Hip Hop Culture In Japan: Is It Popular?

Lately, we see many Hip Hop MCs showing up in Japanese TV programs more than ever. Obviously, the reason is that Hip-Hop is gaining popularity back again in Japan. Hip-Hop had been a less popular genre than J-POP or Rock for long. But now, the new wave has come. So how is the Hip Hop culture in Japan these days?

Why Wasn’t Hip-Hop Popular In Japan Before?

Pops and Rock have been the top two genres in the music industries for so long in Japan. In the 1980s, Hip-Hop was first imported to Japan from the US in the very beginning. Those music were still rough and more like just an introduction to new music. And in the 1990s, many Japanese Hip Hop legends appeared in the scene, such as BUDDHA BRAND, King Giddra, SOUL SCREAM. It was innovative and totally new to the Japanese people at that time, and they got fascinated by the unique style right away. In other words, the style has updated from “I’ve tried a new style called Hip Hop” to “This is Japanese Hip Hop”. However, the excitement had been gradually fading away, but why?

Japanese language is not matching with Hip Hop sound

People often say that the Japanese language is not suitable to sing in rhyme on Hip Hop beats in the first place. Unlike English, Japanese have vowels in each syllable. And each syllable can be categorized into only five vowels, which means Japanese don’t have various patterns of sounds compared to English. For that limitation, it isn’t easy to create sophisticated rhymes in Japanese.

Cultural difference

Originally, Hip Hop culture is for delinquents who cannot show up in the major scene. In contrast, the Japanese live in a relatively better condition than other countries. Therefore, people cannot feel empathy for underground cultures. Singing about mob life but having a life without much discomfort at the same time might look odd for some people. That’s why some people say that Japanese Hip Hop is lame. (In fact, when I type Japanese Hip Hop in Japanese, Google Autocomplete shows the search prediction “Japanese Hip Hop lame”)

Karaoke vs Club

I believe this is the biggest reason Hip Hop hasn’t been the top music genre in Japan. The way Japanese people consume music differs greatly from other countries; It is “Karaoke”. Since most Japanese people love music, which can be sung at Karaoke rather than listening in the clubs, J-POP and Rock are still popular. Hip Hop can be enjoyed only by the limited number of people who really love it. A similar case happens in many other industries in Japan, and we call it “Galapagos Syndrome“.

Japanese Hip Hop Is Back

Having said that, Hip Hop has gained its popularity back in the last few years because of one TV program called “Freestyle Dungeon”. As the name says, Freestyle Dungeon was a freestyle rap battle show in which both the active and legendary freestyle rappers appeared, broadcast from 2015 to 2020. It significantly contributed to the recent Hip Hop boom, and there were two possible reasons for that.

New style to enjoy music

As mentioned above, not many Japanese people listened to Hip Hop because it wasn’t for Karaoke. However, Freestyle Dungeon showed another style to enjoy Hip Hop music, and it was more like sports than gangster’s culture. So, Freestyle Dungeon caught a vast majority of people’s attention, not only Hip Hop lovers.

Against the current of Japanese TV regulation

It’s been a long time since people started saying that Japanese TV show has gone downhill because of so many regulations. Even the TV producers struggle to create something extremely outstanding since the noisy minority has overly potent opinions these days. But Freestyle Dungeon set no restriction for rappers to use strong words. When they use inappropriate expressions during freestyle rap, it turns into a clean version (Rappers’ mouths got hidden with the word “コンプラ (compliance)” without any sound). It seems a deliberate act of provocation to the current situation of Japanese TV. It was a fresh experience for those who are tired of dull TV programs caused by the fear of criticism.

Various types of rappers became popular

Previously, almost every rapper was in a traditional style, wearing oversized b-boy clothes with caps and golden necklaces, singing about weeds, girls, and crimes. But these days, different types of unique rappers have come out. Here are some examples of famous ones.

Pick Up Rappers

Zorn – My Life

Zorn was a gangster rapper in the beginning. But after marriage, his style has drastically changed to family man. In this song, he sings about life as a father of two kids. MV shows his daily life, playing with his kids, washing dishes, doing a side job as a painter.

Creepy Nuts – Setsuna

Creepy Nuts is a Hip Hop duo consists of R-shitei (MC) and DJ Matsunaga (DJ). They both are like nerds, staying indoor, not caring about their appearance. They admit that they were at the bottom of the school hierarchy. It’s not worth mentioning, but DJ Matsunaga officially announced that he is still a virgin (He is 29 as of 2020).

PUNPEE – Time Machine Ni Notte

He has a high reputation for his rap skill and collaborates with other musicians from different genres such as J-POP, Rock. He is also active as a beat producer and record producer.

SHO – Yakubutsuwa Yamero

Don’t judge people from their appearance. Despite his typical gangster rapper-style appearance, he keeps shouting “Yakubutsuwa Yamero (Stop doing drugs)!”. In his YouTube channel, he also does a kind of community service by himself. (In one video, he kept pointing out cigarette litters on the street.)

Japanese Hip Hop scene is entering another phase now. It now has a wide variety of styles, and you will definitely find your favorite ones!

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