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Nip Hopper
Nip Hopper

Japanese Hip Hop is said to have begun when Hiroshi Fujiwara returned to Japan and started playing Hip-Hop records in the early 1980s. Japanese hip hop generally tends to be most directly influenced by old school hip hop, taking from the era's catchy beats, dance culture, and overall fun and carefree nature and incorporating it into their music. As a result, hip hop stands as one of the most commercially viable mainstream music genres in Japan, and the line between it and pop music is frequently blurred.

Although rather informal and small scale, the early days of Japanese hip-hop provide the history for the emergence of the cultural movement. Early hip-hop was not led by corporate interests, but rather was largely ignored by large record companies and performance venues. In this respect, Japanese hip-hop offers a representation of cultural globalization, as it expanded despite criticism on the part of record companies and major media outlets. The history shows that certain kinds of cultural exchange are not initiated through cultural understanding, but instead from some interaction that can incite a desire to learn, to participate, and to contribute individuality. In Japan, this motivation to represent individuality was breakdancing, which was one of the leading edges of hip-hop at the time. An important spark for Japanese hip-hop occurred in 1983, when breakdancing appeared in Tokyo through film and live performances even though American hip hop records could previously be heard in Tokyo discos. According to Takagi Kan, a first generation Japanese MC, “I couldn’t tell what was with the rap and the DJing...but with the breakdancing and graffiti art, you could understand it visually. Or rather, it wasn’t understanding so much as, ‘Whoa, that’s cool’. With rap and DJing, I couldn’t imagine what could be cool about it.” Dancing has a visual impact that everyone can understand, when it comes to dance there is not a language barrier. Break dancing represented the foundation for the spread of Japanese hip-hop and served as a medium for globalization.

As in Germany, Japan was introduced to hip hop in the fall of 1983 in the movie Wild Style. The film is "the classic hip-hop flick, full of great subway shots, breakdancing, freestyle MCing and rare footage of one of the godfathers of hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash, pulling off an awesome scratch-mix set on a pair of ancient turntables." The popularity of the film led to many of the artists involved in it to make a trip to Japan to promote the film and they even performed in some of the department stores while they were there. Shortly after, Japanese took up breakdancing in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, where street musicians gather every Sunday to perform. Crazy-A, now the leader of Rock Steady Crew Japan, was one of the pioneers of break dancing in Yoyogi back in the early 1984". Crazy-A organizes the annual "B-Boy Park" which happens every August, and draws a large number of fans and dozens of break dancing groups. This was all considered the Old School Era of rap in Tokyo. There was much of what they called Soul Dancing which helped the Japanese culture accept the street dance culture.

The rise of DJs was really the next step for the Japanese hip hop scene. Before 1985, there weren't very many DJs on the radio, but with the increase in the number that year, it led to the opening of the first all hip hop club in 1986. But despite the fact that DJing caught on rather quickly, it was thought that rapping wasn't going to have the same cache as it would be hard to rap in Japanese. Most Japanese music makes no sense to anyone but the Japanese themsevles. Nobody can understand a word they say!

Street musicians began to breakdance in Yoyogi Park, including DJ Krush who has become a world-renowned DJ after arising from the Yoyogi Park scene. In 1986 an all hip hop club opened in Shibuya. While interest in hip-hop in Japan grew some during the 1980s and early 1990s, the rap scene remained fairly small and rather marginalized. One reason for the rap scene to remain so small and a little bit less popular compared to hip hop is because of the fact that the Japanese language does "not contain stress accents and sentences must end with one of a few simple verb endings." Ito Seiko, Chikado Haruo, Tinnie Punx and Takagi Kan were rappers that emerged out of Japan at this time, and they proved to be rather successful.

The years 1994 and 1995, marked the beginning of hip-hop’s commercial success in Japan. The first hit was Schadaraparr's "Kon’ya wa būgi bakku" (Boogie Back Tonight) by Scha Dara Parr and Ozawa Kenji, followed by East En X Yuri’s “Da. Yo. Ne.” and “Maicca,” which each sold a million copies. This sudden popularity of J-rap, which was largely characterized as party rap, sparked a debate over ‘realness’ and authenticity between commercial and underground hip-hop artists.

An example of an underground attack on mainstream J-Rap is Lamp Eye's "Shogen," in which rapper You the Rock disses the more pop oriented group Dassen Trio. Writer Ian Condry argues that the rappers on this track are closely emulating the traditional macho posturing of rap, citing influences such as Public Enemy and Rakim The video reflects this image in its roughness and tone. Dassen Trio, and other pop rappers, respond to such attacks with the argument that their subject matter is more culturally appropriate and accessible for Japanese fans, and question the standards of "realness" put forth by underground rappers.

With a lack of ghettos, Japanese youth consider hip hop the soundtrack to international fashion–baggy jeans, medallions, dread locks etc. Actual Japanese rap lyrics have a tendency to refer to mundane subjects such as food, cell phones, and shopping. Since 2000, the hip hop scene in Japan has grown and diversified. Hip-hop style and Japanese rap has been enormously commercially successful in Japan. In a 2003 interview with the BBC, Tokyo record-store owner, Hideaki Tamura noted "Japanese hip-hop really exploded in the last two, three years. I never thought there would be a time when Japanese records could outsell American ones but it's happening." Additionally, a huge number of new scenes have developed. These include “rock rap to hard core gangsta, spoken word/poetry, to conscious, old school, techno rap, antigovernment, pro-marijuana, heavymetal-sampled rap, and so on.” Tamura points to a shift in Japanese hip hop, when artists began to focus on issues pertinent to Japanese society, versus previous styles and subjects that were copied from US hip hop culture. For Japan, the style of hip hop was much more appealing than topics popular in American hip hop, such as violence. Ian Condry, on the other hand, focuses on an interplay between local and global hip hop within the genba of Japan. For Condry, Japanese hip hop was born out of simultaneous localization and globalization of hip hop culture, rather than a shift between the two binary factors.

Dancing is an important aspect of the hip-hop culture. Before hip-hop was popular in Japan there was Soul dancing which acted as a foundation for the Japanese people to accept street dance culture. A big break through time for the dance scene in Japan was after the movies “Flashdance,” “Wild Style,” and “Beat Street.” This was only the beginning of the dance explosion in Japan. The New York hip hop scene also had a large impact on the dance influence in Japan. Lalah Hathaway’s “Baby Don’t Cry” music video had a large impact on dancers in Japan and started to mold the style into something closer to the NY sophisticated dance style. This attracted many Japanese people to NY to see this style of dancing for themselves. In addition in 1992 the form of street dancing known as “house” emerged from the influence of music videos as well. It took very well to the culture in Japan and is now well known. Wood discusses in his writing “Yellow Negro” the influence that race plays on the club scene and the type of dancing and music played in Japan depends on the racial composition of its guests. The club scene is a very important scene for the Japanese people to be able to express hip hop in a visual way which stretches across all barriers regardless of language.

Genba, also known as the actual site, is the place and space for established and future underground hip-hop artists to gain and maintain recognition. It is here in these venues and night clubs that the artist performs and networks with people from the music industry, the audience, and the media. If the artist is a crowd favorite, the audience cheers or dances and this in a way decides the fate.

Without such genba acknowledgments, artists would disappear from the scene. Conversely, the business success of some rappers is not rejected but seen with a touch of envy, especially if they manage to go frequently to nightclubs like Zeebra in order to sustain their networks and keep up to date on the latest trends.

Before the turn of the new millennium, genba served as a places where Japanese hip hop colture was created and born. In the city of Tokyo, between the youth shopping districts of Shibuya and Harajuko, there was created a genba – a fathering point for youthful fans and performers. Traffic was stopped, and people and artists were able to perform and express themselves outside in this very public arena. This area became known as “Hokoten,” short for hokosha tengoku, which means “pedestrian paradise.” [69] It is said that here more than anywhere else in Japan in the 1990s, one could see the interplay and parallel between music and fashion [70].

Thumpin’ Camp has been one of the most memorable and largest hip hop events that occurred in Japan. July 7, 1996 is an unforgettable day for many rappers, as well as the fans; about four thousand people attended the show. Males were more attracted to this hip hop scene than females; thus, about 80% of the audience was male adolescents. Over thirty rappers, DJs, and break-dancers from the underground scene performed in the show. This event touched many young individuals who were passionate about hip hop. The Thumpin’Camp show left a remarkable memory in the hip hop history in Japan.

Japan boasts a variety of clubs, which, although they are "open to all races...the kind of music played depends on the race of the next largest racial group." That group, of course, being next largest to the Japanese, who can be found at each of the different clubs. The clubs that only play hip hop and reggae are those clubs that are attended mostly by blacks. Interestingly, in the clubs which are frequented by Japanese people and those which white people attend, you find that there is an even proportion of race and gender. In these clubs, you will generally find equal amounts of Japanese men and women, and a fairly even proportion of racially different men and women. However, in the hip hop clubs, "almost all the men are black, and almost all the women are Japanese". Often in the hip hop cubs, you will find that the Japanese women darken their skin, and get extensions and cornrows, in order to attain that "natural" black look.

As aforementioned, genba is agreeably one of the most prominent and core place for hip hop in Japan, there is however a visible shift and spread/increase of Japanese hip hop venues. Among these are clubs, crowds on streets and many more. According to Ian Condry, in his book he outlines the idea and fact that, clubs have become one of the most convenient and top promoting places for Japanese hip hop. Great Djs and turntable-lists use clubs to as venues to not promote other rappers, by that spreading the hip-hop culture, bring and promote new songs and their own hip hop work. Referring to some sources such as, the above named source is a Japanese hip hop forum that also focuses on clubs in Japan. The above source also services proof of Dj and upcoming artists naming places, clubs, Street gatherings of where they are going to be so as to promote their work or any artist they are interested in. The above all in all justifies the view that Japanese Hip hop venues are not just genba but have rather taken and shift or taking a shift into a variety of places such as the ones named above.

One major Japanese hip hop group, Rhymester, has expressed opinions on various global and philosophical issues through their lyrics. Rhymester has put out motivating messages through hip hop, with songs like "B-Boyism" that emphasizes improving oneself, with lyrics such as "I'm not surrendering this aesthetic flattering no one, I improve myself only the wonderful, useless people get it, and roar, at the edge of the bass." The group has also written socially critical lyrics, in songs attacking the Japanese government, as well as the United States for invading Iraq. Rhymester is also known for its collaborative work with the Funky Grammar Unit in the 1980s, as well as its participation in hip hop battles.

Another major group of Japanese hip-hop is King Giddra. They are one of the few pioneers of Japanese hip-hop. They began their hip hop careers in 1993 and felt hip-hop was needed in Japan. Group members, Zeebra and K Dub Shine, both of whom had lived in the U.S., were convinced of the necessity for hip-hop to be about issues of social opposition. They used hip-hop to address social issues of the time, such as: the inability of college graduates to find employment and the media overload of advertising sex and violence. They also “challenged youth not only to recognize the difficulties faced by Japanese society but also to speak up about them.” King Giddra also wrote a song called "911" which carried a distinct anti-war message and drew parallels between the bombing of Hiroshima and the attacks of September 11. A video with translation can be seen on Youtube. Their message and hip-hop was accepted by the people of Japan because they received commercial success and eventually led to their solo careers.

Dabo is one of the first hip hop artists in Japan. He sprung to the scene in the 1990s and has fame all over Japan. He is the first Japanese artist to be signed to Def Jam Japan. He is also disliked for his style of hip hop which is said to be imitation of African American Hip Hop. Many Japanese musicians feel that artists similar to Dabo are just mimicking what they see in American hip hop and is not unique in any sense.

Another influential rap artist in Japan is female rapper, Hime. In her music, she employs a strong message to empower women in Japanese culture. Many of her songs combat the common stereotype of women in Japanese culture. She calls herself “the voice of the Japanese doll,” in attempts to challenge and reinvent stereotypes that label women as quiet and obedient. Another common stereotype used to degrade women in Japan is the term yellow cab, which is used to describe a woman who is sexually provocative or whorish. In her song, Yellow cab, Hime cleverly deconstructs the derogatory connotations of this term. By contextualizing yellow cab as defining a woman who is in the driver’s seat, Hime transforms its meaning in attempts to empower Japanese woman.

Another influential artist in Japan is a male singer Toshi Kubota. Toshi is a Japanese singer who is originally from Shizuoka, Japan. Toshi is known as the pioneer of soul music in Japan. His music styles have varied over the years, from pop-oriented sounds through to reggae and soul. Toshi made his Japanese debut in 1986 with the album, Shake It Paradise. His popularity peaked with his award-winning 1990 release, “Bonga Wanga.” Toshi’s albums have consistently sold over a million copies each in Japan. According to a reading from the yellow negro, some Japanese artist have made reference to profound attraction to black music and style. They have embraced jazz, rock 'n' roll, funk, and other forms of African American expression.

Additionally, Hime has revolutionized the rhyming patterns in rap songs by embracing traditional Japanese poetic forms such as tanka in her song “If the Peony Stands.” In her use of this intricate form, she embraces and fuses Japanese culture with traditional American hip hop styling. Hip hop is also an outlet for Japanese minority groups such as Burakumin and Koreans in Japan to express their experiences. Jin Black is a rapper who writes about his life in a Burakumin neighborhood.

Ian Condry, an associate professor in the Japanese Cultural Studies Dept at MIT, is a cultural anthropologist who specializes in contemporary Japan. He has covered Hip Hop in Japan since its inception into the genre. His fieldwork started in 1995-97 and he has published many articles revolving around Japanese Hip Hop.

Japanese hip hop fashion is very similar to hip hop fashion in the west, except that it is more pop-ish, brighter, and a little cutsie. Sometimes, though, nip hoppers will try to hard, and end up emulating african americans, to the extent of using blackface.

Image from Deviantart, info -save for the last paragraph, which is mine- from wikipedia.

P.S- Curious about the name? Well, Hip Hopper + Nippon = Nip Hopper!! Yeah, that was lame. -_-

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