Does Japan Fail At Rap?

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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57 Comments so far
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Yeah. Small wonder why that jawn didn’t get published. It didn’t gloss over about 100 ill Japanese producers, emcees, crews & DJ’s just to shit on Nigo & A Bathing Ape. I’m gonna NOT do the Rap nerd thing & list a gang of Japanese Hip Hop acts right now…


Comment by Dart_Adams 04.19.10 @

just handed in my backpack..

Comment by Krisch 04.19.10 @

Patch Up The Pieces was ruined by Muro rhyming on it.

Comment by Beatlover 04.19.10 @

that picture is terrifying.

Comment by ruestar 04.19.10 @

I lost my backpack in around 1992

Comment by Dan E Fresh 04.19.10 @

I really do hate the fact that Japanese people want to emulate everything from America. It really is annoying. They need to stick to eating rice and drinking sake.

Comment by Eddie The Kid 04.19.10 @

My wife just pointed out something that I’ve been saying for years; that “Nigo”, is a way for this mark to say ni@@a without offending. And that clothing? Laughable

Comment by fosterakahunter 04.19.10 @

ignore the bullshit…only fuck w/ the good shit…always been my motto and I utilize it at home and abroad…if you fuck with any mainstream artists be they American, Australian, Japanese, whatever your likely gonna hear some bullshit….good music is always hard to come by…ya’ll can go and mess w/ the Teriyaki Boys, lol, I’mma be bumpin’ Southpaw Chop…

Comment by BIG D O 04.19.10 @

Yeah that picture is disturbing…
man, this was one of the most ignorant pieces in a while, of course theres great japanese hiphop in Japan, what you thought? They understand, appreciate and love the culture as much as anywhere else and it shows, its displayed through the difference in styles, from soulful shit to hardcore shit. Naming two producers, albeit great ones, as proof there is no hiphop to speak of there. And the bit about jazz artists going to Europe like some leftovers, thats some fucked up shit to claim, defaming both the artists as the listeners acknowledging the art involved, something overlooked by the spoiled american audience.
Hear some samples of japanese hiphop for yourself:
Does Robbie fail as a journalist? man..

Comment by PAS 04.19.10 @

You know about Microphone Pager, Lamp Eye and LTS, and all you know about the current Japanese Hip Hop is Teriyaki Boyz? come on son, that shit might be a part of Japanese Hip Hop but isn’t the only one. How would you feel if BEP and Souljah Boy are the only ones in the US Hip Hop right now and considered the scene “dead”?

Do your homework and dig a little before you write something proper (it ain’t difficult compare to the days of Mary Joy and Next Level you mentioned).

Go check out some shit like RYUZO’s “The R”.

I still got love for your blog, just to let you know. Peace.

Comment by 11zero 04.19.10 @

damn, that mag cover is straight offensive, lol, i’ll have to agree with you that 9 out of 10 japanese rappers (jappers to coin a new term?) are rather bad, theres a japanese dude that rapped with living legends and he was pretty good, also shing02 is pretty decent, and dj krush is a beast of a producer, nujabes too (R.I.P), most times though, japanese doesn’t seem like a good language for fluidity in rhyming, korean emcees are doper, yup i said it, kimchee beats wasabi anyday

Comment by gstatty 04.19.10 @

GAGLE *Pause* is alright

Comment by Sam 04.19.10 @

I know this is off topic. But does anyone know if Roc Marciano’s album is still dropping tommarow?

Comment by hl 04.19.10 @

nobody has mentioned Buddha Brand yet, they’re on point

Comment by Audio Agent 04.19.10 @

At least they can breakdance…

Second to my Korean peoples of course

Koreans of course can’t rap for shit

But we got Amerie (or half of her more or less)

…without the asinine blackface

Comment by Sooch 04.19.10 @

f&&%in ozzies

Comment by mikki dee 04.19.10 @

A lot of the good rap shit I’ve heard from Japan is from the 90’s. I’m not really feeling any of the tracks coming from there these days.

Comment by Rah 04.19.10 @


“Nigo”, is a way for this mark to say ni@@a without offending.”

The name comes from people noticing that he resembles Hiroshi Fujiwara, another guy in the fashion scene. He got the nickname “Hiroshi Fujiwara Nigo”, “Nigo” meaning “number two” in Japanese. He later shortened it to what he’s called now.

Comment by Rah 04.19.10 @

Whatever, man.
But, one thing I have 2 say is…


This magazine is 4 those ignorant high school students who think they making an original youth culture and they don’t even listen to or give a sxxt about Hip Hop. (and it’s pretty old, too. check the date it says November 1999)

Hip Hop in Japan is bigger and deeper than ever.
Y’all should come out to feel THE HEAT!!!!!

Comment by Dirtykrates 04.19.10 @

There’s a lot that I don’t agree with in this article. I’m not sure what the biggest mistake is – the fact that Japan’s hip hop was written off because of one group and a guy who shills sneakers, or that that guy is given so much credit for having so much influence on Japanese hip hop. I don’t mind Teriyaki Boyz personally, they make “turn your brain off music” and separately they do a more than good enough job (I mean, check out Verbal’s work with Nujabes). Most of the Japanese hip hop acts I’ve heard have little resemblance to Teriyaki Boyz beat-wise or flow-wise (even TB-members’ original groups sound nothing like TB)
Also this is a pot meet kettle situation. In this day and age can we really as hip hop fans not be ashamed by what is considered popular and mainstream here in America? We export garbage too. Have we failed at rap?

Just my contribution:

Comment by HaroNYC 04.19.10 @

still got my backpack with 40oz. of holy water.

Comment by D O T H E M A T H 04.19.10 @

Very interesting,
You don’t know NOTHING about.
If you want to know THE TRUTH,
bye bye!!!

Comment by asaakim 04.19.10 @

Yo, Dirtykrates, are you Zeebra from KG? I could’ve sworn I read somewhere that that’s the title he goes by as a DJ.

Comment by Rah 04.19.10 @

Wow, I don’t know where to start..

How about this first. The “egg” magazine is aimed towards a group of girls that sport a style called “gyaru”, in particular teens and young women who are often quite frivolous (‘asai’, as they say in Japan). That particular type featured on the magazine cover being called “ganguro”. It has nothing to do with hiphop culture in Japan. The dark skin has nothing to do with “looking black”, it’s a Japanese thing.

As for the whole intro to make people go “Oh, those wacky Japanese…”, it hurts a little to read that, and shows how ignorant people can be, especially about other cultures. Pull your heads outta your manga, and look around! There’s a hell of a lot more than those creepy otaku and anime in Japan.

Now, onto the hiphop. I’m not an expert, and most certainly don’t know the full history of hiphop in Japan. However, I do follow the scene currently, and I can say that hip-hop is hip-hop. In Japan, they have the soft stuff, and the hard stuff, just like everywhere else. But if one doesn’t get their head out of their pre-conceived asses, they will miss out on a whole lot of amazing hip-hop in Japan.

As for the language…here. Let me apologize on behalf of the world: Sorry, not everyone speaks English. Sorry, we’re not all American. Oh, and sorry, we didn’t realize we have to be black to have soul, rhythm, and to rap.

Now, I’m not trying to start fights. I’m a peaceful person, and want to get along. I just hope that people understand that there’s a lot more to Japanese society and the Japanese hiphop scene.

Free your mind. Free your spirit.
Open your eyes. Open your ears.
We’re all human, here.
Hip-hop isn’t for one country, and one type of person.
It’s for everyone to share.

Peace, Love, Respect

Comment by Nex 04.19.10 @

dj honda was the best thing that ever came outta japan, guy had some great records he still alive.

Comment by pmac 04.19.10 @

Yeah, Rah. Rep JP 2 the fullest. This article is all over the twitter in Japan. People over here are like, WTF!? LMAO!!!

Comment by Dirtykrates 04.19.10 @

The flood gates have been opened. After reading the comments section I instantly thought – east (Japan) / west rivalry! It will be just like 95 except on an international scale with Google translator to decipher the diss tracks. Hit em up! Lol!!

Comment by Crisis 04.19.10 @

In reading this article I can see why it was initially rejected for print. Dudes research was poor to begin with. Language barriers are a logical part of the misinterpretations of the culture internationally. The key is to dig deeper to find the folks responsible for making the best translations of the culture to the rest of the native people in that “foreign” country. Obviously there are plenty of artists performing, touring, recording and releasing good Hip Hop for the people of Japan. If dude was a true “journalist” he would’ve done his homework and found more examples to prove the point in the article. Before you go throwing stones at another mans castle, check to make sure your own foundation is firm. Seems like dude is basically throwin spit balls basically anyways. Hip Hop itself is failing because of ignorant dribble like thisssss……

Comment by BMoolah 04.19.10 @

Krush – owning instrumental hip hop since 1993.

nuff said.

Comment by D O T H E M A T H 04.19.10 @

Seriously, that DJ Krush/Black Thought collabo “Hardware” is still ridiculously good.

The Ja-pan-ese is in the house – oh my god – danjah!!

Comment by sooch 04.19.10 @

i maybe out the loop…………….but is BAPE still popular?

damn are my skinny jeans/leotards chafin’

Comment by anonymous 04.20.10 @

you say hiphoppers in japan are all fake???
so what is the definition of the word “REAL” then???

as the DirtyKrates says, the mag “EGG” is nothing to do with the local scene.
for your better understanding on japanese hiphop culture, I strongly suggest you to come over.

Comment by sounds 04.20.10 @

nice post… this is why unkut is one of the best reads in the hip hop blogosphere

Comment by er4se 04.20.10 @

I’ve just marked this down in my diary as the day someone mentioned Hiroshi Fujiwara on Unkut.

Comment by MF 04.20.10 @

You have a point on some things, but I’ve been there about 5 times now and never seen the makeup thing, I think it’s a bit naive to say there are 20 wannabe b boys tanning etc, I haven’t seen that once, and don’t these older artists deserve to be making some cheddar somewhere? I would be curious to know how many times you have visited the country and also where you get your information as it seems to be all opinion and not many hard facts. That magazine cover is weird I admit, but I have never seen anything like that in japan personally.

Probably for every wannabe b-boy in japan, there are 20 wannabe Ninja types in the US. Probably. More facts next time please.

No wonder it wasn’t actually published.

Comment by Twix 04.20.10 @

I fux with Parappa the Rapper and Chop Master Onion.

Comment by KQ 04.20.10 @




Comment by KQ 04.20.10 @

The fuck? Guru passed away????!??!!!????

Comment by Crisis 04.20.10 @

That letter looks highly suspicious, why would Guru hours away from death, devote his precious time rambling about Solar? Like a whole third of the letter? And then to carry some kind of animosity against premier to his grave? Bear in mind that this info comes from SoL(i) keeping my fingers crossed until someone else confirms it.

Comment by PAS 04.20.10 @

yo- DJ MURO and SoulScream are a very dopegroup from Japan and their beats are dope, DITC contributed to their LP if I recall

Comment by LLINGO 04.20.10 @

that thing about japanese tanning to look blacker was published in some rap mag like 10 years ago.. HHC maybe? so i highly doubt that that doesn’t happen.

Comment by spitler 04.20.10 @

The start of a song in english by japanese mc Shing02 :

“Black Is Beautiful

Black is beautiful to me
Wake up brethren Asian persuasion
Black is beautiful to me
Love Self sistren Asian persuasion
Black is beautiful to me
Respect brethren African persuasion
Black is beautiful to me
One Love sistren African persuasion”

Songs terrible. But it does make a point about how much some japanese folks love black people. Other countries like Germany and Russia need to get on this tip. I think there’s a lot of unity to be had in everyone just coming together and agreeing that they really like black people.

Comment by lair 04.20.10 @

I struggle with any rap that isn’t in English. I can appreciate the beats sometimes, but without knowing what they’re saying it’s hard to judge the rhymes. They could be talking complete nonsense for all I know. That’s my problem with it, if you speak Japanese it’s probably great.

Comment by Mag7Music 04.20.10 @

That shit is pretty rich. Japan has brought us plenty of iller shit than A Night On The Tiles. Plenty son.

Comment by P 04.20.10 @

@P: That might have been classed as a flesh wound….ten years ago.

Comment by Robbie 04.20.10 @

Haha @ P. Dj Krush > L.C.

Comment by Briks 04.20.10 @

Ha, Beefin’.

Comment by jesse 04.20.10 @

The mag referred to above was the Source. Not sure about the year or issue, but they did a whole spread on Hip-Hop culture’s popularity over there, and how the kids emulated the dress, the hairstyles, and yes, the skin colour, via heavy tanning.

Comment by fosterakahunter 04.21.10 @

BTW, I wasn’t actually saying that “Nigo” was trying to be on some slick sh@t with his name, just that to the uninitiated or uninformed, it may have seemed as such.

Comment by fosterakahunter 04.21.10 @

One of my Fav dance partners was this girl Japan when i used to go to club apt. She could kill all the moves she saw in the videos but would always bug out when i would do the old school stuff from our hip hop scene of the eighties and 90’s and always stopped to watch when i caught wreck. She dressed like a member of Jade(dont walk away) braids and and timbs and baggy shorts and all but she knew those video steps perfectly. I had to shut down this one Japanese kid in there when he had a flatop and a nike suit on trying to emulate some pop hip hop video moves from mtv circa 1989 lol and their were always these two dudes who cam through with real skills…made us step back like whoah ok..these dudes got it. None of these people had on blackface though and u could tell they just loved the music for what it was. U cant blaim some for bein corny though because they can only see whats on tv…they dont live here. Another thing though Ken Sport always showed me mad love when it came to the beats and hes a true digger that many americans caught their records from in the nieties to sample….thats a fact.

Comment by mercilesz 04.21.10 @

The fact that you responded is justification enough. That article was mad ignorant even for you.
@Briks don’t bring LC into it.

Comment by P 04.21.10 @

How about we turn our attention to Austrailia, where you rest. Who the fuck in Australia has anything to do with hip hop? noone.

Comment by son... 04.21.10 @

I find it funny that if someone disagrees with a post on here it automatically entitles them to take cheapshots at Robbie for being from Australia or make a comment about Night on the tiles. Oh well, it’s a tribute to ignorance.

Comment by Crisis 04.22.10 @

does USA fail in rap?? KAIGEN should have been featured in an unbiased article over j-rap

Comment by abionic 04.23.10 @

@Crisis – Word.

Comment by jesse 04.23.10 @

As a Japanese myself, I can confidently state that besides the “exploiters,” the majority of Japanese Hip-Hop heads truly and honestly appreciate the culture. We don’t treat these cultures we bleed into as just a fad, it becomes a part of our lifestyle, customs and culture. Take for example, the Japanese sound system Mighty Crown; they’ve been doing this forever, are highly respected in the sound clash scenes and although it may confuse some, they speak fluent patois as well as their native tongue. You may call it emulating, I’d call it zealousness.

The real purveyor of Hip-Hop in Japan would have to go to Hiroshi Fujiwara who is also considered the REAL king / father of Japanese street-wear. No disrespect to Nigo, but that dude is honestly just a puppet under the Yakuza. True story. The Japanese were there in NYC in the 80s during the peak of rap, already investigating and investing.

I however, cannot speak on the “Ganguro” scene, except that that generation more than likely lost knowledge of self?

Comment by KNOWxONE 04.24.10 @

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