,Print Work,Shots Fired,The Unkut Opinion
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Here’s a piece that was refused publication in a print magazine I do some shit for. Too xenophobic perhaps? Or maybe there were a bunch of Bathing Ape ads all over the issue…
Is it wrong that my first impulse when penning a column for a Japanese-themed issue involves mentions of the classic ode to self-loving ‘Turning Japanese’, Nintendo DS games based around ‘witch touching’ and an obsession with schoolgirl’s undergarments? Now that we’ve got the obligatory cry of, ‘Oh, those wacky Japanese!’ out of the way, let’s proceed. If you were an independent rapper or producer in the nineties of some notoriety, there’s a good chance you cashed some checks courtesy of the place that gave us Akira. In much the same way as marginal jazz artists continued to perform and record in Europe once they experienced commercial decline in America, underground New York hip-hop dudes were courted by labels such as Next Level and Mary Joy, who released exclusive vinyl projects by everyone from Rawkus mainstay Mos Def to more obscure MC’s such as Lace Da Booms and Mike Zoot (if those names mean anything to you, please hand-in your crusty old backpack at reception). The Diggin’ In The Crates crew were even called upon to produce songs for Japanese MC’s, and the market for rare hip-hop singles went through the roof during the height of the rap craze. De La Soul – once hell bent on breaking every long-standing hip-hop tradition they could think of – even featured Kan Takagi from Major Force rapping in his native tongue on a track from their Bahloone Mindstate LP.
As for their own pool of home-grown talent…well, let’s just say that the results have been mixed. For every DJ Krush or DJ Honda, there’s a dozen Teriyaki Boyz, and for every Japanese hip-hop artist with a deep respect and appreciation of the culture, there are twenty wannabe B-boys rocking shitty dreadlocks and clocking 12 hours a day under a tanning bed in an attempt to look a little more ‘Black’. Not to mention that the whole language barrier thing hasn’t exactly endeared the scene to any international cross-over action, and bizarre rapper handles such as Microphone Pager, Lunch Time Speax and Lamp Eye are helping either.
Let’s cut the bullshit here…there’s no doubt that Tomoaki “Nigo” Nagao has made the biggest impression on the US rap scene (which in turn informs the rest of the globe) by a long-shot with his now world-renowned BAPE clothing brand, which has become an essential addition to the wardrobe of everyone from The Clipse to Lil’ Wayne to Jay-Z, as well as being highly influential in the street-wear game. Can we blame Nigo for the print hoody? Sure. But he also deserves credit for contributing more to the rap game than some obscure Lord Finesse 12” or trip-hop instrumentals suitable for background music at trendy cafes. His work as co-owner and lead designer of Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club? Not so much.
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