Unlike some other old school hip-hop fans my age, I don't consider myself a 'child' of hip-hop. During the 80s, I was only an elementary school student when the hip-hop scene began. But it was during this time that I made a connection with the music and culture while watching my uncles carry their stereos on their shoulders, teach new break-dancing moves to my big brother, and lace up their Adidas in the 'checkerboard' style the night before going to school-- (with me looking on irritatingly asking, "uncle Greg, when you gone teach me how to do it?"- every 3 minutes.) I connected with hip-hop while watching my aunt Tonya and her friends make up dance routines to Salt-N-Peppa and 357 songs while developing names such as "Sweet T" and "D Nice" for their own female rap group. For me, my aunts and uncles were hip-hop. They were a part of something that I could only admire and watch from the sidelines. And through them, my cousins and I all developed lil' girl crushes on Kid-N-Play, Curtis Blow, & Big Daddy Kane. Through them, we developed dance routines of our own-- (to be displayed at the skating rink) and we even tried time and time again to create our on rap lyrics, which usually began like, "Well my name is T, and I'm the Bessst...." (oh my goodness!) (I never would have imagined how good it feels to recall these memories.) For me, this is where I began to understand the delicate relationship between music and culture.
Before visiting Japan for the first time in fall '03, I read an article similar to this one (thanks Ken!) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/3324409.stm in one of the hip-hop magazines about the increasing popularity of Hip-Hop music and style in Japan. I was surprised just as much as I was intrigued. I wondered what made them like hip-hop so much. I wondered what made them style their hair in afros and cornrows. I wondered what they thought about lyrics, beats, and artists. I wondered what motivated them to imitate the dress and style of hip-hop. Could it be that they were like me? Did they consider it fun? And, why did they like hip-hop? And I thought, maybe they were into learning more about African-Americans through hip-hop. You know the history of it all, beyond Kool and the Gang- to the Black Power and Civil Rights Movements. I thought, maybe I won't feel so isolated afterall in Japan- at least I can connect with hip-hop lovers. I continued to wonder. And with many questions in my mind, I couldn't wait to one day visit Japan to have my questions answered.
Well my experiences in Japan thus far have helped me to answer many questions. So, what exactly are they cheering for? Not African-Americans. They are only cheering for the individual artists and the images being promoting. Most of the time they barely understand the lyrics. What do they think of African-Americans? Hmmm not sure. But, I would bet it's your average stereotypical stuff that's promoted by these same artists who brag about performing in Japan. I remember back in the 90s when Malcom X became so commercialized that people were wearing his image and didn't have clue as to what Malcolm X believed... Well, one could say that parallels the Japanese mentality when it comes to hip-hop.
Ever-so-often, I will read an article about the world-wide popularity of hip-hop. I find it amazing how even in some of the world's most racist and xenophobic countries, African-American artists are welcomed by amazingly cheerful crowds of fans; and I have often been baffled by it. How is it that a society can view a certain group of people with disdain, however, welcome members of the same group with accolades of cheers and excited while they perform. I wonder, what are they cheering for? And whom are they cheering for? And why?
One of the things that really confused me briefly in Japan was the relationship between Japanese behavior and wardrobe. With my American eyes, whenever I would see 20-something Japanese females in fishnet stockings, knee-high boots, and a 3-inch mini skirts I would think-- HOOKER. Undoubtedly my being socialized in the US created such an image for me (think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.). I remember the first time I saw a young Japanese guy rockin' the tightest dreadlocs while coordinating his wardrobe with the colors red, black, and green-- and, did I smell a hint of Egyptian Musk?!!! I thought to myself "What tha' Blooood Clottttttt!!!?" (for you KSA) I was trippin! I was also excited and I automatically associated him with a culture that I had become familiar with over the years. I remember thinking to myself, "Man, I can't wait to talk to them!" (heheheheh) BOY, I was soooo green in Japan! In retrospect, it's all funny now.
If there is only one lesson that I have learned in Japan it would HAVE to be: DO NOT ASSOCIATE STYLE OF DRESS, HAIR, OR MUSIC INTERESTS WITH THE MENTALITY OF A PERSON. DON'T DO IT :)! When I finally had several opportunities to explore my interests and answer my questions, I quickly learned that lesson.
You see, for most, hip-hop in Japan is only a fashion trend or style. The thing is, most Japanese don't do style (in the words of mother) half-ass. Regardless of the style, they attempt to imitate it ALL THE WAY. Unlike in the US, your won't find too many wannabe-hip-hop half-way-dress-the-part-kids like you would in the white suburban areas of the US. In Japan, THEY DON'T WANT TO BE, they only want to LOOK LIKE IT. So don't confuse a Japanese girl rockin' an afro with wanting to be natural and not wanting to use harmful chemicals in her hair. Because chances are, she just damaged the hell out of her hair to get that "look". And, don't associate the young Japanese guy wearing a blue plaid-shirt that is buttoned all the way to the neck, with a white-tee underneath, rockin' a shiny bald head with being interested in or a part of US West Coast gang culture--he only wanted the "look". (Which is a good thing in my opinion)
Also, in Japan people of the same interests and dress usually hang out together. Thus, where there is one dred or afro-- others are bound to be close. Where there is one leather pant and dog collar-wearing young Japanese chap-- others are only a few steps away. It's rare that I will see a hip-hop style guy, with a Paris Hilton style girl. Thus, as a Black woman in Japan you will find many Japanese hip-hop-style and reggae- style men looking your way. In my opinion, to them you are the ultimate wardrobe accessory for their style--especially if you have an afro.
In conclusion, I now realized that one of the things that attracted me to Japan was what I perceived to be a "geniune interest" in African-American culture-- be it jazz, gospel, hip-hop, r/b, etc. While the interest is definitely genuine, it should not be confused with wanting to understand the motivations and history behind something. The "Japanese interest" that I have witnessed simply involves imitating the look and behavior.
I am happy that just as hip-hop encouraged me to explore another culture, it is increasingly encouraging more young men and women to explore countries outside of their own. I often receive emails from individuals wanting to know about the hip-hop and dance hall scene here. In their e-mails they sound excited to arrive and explore, and that's a GREAT thing!
I came-I saw- and I left... Then I returned and saw more... thought about it and decided to share. If it is hip-hop that inspires and intrigues you-- GO! If it's fashion-- GO! Whether it's history, photography, writing, or <insert your interests here>. GO! GET YOUR PASSPORT AND GO! (And don't forget to tell others!)
Below are a few pics I took @ a hip-hop club in Shibuya during my Christmas Adventure: This place was a riot!
Here are Pics taken from Mansa Mania (The guy in white T-shirt reminds me of a Japanese E-40)