HIP HOP’S GLOBAL INFLUENCE AND ITS LOCALIZATION IN JAPAN AND CHINA XUEXIN LIU
SPELMAN COLLEGE Abstract
This paper offers a comparative study of hip hop influence and impact on Japanese and Chinese youth cultures with a special reference to the hip hop phenomenon as observed in contemporary Japan and China. Based on the current literature of hip hop studies both inside and outside the USA, hip hop CD’s and DVD’s, website articles, and newspaper commentaries, this study describes and explains the sources of hip hop influence against the global background, the social motivations for adopting hip hop culture in different societies, the reflections of an individual society’s social-economic and social psychological realities and needs, and the implications of the global influence of hip hop culture.
Hip hop originated from African-American culture has exerted unprecedented influence and impact on other cultures across the borders. The study of hip hop’s global influence becomes necessary and important in understanding not only the hip hop phenomenon in other cultures but also other changing societies themselves. This paper presents a comparative study of the hip hop phenomenon as observed in contemporary Japan and China and its influence and impact on Japanese and Chinese youth cultures. The study assumes that any adoption of hip hop culture must be strongly motivated, but different societies may adopt hip hop culture for different social, political, economic and/or psychological reasons. In other words, social motivations for adopting hip hop culture may differ from one society to another. Thus, it becomes necessary to explore the sources of hip hop influence and the implications for foreign adoption of hip hop culture. In so doing, it also becomes essential to explain why hip hop is a means of free expression, how such a means is exploited by Japanese and Chinese young people, and what motivates the adoption and localization of hip hop culture in Japan and China in their respective ways.
Hip Hop as a Means of Free Expression Rap music was fist witnessed as a dynamically expressive verbal art on the streets of the inner city of New York in the late 1970s and has become the most prominent genre of music in America today (Rose 1994). It was originated from the rich African-American socio-cultural tradition and was initially recognized as the verbal expression of the African-American youth culture or a subculture of the American society, voicing the experience of African-Americans who were largely oppressed and confined to urban ghettos. For these people hip hop was a form of expression they had previously been denied. Rap perpetuated the African-American oral tradition and reintroduced the importance of music with something to say. Sager (1990) regards rap as a particular type of literary work that enters mainstream American culture. Rap became the expressive language of the urban street culture, and more and more young people across America followed its lead in making their voices heard. Smitherman points out that with a “blend of reality and fiction, rap is a contemporary response to the pleasures and problems of black urban life in contemporary America” (1997: 1) and emphasizes that rap is a representative and explicit display of the realistic problems of black urban life in contemporary America. Today, rap music has become so popular that it has remained at the forefront of the contemporary American pop culture, and it is now commonly called hip hop. As Marriott says, “‘Hip hop’ is the total expression, in attitude, dress, dance, graffiti art and music of an ever growing African-American youth subculture which challenges the status quo and moves them into a crucible for change” (1990: 207). It is through rap music that young African-Americans have developed a special means of free expression that is quintessentially their own.
With its powerful socio-cultural message, hip hop culture has had a major impact not only on the African-American community, but also on America as a whole. Hip hop’s national (and now global) appeal is explained by its amalgam of self-expression, verbal dexterity, emotionally involving and explicit content, and outward physical expressions or body language (Mitchell 2001). In today’s American society, rap music or hip hop remains a very popular expressive art form and has entered mainstream American culture. Its survival and continuance are in part due to the fact that hip hop represents an indigenous social and cultural form of a rich African-American tradition, and it is this strong social and cultural tradition that motivate rap artists to dramatically and expressively voice their attitudes toward the society and their concerns about issues that speak to the young urban African-American population (Bernard 1990).1 Another most significant reason for hip hop’s survival and continuance is that its social and cultural influence has made an indelible impact not only on the African-American community but also on the American society as a whole. This is because more and more young Americans accept and appreciate social and psychological self-expressions, thought provoking verbal dexterity, emotional content, and outward physical expressions as saliently realized in rap music or hip hop. Hip hop culture has become so deeply rooted in the melting pot of American culture that average Americans have felt its social and cultural impacts and effects. Hip hop culture, comprised of rap music, graffiti art, break dancing, ‘b-boy’ fashion and a rebellious attitude, has blown from its cradle in New York City across the globe. More and more young people throughout the world idolize and adopt hip hop as a means of free self-expression to make their voices heard.
Hip Hop’s Influence on Japanese Youth Culture The early days of Japanese hip-hop provide the history for the emergence of the global cultural movement. Japanese hip hop generally tends to be most directly influenced by old school hip hop, taking from American hip hop’s catchy beats, dance culture, and overall fun and carefree nature and incorporating it into Japanese music. Hip hop’s global influence on Japanese youth culture was not initiated through cultural understanding, but instead from some interaction that could incite a desire to learn, to participate, and to contribute individuality. In Japan, hip hop’s influence was initially breakdancing, which was one of the leading edges of hip-hop in the early 1980s. An important spark for Japanese hip hop occurred in 1983, when breakdancing appeared in Tokyo through film and live performances. 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. The rise of DJs was really the next step for the Japanese hip hop scene, which led to the opening of the first all hip hop club in Shibuya in 1986. The years 1994 and 1995 marked the beginning of hip hop’s commercial success in Japan. Millions of copies of Schadaraparr’s “Kon’ya wa būgi bakku” (Boogie Back Tonight), East En X Yuri’s “Da. Yo. Ne.,” and “Maicca” were sold.
Since 2000, the hip hop scene in Japan has grown and diversified. Japanese hip hop style and Japanese rap have been enormously commercially successful in Japan. As a result, hip hop became one of the most commercially viable mainstream music genres in Japan, and the line between it and pop music was frequently blurred. Additionally, a huge number of new hip hop scenes have developed, such as rock rap to hard core gangsta, spoken word/poetry, techno rap, antigovernment, pro-marijuana, heavy metal-stamped rap, and so on. At the same time, there was a shift in Japanese hip hop, when hip hop artists began to focus on socio-psychological issues pertinent to Japanese society, rather than previous styles and topics mainly copied from American hip hop culture. In other words, American hip hop tended to be more localized than before.
Social motivations for adopting hip hop culture in Japan Like any other adoption of a foreign culture, there must be some particular social motivations that drove Japan’s adoption of hip hop culture. Although the initial motivation was highly commercial, Japan’s socio-economic realities and young Japanese’ psychological factors become an actual and powerful force for developing and sustaining hip hop culture in Japan. Around the turn of the twenty-first century, Japanese youth who were children during the boom times of Japan’s economy of the 1980s face very difficult economic times after a decade-long recession that started in 1992. Japan’s stumbling economy caused businesses to retrench and unemployment rates among young people to rise. Such economic changes have caused many young Japanese no long believe that good education will guarantee a good job, which used to be one of the core ideals of the Japanese middle-class (Condry 2006).
Beside Japan’s difficult economic times, lack of adequate communication between Japanese children and their parents, lack of loving family environment, and family neglect may cause many serious childhood psychological and emotional problems. Most Japanese parents have almost no time left for their children because they fully devote themselves to their companies and have to spend over 90% of their daytime hours engaging in their job responsibilities. Children without loving parents who learn about and listen to their concerns and problems tend to feel neglected, ignored and emotionally disturbed or stressed. The only way for such children to get a sense of belonging is for them to look for friends and love outside their families.
In addition, the fierce competition and many difficulties in school bring some children unbearable stress, frustration and depression. From a very young age, children have to vigorously compete with their peers for good or highly recommended kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities. Stress, frustration, and failure in school are the major reasons for some young Japanese to commit suicide. Those who try to live a carefree life may look for a stress- or worry-free environment outside their schools.
Furthermore, the very strict school rules and standards impose severe constraints on young Japanese. In Japanese schools kids up to teenagers are not allowed to behave as individuals. Instead, they are educated, trained and expected to be components of a particular group or community. In most schools, they are required to wear school uniforms and use similar knapsacks. Similar strict rules are also enforced in most high schools, where wearing one’s own outfit or wearing make-up and jewelry are prohibited. Consequently, through years of their education, many young Japanese begin to feel that their freedom and individualities are constrained, suppressed and even deprived of. Such young Japanese, especially teenagers, attempt to enjoy a normal and carefree life outside their schools (Liu 2005).
The socio-economic and psychological factors, among others, may have become the major social motivations for Japanese artists to adopt hip hop culture in response to young Japanes’s special interests and needs.
Hip hop as a reflection of Japanese youth’s socio-psychological realities and needs Hip hop as a mode of free expression has strongly influenced Japanese youth culture, and hip hop influence has reflected Japanese youth’s socio-psychological realities and needs, and such a reflection has been observed in several aspects of today’s changing Japan. Japanese artists use hip hop as a tool to express attitudes of young Japanese toward Japanese government and society as a whole, credentials society, traditional values, and individual freedom.
Utamaru raps about the Japanese government as an imperial inner sanctum, closed off, behind a rusted zipper, completely rotten. His views reflect young Japanese’s attitudes toward their government and society as a whole.
izure hottokya sekai no gan If left alone, it’s a cancer on the world
tsuyoku akushū sasetai no ka do you want to make such a strong stench?
ki ga shiren kuso jiisan tachi I can’t understand you, you shitty old men
kyōkasho ni takushita entrusted with the textbooks,
kina kusai fuantajii you make up a smoldering fantasy
iwaku repezen okuni no puraido on the pretext of representing Japan’s “pride
etsu, kikichigai jyan? mushiro buraindo. huh? I misheard you, you must mean“blind.”
(DJ Oasis feat. Utamaru “Shakai no (Translation, Condry (2006: 44))
mado” (single) Sony/Associated Records,
2000, AICT 1274)
Japan has long been a typical credentials society where one’s academic status determines one’s career opportunities, but today students are no longer guaranteed jobs when they graduate because of Japan’s economic recession and stagnancy. The rapper Zeebra of the group King Giddra raised questions and doubts about the traditional Japanese social and educational values and challenged to speak up about the difficulties faced by Japanese society.
Kodomotachi no yume made hakai shite kita The “credentials society” crushes even
gakureki shakai umaku dekita kai? the dreams of children, that’s a good thing?
Kawatte kiteru n jya nai? But things are changing, aren’t they?
Tada sore damatte And aren’t you just shutting up
mite ru n jya nai? and watching it happen?
Kotoshi no daisotsu no koyō chōsa This year’s survey of college students
yonbun no ichi ga mada still have no job. Seriously.
maji hanahada okashiku tte that makes it nothing more
hanashi ni naranai n da tada. than empty talk.
(King Giddra “Shinjitsu no Dangan” (Translation, Condry (2006: 95-96))
(bullet of truth) Sora kara no chikara (the
power from the sky) (P-vine/Blues Interactions,
Japan, 1995, PCD-4768)
After the economic recession, many companies hired fewer grads or only hired arubaito (part-time) workers with fixed-term contracts. Japan’s dramatic increase in unemployed young people and so-called ‘freeters’, who can work only on a part-time basis, becomes a serious social problem.
Many young Japanese begin to challenge traditional values and express their discontent with life. Scha Dara Parr spoke for such young people.
Geemu dake ni ha miseru ganbari I give my all only to video games
boku no ikisama geemu or dai my way of life is game or die
bunsekika oyaji ni surya fukakai old fogey analysts can never understand
rikai dekinai no ni ittokitai, but they “explain it” anyway,
kawainai arikitari no kudari. with just the common put-down.
“Geemu wa sude ni asobi de wa nai [analyst]: “Video games aren’t just play
mō hitotsu no genjitsu ga sonzai they’ve become a separate reality
kyokō to genjitsu kubetsudekinai kids can’t separate reality from fantasy
kono mama jya kodomotachi abunai.” and this makes it dangerous for children.”
“Uruchai! mō hotoite chodai!” [youth]: “Shut up! Get out of my face!”
Hip hop was thought to have originally become popular in Japan because some Japanese people wanted to imitate African-Americans. It was not the only hip hop music they latched onto; they came to love the entire hip hop culture, including the loose-fitting clothes, graffiti writing, and break dancing. Some Japanese hip hop fans would even go to tanning salons to darken their skin and style their hair in afros or dreadlocks in order to imitate the ‘cool’ looks of African-Americans.
Ganguro, commonly known as ‘blackface’2 with some outstanding hip hop physical features, has emerged as a new fashion style among some Japanese hip hop fan girls in some Japanese metropolitan cities like Tokyo. Influenced by hip hop culture, some Japanese teenagers become ganguro girls to make themselves stand out as being different from others of the same generation. They wear boots with solid platform soles over 10 centimeters high and bright colored tight mini-skirts, make their hair blond or white, and wear shimmering makeup. Some ganguro girls even have their faces and necks tanned or blackened, often highlighted by white makeup. In so doing, ganguro girls make themselves look like black women.3 As often observed in today’s Japan, rather than an isolated social phenomenon, ganguro is in fact an impact exerted by hip hop culture upon the young generation of today’s changing Japan. Different from other hip hop phenomena in Japan and other countries, such as imitation of popular hip hop music, lyrics, and dancing styles, ganguro is mainly an imitation of hip hop image.
Ganguro began to appear as a fashion style in early 1990s and remains somewhat popular among Japanese teenage girls in big cities like Tokyo (Mead 2002). By means of their outlandish fashions, platform shoes, darkened faces, dyed hair and eccentric white makeup, ganguro girls distinguish themselves from their peers in the conservative Japanese society. After traveling to Japan in 2001. Brown, a renowned artist, exhibited her paintings entitled ‘a3 … black on both sides’ at Spelman College in 2004, which included not only her paintings of the Japanese blackfaces in history, but also those of the ganguro girls with drastically darkened faces in contemporary Japan.4 ‘Ganguro’ is the name not created by the Japanese girls themselves, but by the Japanese public who complain that these ‘creatures’ reflect all of the negative aspects of society. However, as commonly observed and believed, most ganguro girls are academically disinclined and lack ambition for personal success in education and life. It is for this reason that the Japanese public disdains them. What becomes socio-psychologically important is that ganguro girls make their own choice so as not to follow the pack but, instead, they have chosen a carefree and open approach to living for the moment and for escaping the feelings of being ignored or neglected at home and isolated, bullied or depressed at school (Klippensteen 2000).5 As one of the hip hop characteristics, a carefree life style is the stimulus for ganguro girls to be largely unconcerned with money and material gain. Like all individuals, ganguro girls attempt to enjoy a normal and carefree life by imitating some hip hop styles so that they can make themselves look different from their peers. They try to look different because they want to noticed, understood and regarded as free and equal individuals in Japanese society. Thus, for some Japanese girls, being ganguro is an escape from many problems they face in their everyday life with family, education and school environment. The adoption of the explicit hip hop appearance does not comply with family and school standards but openly expresses ganguro girls’ attitudes of defiance.
Hip Hop’s Influence on Chinese Youth Culture After thirty years of “closed-doorism” since the Chinese Communist Party rose to power in 1949, the Chinese government launched its nationwide social and economic reforms under the rubric of the Four Modernizations in 1978.6 The Chinese government’s “open-door” policy became necessary for the reform movement after China had been isolated from the world for almost three decades. It is this “open-door” policy that has opened China’s door to the world, it is this “open-door” policy that has opened China’s door to hip hop culture through young people’s direct and indirect contact with the Western world, especially the United States, and democratic countries like Japan and South Korea. Chinese now have more freedom of choice and better opportunities than ever before. There has been much foreign influence on various spheres of Chinese society, and hip hop has exerted a significance influence of its own. In addition to China’s changing social and political environment, the unprecedented innovations in worldwide communication, technology, and migration have driven hip hop’s influence and expansion. Internet technology has enabled the rapid transmission of movies, music, and ideas, helping Chinese hip hop artists and fans access and share information and experience, and electronic products, such as DVD’s and CD’s have also provided everyone with easy and quick access to hip hop culture in its various national manifestations. Furthermore, the significant population of Westerners in cities like Beijing and Shanghai has facilitated the adoption and development of rap music and hip hop culture. All of these factors have helped catalyze the emergence of a substantial hip hop culture in China.
In China, hip hop is a relatively new cultural phenomenon that became rather popular in 2000, and it has become part of Chinese youth culture since the 1980’s. In today’s China, hip hop has influenced Chinese youth culture and become a fascinating part of popular music, modern arts, and new fashion. Not only an increasing number of young Chinese artists but also more and more young Chinese appreciate and embrace hip hop-style music, dancing, and fashion. Chinese hip hop artists produce a good number of hip hop musical pieces, magazines and flyers every year, and some urban young Chinese wear loose trousers, colorful tee-shirts with dramatic images, headbands, fancy necklaces, and metal chains. To foster the growth of hip hop culture, hip hop night clubs, hip hop music stores, and hip hop fashion shops have been established in many cities. Some colleges and universities even offer jiewu classes (hip hop dancing classes) and promote research in the American hip hop culture, including its historical background, its artistic creativity, its social and cultural significance, and its local and global influence and impact (Wilbekin 1999). Hip hop has influenced Chinese youth culture to the extent that it has become a commonly recognized, highly accepted and greatly appreciated expressive artistic form in today’s Chinese popular culture.
Social motivations for adopting hip hop culture in China China’s social and economic reforms and “open-door” policy have made it possible for
hip hop culture to enter China. The adoption of hip hop culture in China is driven by the similar social motivations that drove the emergence of hip hop in the African-American community and in countries like Japan and South Korea. For decades before 1978, the Chinese social, political and educational systems did not allow people to freely express themselves but fed them state rules and restrictions derived from the Chinese Communist Party’s long-standing political traditions. There was almost no freedom of speech or individual thought, and difference was discouraged, and even disallowed. The social and economic reforms launched in 1978 have brought China dramatic social, economic, and ideological changes. To jianshe you zhongguo tese de shehuizhuyi (build socialism with Chinese characteristics) has created and promoted a competitive society. In today’s China, the market-based, rather than state-planned, economy becomes the norm; personal ownership of property is allowed and encouraged; jobs are no longer guaranteed and people must find jobs based on their qualifications rather than receive jobs assigned by the government; people are free to make their own choices; an individual’s social status is determined by their wealth, but promising opportunities are still limited to those who have particular social and/or political networks, and there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. All of this puts people, especially young people, under tremendous social, economic and psychological pressure.
Hip hop culture has been adopted by young Chinese as a new artistic form for free self-expression because it has generated and cultivated new templates for self-identity. Rap, as the language of hip hop culture, has become a powerful tool for self-expression with its significant socio-cultural functions and socio-psychological reflections and implications. Some young Chinese, especially those with low social status and those ignored or marginalized by society, use rap and hip hop as an artistic and communicative means of expressing their attitudes toward the unequal society and privileged people, their personal struggles and disappointments, their failures and anger, their aspirations, and their dreams of money, love, and fame. In other words, rap and hip hop have been adopted and appreciated by young Chinese as an effective means of expressing themselves and making their voices heard (Steele 2006). The recent development of hip hop culture in China is an example of ‘cultural adoption’ or ‘cultural translation’. The ideal of ‘keeping it real’ is the essence of original African-American hip hop and also pervades Chinese hip hop. Like African-American hip hop artists, Chinese hip hop artists represent the depth and complexity of life in their current social, political, economic, and cultural climates in a meaningful, expressive, and explicit way.
Hip hop as a reflection of Chinese youth’s socio-economic realities and needs Hip hop culture has greatly influenced many aspects of Chinese popular culture, such as popular music, popular TV and movie entertainment, dancing styles, and youth fashion. To better understand the social motivations for adopting hip hop culture and the influence and effects of the hip hop scene in China, it becomes imperative to consider the socio-economic realities and needs in today’s China. The origin of the cultural expression known as hip hop is deeply rooted in the civil discontent of a marginalized group in American society. As a popular art form, American hip hop is usually saturated with lyrics and visual depictions that explicitly express and emphasize the struggles of the social oppressed minority group. When adopted by other countries, hip hop must be localized (i.e., adapted) to serve the adopting countries’ individual needs. For example, racial prejudice and inequality is prominent in American race discourse, but race has a different meaning in China, and issues pertaining to African-American racial experience do not necessarily have Chinese analogues. Also, American topics on guns and drugs are not directly relevant to Chinese society. In spite of such differences, today’s China exhibits enormous social and economic inequality unavoidably caused by its on-going social and economic reforms. As observed by Lee (1995) and Liu (2010), today’s fast developing and modernizing China faces more and more social and economic problems; though such problems were once associated with Western capitalist society and its economic systems, they have become obvious and serious in building socialism with Chinese characteristics.
China exhibits certain socio-economic conditions that explain its embrace of hip hop, but it has not adopted the kind of aggressive, subversive hip hop popular in the United States. Also, unlike Japanese hip hop whose themes are mostly about socially marginalized and psychologically depressed young Japanese, Chinese hip hop has its own characteristics. Hip hop has been localized to become a rather positive, unifying force centered on themes and values in line with Chinese culture. Chinese hip hop aims to serve Chinese youth’s own interests and needs. For example, the Chinese rap group Longmen Zhen (Dragon Tongue), whose members have been called ‘polite rappers’. Though the group looks to inject Chinese culture into Western rap musical styles, they rap about love, peace, daily life, and everyday struggles, rather than about the more familiar Western gangster themes. Unlike American hip hop, which is infused with rebellious lyrics and images, Chinese artists champion love, peace, and emotional sincerity. Chinese hip hop often functions as a critique of stagnant tradition, the monotony of everyday life, and personal frustrations. Although very much alive, Chinese traditional culture becomes stagnant in the sense that it has not adapted to changing circumstances in contemporary China. Since traditional Chinese civilization is stagnant, foreign influences become avoidable for its refreshment. In today’s China, foreign influences are obvious in many spheres of life, and Chinese popular culture cannot escape such influences. Chinese hip hop artists use hip hop as a communicative tool to challenge or even discard certain values and symbols of China’s past, recognizing diversity, celebrating differences, and resisting conformity and uniformity. Chinese hip hop is very much a form of socio-economic commentary. Some Chinese rappers address what they see as the country’s most glaring inequalities and injustices.
Wang Li, one of the most popular Chinese rappers, is one of the millions left behind by China’s economic reform and one of those dealing with bitterness and struggles of daily life. As he declares in one of his freestyle raps,
If you don’t have a nice car or cash
You won’t get no honeys
Don’t you know China is only a heaven for rich old men
You know this world is full of corruption
Babies die from drinking milk
McRobin is one of the best known forerunners and representatives of Shanghai Rap, and his Penpeng Band becomes one of the leading forces of Chinese hip hop culture. Most of his raps explicitly reflect frustrations and struggles of today’s young Chinese. The following (the original in Shanghai dialect transcribed in Mandarin) is a portion from McRobin’s HOUSE, MONEY AND CAR.
Wǒxiǎngyào yǒujiān fáng-zi I want to have a house
xiǎngā bùyàoxiǎng yǒubù chē-zi even can’t dream of a car
Enmā jiǎngwǒ me-de nǎo-zi Mom says I have no brain
bùhuì-de zhuànpiào-zi can’t make money
zhīhǎo gènénggá yíbèi-zi but can only live like this
Wǒjiǎng wǒyǒu cōngmíng nǎo-zi I think I have plenty of brains
háiyǒu jiāoguā diǎn-zi have many ideas
kěndìng huì-de hùnchū yàng-zi and will become somebody
Jessie, one of the most popular Shanghai rappers, expresses young people’s attitude toward their society and people around them. The following (the original in Shanghai dialect transcribed in Mandarin) is a portion from Jessie’s DONT SHAM.
Yǒushíhòu zhēn-de Sometimes really
yǒudiǎn kànbùdǒng zhèshèhuì don’t understand this society
Zěn-me huìyǒu How can there be
zhè-me duō-derén láixué xūwěi so many people learning hypocrisy
Xīnkǒu bùjī Saying what they don’t think
jiùshǔ tā-men zuìshàncháng is what they’re good at
Hùchuīpěng shìtā-men-de Flattering each other
yìzhǒng shēnghuō xíguàn is their way of life
Péngyǒu qīngnĭ bāngbāngmáng please do a favor, friends
qĭngnĭ zìjĭ zhùyìdiǎn please be a bit careful
zuòrén bùyào zhè-me xūwěi don’t be so hypocritical
Yuánlái zhèjiùshì nĭ-men-de xūwěi shìjiè That’s your world of hypocrisy
hàochēng xūwěishìjièlĭ this hypocritical world is the so-called place
jiùyào zuòrén xūwěi where you must behave hypocritically
Pan Wilber, known as the prince of Chinese hip hop and an idol of today’s many young Chinese, raps about young people’s dreams of life and love. Below are some English lyrics from his Chinese raps.
I don’t want nobody else but you I can’t have nobody else but you if I can’t have you,
then I don’t want nobody if I can’t have you, then I don’t want no one.
(Pan 2003, If I Can’t Have You)
You packed in the morning, I stared out the window. And I struggled for something to say. You left in the rain without closing the door. I didn’t stand in your way. ……
Baby please be here to tell me why. Come and tell me where you gonna be.
…… I really miss you really need you. Really wanna hold you. But you just ain’t here with me.
(Pan 2006, Just When I Needed You Most)
What? Don’t be insatiable. I see you fatal girl. Everything I do for you I try to get you girl. I get you diamond pearls. Take you around the world. I got myself a credit card to satisfy your heart. How do I get with this. Stick you taste from everything that I see in your baby girl. I just can’t seem to learn. But with love that’s right with live I just don’t care. Listen up now.
(Pan 2007, Can’t Learn)
Yin Tsar (The Three Shadows), one of the hip hop scene’s biggest acts, recently had a hit song called “Hello Teacher” that rails against the authority of unfair teachers: “You’re supposed to be a role model, but I’ve seen you spit in public.” Other Chinese rappers use Chinese proverbs in their lyrics to express their attitudes toward social realities (Wang 2009).
The importation of hip hop music to China has also provided young people with new and attractive fashions. In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, young Chinese wear loose and colorful grab of hip hop (Wilbekin 1999). Hip hop hair styles, including dyed hair, are increasingly popular with young Chinese. The fashion sensibility of hip hop become a form freedom and lets young Chinese express themselves physically and visually.
Hip hop culture has now become an important form of popular culture with a widespread appeal among young Chinese. Hip hop music CD’s (Shanghai RAP 2005-2009; Pan 2003, 2006, 2007; Li 2008), hip hop performance DVD’s, hip hop fashion magazines, and brochures advertising hip hop clubs and performance events are readily available in most bookstores and audio and video shops and can even be found in supermarkets. Taobao (Search for the Very Best) and other online companies make it easy to find Chinese hip hop products and information about activities, such as the Chinese Hip Hop Culture Festival (2009), Hip Hop Awards China (2007), Hip Hop Dance Competition (2008), Slimming Hip Hop: Japan & Korea Fashion (Song 2007), and Hip Hop Dance Class in China (Li 2003).
In today’s China there are still only pockets of freedom. Rap and hip hop are not sanctioned by broadcast media producers or state censors if it is not insulting to the Chinese Communist Party or to the Chinese government. The Chinese government seeks to control popular music through censorship, but hip hop artists negotiate censorship in order to make their work socially relevant and to attract a grass-roots fan base.
Implications of Hip Hop Culture across the Borders As in the United States, where hip hop’s social and cultural influence has made an indelible impact not only on the African-American community but also on the American community as a whole, hip hip’s global influence across the borders have made a strong impact on both Japanese and Chinese youth cultures. As the study shows that there must be some strong social motivations for adopting hip hop culture, and any adopted hip hop culture must be localized to reflect and serve particular social-economic and/or social-psychological realities and needs.
Japan and China share some similar but not same reasons for adopting hip hop culture. In both Japan and China, hip hop is used as an explicit and effective means of free self-expression to make young people’s voices heard, even though the social and economic conditions are very differ in these countries. In both counties, young people who idolize hip hop are mostly those who are socially marginalized, economically oppressed, and/or psychologically depressed. Generally speaking, social motivations for adopting hip hop culture are similar in Japan and China.
In Japan, although the initial motivation for adopting hip hop culture was highly commercial, it is Japanese youth’s socio-economic and psychological realities and needs that become the actual and powerful driving force for developing, localizing and sustaining hip hop culture in Japan. Japan’s economic recession, stumbling economy and extremely high unemployment rates cause many young people to lose their belief in traditional Japanese value in good education. In addition, fierce competition and many difficulties in school cause many young people unbearably stressed, frustrated, and depressed. Such young Japanese are eager to live in a worry-free environment outside their schools. Hip hop culture has provided them with such an environment. Furthermore, very strict school rules and standards so severely constrain many young people that they feel that their freedom and individualities are suppressed and deprived of. Such young Japanese attempt to get their freedom and individualities back in order to live a normal and carefree life outside their schools. Thus, ganguro has become their fascinating imitation. As shown in the study, the hip hop phenomenon in Japan reflect Japanese youth’s socio-psychological realities and needs. Japanese artists use hip hop as an explicit and effective tool to express young people’s attitudes toward Japanese government and society as a whole, credentials society, traditional Japanese values, and individual freedom.
In comparison, unlike Japan as a developed and democratic country, it is China’s social and economic reforms and ‘open-door” policy that have made it possible for hip hop culture to be adopted and localized in China. It has been fully recognized by people in China and throughout the world that China’s recent social and economic reforms have brought tremendous and unprecedented changes. However, it is such changes that have created a huge gap between the rich and the poor, which put many people, especially young Chinese, under tremendous socio-economic pressure. Young Chinese embrace hip hop and use it to as an artistic and communicative means of expressing their attitudes toward socio-economic inequalities, their personal frustration and struggles, their society and people around them, and their dreams of money, life and love.
What makes Japanese hip hop culture and Chinese hip hop culture similar is that more and more young people make idols of rap artists in order to express themselves and make themselves heard. Hip hop has become a popular youth culture, music, mass media and youth fashion in both Japan and China. Since any adoption of hip hop culture must meet receiving county’s needs, there are no gangster violence, guns and racial discrimination words in Japanese or Chinese hip hop lyrics, that is, American hip hop becomes integrated into Japanese and Chinese cultures with its distinctive and diverse features. What makes Japanese hip hop and Chinese hip hop different lies in the fact that Chinese hip hop lyrics mostly express inequalities, dreams, love, daily life or daily struggles, but they do not directly express young people’s voice for freedom, human rights or democracy, and they never insult or fight against the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese government. Different from Chinese hip hop, Japanese hip hop is, to a large extent, an imitation of American hip hop, expresses young people’s attitudes toward Japanese society, challenges Japanese traditional values, and calls young people to rally together for Japan’s socio-economic and educational reforms.
References Bernard, J. (1990) ‘Rap Is Testimonial to Black Pride’, Billboard, 24 November: 1-11.
Condry, I. (2006) Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Hip Hop Awards China. DVD. (2007) Shengzhen: Zhuolin Wenhua Publishing.
Hip Hop Dance Competition. (2008) <http://www.dongting08.com/2008-ots-hip-hop-dance-competion.html>.
Jessie. J. (2009) Shanghai Rap MP3. <http://www.ShanghaiNing.com>.
Klippensteen, K. (2000) Ganguro Girls: The Japanese “Black Face”. Hungary: Konemann Verlagsgesehhschaft mbH.
Lee, G. (1995) ‘The “East Is Red” Goes Pop: Commodification, Hybridity and Nationalism in Chinese Popular Song and Its Televisual Performance’, Popular Music 14(1): 95-110.
Marriot, M. (1990) ‘Hip-hop’s Hectic Takeover’, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 3(3): 207-216.
Mead, R. (2002) ‘Shopping Rebellion’, The New Yorker, 18 March: 104-121.
Mitchell, T. (2001) (ed.) Global Noise: Rap and Hip-hop outside the USA. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Pan, W. (2003) Xiha Jingqu [Hip Hop Golden Songs]. Disk One 0.5: “If I Can’t Have You.” Disk Two 0.4: “Just When I needed You Most.” Disk Two 0.9: “Can’t Learn.” CD. Guangdong: Guangdong Meika Wenhua Yinxinag Youxian Gongsi.
Pan, W. (2006) Fanzhuan Diqiu [The World Turning Inside Out]. CD. Guangdong: Guangzhou Yunwenhua Fazhan Youxian Gongsi.
Simtherman, G. (1997) Talkin’ and Testifin’: The Language of Black America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Song, Y. (2007) Sliming Hip-Hop: Japan & Korea Fashion. Chendu: Chengdu Shidai.
Steele, A. D. (2006) Zai Beijing: A Cultural Study of Hip Hop. <http://dialogue.stanford.edu/zaibeijing.html>.
Wang, J. (2009) ‘Now Hip Hop, Too, Is Made in China’, The New York Times, 23 January.
Wilbekin, E. (1999) ‘Great Aspirations: Hip Hop and Fashion Dress for Excess and Success’, in A. Light (ed.) The Vibe History of Hip Hop, pp. 277-284. New York: Three Rivers Press.
1 James Bernard believes that hip hop, as an art form, is deeply rooted in a rich African American tradition and expresses the difficulties and problems that the young urban African Americans face in their everyday life.
2 ‘Black face’ is also often called ‘dark face’, which means ganguro girls’ faces are darkened the color of football pigskin, their eyes are ringed with start white panda makeup, and their hair is dyed, fried and blown to the side. Ganguro girls make their faces blackened to look like black women. Some observers suggest that this ganguro fashion is also a representation of the yamanba, a Japanese folk figure whose name is translated as ‘monster mountain woman’.
3 Others speculate that ganguro girls imitate celebrities lime Namie Amuro, a Japanese singer and model, who became substantially popular in Japan in the 1990s, when she performed with a darkened skin. Still others speculate that some Japanese girls, inspired by the perceived coolness, imitate hip-hop acts that they admire and emulate popular performers lime Lauryn Hill and TLC.
4 Spelman College Museum of Fine Art presented Iona Rozeal Brown: a3 … black on both sides in 2004. Brown’s paintings are well known as an unprecedented mixture of anonymous courtesans, geisha and other Japanese subjects in black faces. Her paintings particularly address the global influence of hip hop, commercialism and African American culture as fetish, and her works as exhibited explore many provocative issues such as black face performance in earlier Japan and hip hop impact on contemporary Japanese youth culture.
5 Kate Klippensteen and Everett Kennedy Brown, in their quest to interview and photograph ganguro girls in Shibuya, Tokyo, got to know a group of girls with their striking looks: platform boots, miniskirts, fantastical makeup, tanned skin. These girls. Known as ganguro girls, have become part of popular Japanese youth culture. Klippensteen’s book provides an insight into both the looks and thoughts of the ganguro girls.
6 The culmination of Deng Xiaoping's re-ascent to power and the start in earnest of political, economic, social, and cultural reforms were achieved at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh National Party Congress Central Committee in December 1978. The Third Plenum is considered a major turning point in modern Chinese political history. "Left" mistakes committed before and during the Cultural Revolution were "corrected," and the "two whatevers" policy ("support whatever policy decisions Chairman Mao made and follow whatever instructions Chairman Mao gave") was repudiated. The classic party line calling for protracted class struggle was officially exchanged for one promoting the Four Modernizations (modernizing China’s agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology). In the future, the attainment of economic goals would be the measure of the success or failure of policies and individual leadership; in other words, economics, not politics, was in command. The Four Modernizations were designed to make China a great economic power by the early 21st century.
7 The excerpt are from McRobin’s HOUSE, MONEY AND CAR. Shanghai Rap MP3. 2009. The translations are provided by Xuexin Liu.
8 The excerpts are from Jessie, J.’s DONT SHAM. Shanghai Rap MP3. 2009. The translations are provided by Xuexin Liu.