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Before it went mainstream, hip-hop endorsed anime first

Trey Alston

 // Mar 12, 2018

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It was only a matter of time before anime became the focal point of mainstream interest. It took Michael B. Jordan to reveal his love for Goku, and Kim Kardashian to tell the world that her pink hair was inspired by her obsession with the art platform for think-pieces to be mass produced about what anime is, who has endorsed it so far, and why it matters in 2018. The subculture has finally hit the mainstream and, from the looks of it, will change the way that art is created and consumed in the United States.

But once again, as with many of pop culture's obsessions in the 21st century, the mainstream is late to the party. The platform didn't just arise out of Japan and make its way overseas, as publications would suggest. There have been frontrunners for the expansion of the medium, incorporating it into other art forms and subculture, for years now. Perhaps, the biggest trailblazer for the explosion in anime popularity is the genre and subculture of hip-hop.

America, you've been beaten to the punch. While those who appreciate the platform can celebrate its growing prominence, it's important to remember that hip-hop has made this expansion possible and should be celebrated as such.

Looking at the similarities between both platforms showcases just how intertwined they are. Hip-hop is a collective story of experiences, often shaped by fantastical elements, to create quality entertainment. Anime, while often rooted in sci-fi mainstays, is largely the same. There's much to admire about both mediums and how they are constantly able to come up with new ways to tell stories.

These similarities have created something of a mutual respect between cultures. This connection has influenced the creation of a number of anime shows that incorporate elements of hip-hop into their artistry.

Afro Samurai, a manga known for its avant-garde way of mixing soul and hip-hop music with anime stylings, was created by Japanese artist Takashi Okazaki in 1999; it went on to receive an anime treatment in 2007. Samurai Champloo, the critically-acclaimed anime about Edo-era Japan that used an anachronistic hip-hop setting, stretches back to 2004 when it was created by Shinichiro Watanabe, Kazuto Nakazawa, and the team at Manglobe. While not technically an anime, PaRappa The Rapper, a Japanese rhythm video game created by NanaOn-Sha and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, came out in 1996 and has seen periodic remakes since then.

As much as anime shows its love for hip-hop, the inverse happens as well. It may be unknown to those outside of the creating process, but some of the biggest artists have sampled anime themes for their songs. J. Cole's somber opus "4 Your Eyez Only" samples "To The Oasis" from the popular anime Lupin III. Somehow, Cam'Ron and Vado managed to get a hold of "Shohmyo" from the anime film Akira for their 2011 hit "Speaking In Tungs." And Chance The Rapper's debut project 10 Day features a scene from the classic program Gundam Wing.

The admiration from hip-hop's side continues when looking at the artistic direction of some artists. "Stronger" is one of Kanye West's most notable songs, the crass-techno vibe clashing with the more soulful, methodical aesthetic than he portrayed previously. This harshness extends to the music video, rife with vibrant reds and oranges and a futuristic atmosphere almost close to dystopian society. West and director Hype Williams went for a style that was an homage to Akira, a similarly bleak film about the darkness of the future. Several scenes from the visual celebrate the film; the lighting effects on the bikes and West being scanned by futuristic tech were direct translations. The video holds a huge place in pop culture history, inspiring the brief fascination with designer Alain Milk's shutter shades. But while the world latched onto the esteemed eyewear, the visual's anime inspirations fell to the wayside.

RZA, frontrunner of the legendary hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan, has contributed perhaps the most to the intersection between both cultures. He's long championed his fascination with all things anime, sporadically lending his talents to various related projects. He curated the soundtrack for Afro Samurai and also worked on an animated short that accompanied his feature film The Man with the Iron Fists. But even prior to reaching into his post-music world, he, along with the other members of Wu-Tang, referenced anime through tongue-in-cheek bars that showcased their familiarity with it.

While these artists held down the fort for the previous generation of rap fans, the seeds of interest in anime have sprouted in the modern-day game. Wu-Tang raps that referenced Dragon Ball Z have given way to artists like Frank Ocean and Lil Yachty showcasing their adoration for the program. They hover around the outskirts of the genre, but more traditional rappers have shown their appreciation. Childish Gambino and Lupe Fiasco famously argued about which of the two watches more anime. Newcomers like XXXTentacion, Ski Mask Tha Slump God, and FulMetalParka$ reference some of the most popular past and present anime through their music and stylistic choices. Both indirect and direct influences of the platform continue to manifest in today's game, and will in the future.

Maybe the fact that hip-hop identified with the platform decades before mainstream America caught on is an indicator of the power of the culture itself. What started as a party trick has grown into one of the biggest genres in the world. Everywhere you turn, you see the influence of it. Companies make use of popular artists and lyrics to relate to the public, many of whom consume the genre themselves. Our genre's stars have transcended music; they're actors, businessmen, and philanthropists.

As big as the genre is, it's a wonder that it doesn't face the same trappings that many others often do. It's not oversaturated, it's constantly reinventing itself. It doesn't stagnate, it continues to grow at a rapid pace. These observations can be contributed to the way that hip-hop accepts all cultures, admires them, and incorporates elements within it to differentiate itself. From the disco scene of the 1980s to the dance scene of the mid 2000s, hip-hop created art that came from the intersections between mediums, producing timeless results that have become what the time period is remembered by.

It's also important to remember that hip-hop is confrontational. The genre is, by nature, a response to the status quo. It searches, organically, for underrepresented communities and ideals, envelops them, and creates art out of them; all the while, maintaining the original ideas' identities. There is no cultural appropriation at play.

That's why anime is so important to the culture. It's long been one of Japan's biggest industries, it just lacked the same frenzied appreciation in America. Hip-hop artists identified with the tenants of anime that hit home with them: creativity, individualism, oppression, and, often times, nihilism. Seeds were planted long ago that married the two cultures together, and art reflecting them both continues to be produced. Rap artists are influenced more now than ever by anime and it looks to continue to be a big deal for a long time.

It took just two quotes from public figures to set off the speculation that anime has arrived full force into mainstream media's field of view. What has long been held as a convention for "geeks" is finally getting its due diligence. There's nothing wrong with that; creativity of this magnitude should always be rewarded. It's just a shame that Michael B. Jordan and Kim Kardashian will get the credit for striking gold. Hip--hop has long shown appreciation for anime, and continues to. If anyone should get the credit, it's the frontrunners of its inclusivity such as Wu-Tang, MF DOOM, and Outkast – three legends in hip-hop who've all delved into the wormhole at one point in time in their careers.

As you subscribe to Crunchy Roll and check out the most popular anime programs on the subscription service, think of hip-hop's ever-changing culture as the trailblazer that's brought about this fascination. In fact, do your research – check out the programs and songs mentioned above; verify everything that exists in this article. See that hip-hop isn't new to this; it's true to this. You'll open up a new world of music and influences that'll alter your view on anime and hip hop itself.

So, next week, when another celebrity or publication publicly endorses anime as the world's next big fascination, remember that, in the words of Ray J, hip-hop hit it first. Show some respect to the world's biggest, and most experimental, genre so that it will continue to grow and receive the respect that it deserves. Through this, the work that has been created over the last twenty years that combines both cultures can truly be respected. Also, this will help to cultivate new experiences down the road. Lastly, keep your eyes peeled. Anime isn't the only culture that hip-hop has beat mainstream media to the punch about.

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