September 28th, 2009

Hip-hop Japan Man

Tonight’s guest at Beat Research is my friend & colleague at MIT, Ian Condry, author of Hip-hop Japan (Duke U Press, 2006). He’ll be joining us this eve to celebrate the translation of his book into Japanese, and he’ll do so by offering a set that traces the broad contours of Japanese hip-hop.

I hope he’ll play a few tracks like Seeda’s “6 Milion Ways,” a song featured on a mixtape he made this summer, which pushes my hip-hop/reggae crossover buttons with its Sleng Teng bassline and Cutty Ranks chorus —

Seeda, “6 Milion Ways”

You can get a taste of Ian’s research on this page, which includes a brief history of hip-hop in Japan along with audio and video samples, but I highly recommend the book. Allow me to quote a few passages to give you a sense of Ian’s analysis, which seeks to get beyond the dichotomies (global/local, authentic/non) through which we tend to appraise such things as hip-hop outside the US —

In contrast to symbols of cultural globalization, such as Coca-Cola, Disney, Nike, and McDonald’s, which take their cues from huge multinational corporations, hip-hop in Japan draws attention to an improvisatory working out of a cultural movement in the language and among peer-groups of a particular generation of youth. (12) …

Borrowing from Cornel West (1990), I argue that Japanese rappers are engaged in a “new cultural politics of affiliation,” that draws inspiration from African American struggles while generating distinctive approaches to race and protest in Japan. Race forms a part of Japanese hip-hop, but it operates in the context of an identity politics different from that in the United States. When Japanese artists proclaim that they are yellow b-boys, they are not asserting a pan-Asian identity, but rather drawing attention to their specific location in a differently configured racial matrix. In this, they suggest the possibilities for a transnational cultural politics of race that improvises on their understanding of hip-hop’s core values. (20) …

West’s perspective emerges from a different context, but the lessons for a study of black culture in Japan are profound. In particular, the application of his ideas exposes the limitations of searching for the local or the Japanese in overseas hip-hop. Indeed, although I use the term black culture, we should bear in mind that the term is shorthand for a complex range of practices, ideas, and discourses, never meaning any one single thing. Similarly, highlighting the local features of hip-hop in Japan risks reproducing images of the Japanese people while underplaying the ways in which Japanese emcees are engaged in critiquing mainstream standards of what it means to be Japanese, among other artistic and political goals. … I would argue that many uses of hip-hop in Japan attempt to produce a kind of political affiliation, but that the politics must be situated in the spaces and contexts in which they are performed. This reorients our attention away from questions of whether the Japanese “get it” or “don’t get it” when it comes to race and hip-hop, and instead draws us toward questions of what Japanese hip-hoppers are doing with the music in their own worlds. (29)

Come on out to the Enormous Room tonight to hear some of this fascinating stuff in motion. Ian will be playing from 10:30 – 11:30 and Flack and I will pick up the slack. 567 Mass Ave, 9-1, FREE.

BTW, I gotta report that we have a very exciting autumn at Beat Research. Check the allstar lineup!!!!!!

Oct 5 – Teleseen
Oct 12 – DJ Super Squirrel
Oct 19 – Poirier (new mix!)
Oct 26 – Valeo (the DJ/blogger formerly known as Khiasma)
Nov 2 – Gypsy Sound System
Nov 9 – Vince the Prince (Generation Bass)
Nov 16 – Sonido Martinez
Nov 23 – WordSound
Nov 30 – DJ Pace + Brian Coleman (RepDaBean throwdown)

Oh man oh man oh man, r u as psyched as I am? Monday nights RULE this fall. See you 2nite mebbe?


  • 1. Downpressor  |  September 30th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I’ll add this on the (long) list of books to buy when I have disposable income. I’m curious to see his observations. I’ve spent alot more time with the local reggae scene than the j-hip hop scene but I do see a number of parallels between and divergancies the two. Both have their mainstream and rebel factions and both eventually found a local voice. One thing about how these import styles work on the sales level which you will never see in the US is that in music stores, foreign artists and Japanese artists are stocked in different sections of the store. This applies to both mainstream and rebel factions.

    Even after 12 years here in Tokyo, the best explanation I’ve heard is that it makes things easier for customers to find. Not sure I accept that. Anyway, I’m curious about the book and what the author has to say beyond the dichotomies you mention above. Also curious what if any analysis is given to rhyme structures in a language where all words end with a vowel or an “n”. Finally curious to see the if the issue of race is addressed in terms of if the author addresses some of the more blatant racism which can be found in j-hip-hop and japareggae (sorry I dot have artist/song title citations, just going by what I hear inna dance on the street).

    Anyway, thanks for pointing out the book.

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  September 30th, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    The book definitely covers a lot more territory than I’ve suggested with the quotes above, including going further into race and racism. (You can probably read a fair amount of it for free via Amazon and Google Books, fyi.) As for the linguistic challenges in adapting Japanese for hip-hop, chapter 5 is called “Rhyming in Japanese.” (& see also)

  • 3. Shelley  |  October 1st, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Nice to see Condry’s book mentioned on a blog, and on yours, too, which I drop by every now and then! I’m also a Japanese popular music researcher and I use his work all the time in my University classes. Glad to hear it is being translated into Japanese; here’s hoping it will be included in the curriculum for Japanese Universities. As far as I know, there’s very few courses on Japanese popular music in Japan.

  • 4. Lowdjo  |  October 13th, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Damn, we need something like beat research in Brussels… and that on monday nights!!


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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