Rappers are colorful characters. Their zany personalities and eccentric habits lend themselves naturally to being animated. So it should come as no surprise that rappers have developed an affinity for anime.
As the North American market gets bigger, rappers continue to express their love of anime. Which makes sense, since generationally speaking, the rappers of today are the kids of yesterday who grew up watching Adult Swim’s Toonami block.
But had rappers been so bold to declare their love for something so seemingly geeky before? Hate him or love him, Kanye West without question opened doors. He boldly celebrated geek culture. He was unapologetically himself. Without Kanye, there would be no Lupe Fiasco or Childish Gambino. And anime for better or worse is certainly geeky.
Yet, there are more cultural similarities than one realizes at first glance. Anime quite often celebrates samurai culture. And this I think, operates in the same way as many rappers’ admiration for mobster culture. It’s a system built on respect.
Samurai Champloo and Hip Hop
The Bushido Code equates to the samurai’s way of life. Bushido has 7 virtues; respect, honesty, courage, rectitude, loyalty, benevolence, and honor. Though there are controversies as to whether samurai individually abided by a set of moral codes akin to chivalry. In an interview with the New York Times, director of Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop Shinichiro Watanabe, said he believes “samurai and modern hip-hop artists have something in common. Rappers open the way to their future with one microphone; samurai decided their fate with one sword.”
Samurai Champloo was indeed an anime that drew on these parallels. In episode 18, the character of Mugen writes his name in graffiti on the palace of feudal lords, the daimyō, in Edo Japan; showcasing the same elements of anti-colonial resistance in hip hop. Japanese hip hop producer, Nujabes, was also prominently featured on the soundtrack of Samurai Champloo.
Anime has had a slow build to its embrace of hip hop culture. While anime often reflects societal norms for Japan, it wasn’t until 1997 that hip hop made its mark on anime and manga culture. Eventually in rolled Santa Inoue, who created Tokyo Tribes which was largely influenced by hip hop; even modelling character, Renkon Chief, after Raekwon.
Rappers Love Shonen
But that was then and this is now. Rappers these days are quick to proclaim their love of Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. Denzel Curry is another young rapper who shared his love for the popular anime. On Ta1300, Curry has a song called “Super Saiyan Superman”. One Toronto rapper went as far as to name one of his mixtapes, The Frieza Saga after the titular character. Genius.com even has a nifty infographic detailing when DBZ and rap dovetail together.
You can listen to Toronto rapper, Sayzee’s mixtape here.
Lupe Fiasco is another rapper who sometimes peppers his bars with anime references. Lupe is a bit of an Otaku – a term of endearment for those who obsess about Japanese culture, particularly videogames and anime/manga.
“Monocle magazine and Japanese manga
Futura Nosferatus and HTM trainers
I love Street Fighter 2, I just really hate Zangief
Only Ken and Ryu, I find it hard to beat Blanka
Keep a Wee Ninja hanging and an UNKLE album banging”
-Lupe on “Gold Watch”
Then there’s the fact that Lupe once showcased his samurai swordsmanship skills.
The impact Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim has had on hip hop is staggering. Last year, Vice published a piece detailing the appreciation of lo-fi hip hop radio and its ties to anime. Once again, Adult Swim is a source of inspiration.
Anime is growing, partly due to streaming services but also doing well on traditional network TV. Adult Swim is getting its own 24 hour channel in Canada that will perhaps inspire a whole new generation of rappers.
An excellent example of the new wave of anime and hip hop blending together is the Black-owned creative agency Noir Caesar creating projects like Primus 7.
Then there’s Neo Yokio. Created by Ezra Koenig and starring Jaden Smith with appearances by Desus and Mero, Neo Yokio is an anime twist on New York city teeming with demons. While the hip hop elements may not necessarily be in the forefront, Neo Yokio is filled with street slang, critiques on capitalist consumer culture, and Jaden Smith twitter mantras.
So the relationship between anime and hip hop is evolving. It’s not just a matter of influence but the types of stories that are being told. There’s now more representation of hip hop culture in anime. This is demonstrative in some of the newer anime soundtracks. Danny Brown who has referenced DBZ a couple times in his songs, ended up featured in a Dragon Ball Super promo.
RZA too produced the soundtrack for the anime Afro Samurai and its movie sequel. This is unsurprising, as members of the Wu-Tang Clan have shown love for anime in the past. The video for “Daytona 500” off Ghostface Killah’s Ironman was one of the first anime music videos (AMVs) ever made and broadcast on television.
So the amazing aesthetics of anime make it a great well to draw from. With increasing access and technological advances, we may see more rappers get into anime. Some may even develop their own.
The influence that hip hop has had in anime can show in surprising ways in anime narratives. Take a look at this clip from Devilman Crybaby to see how the characters use hip hop to express themselves.
The expressive nature of anime lends itself well to big personalities. That’s why rappers like Ghostface or Kanye or even Lupe show so much admiration for it. Anime has given a lot to rappers. And it will continue to be a source of inspiration.
While not everyone will appreciate anime, it’s good to know rappers and hip hop heads enjoy works like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, appreciating the aesthetics and narrative. The symbiotic relationship of anime and hip hop is documented. Hopefully, we will see more stories involving hip hop in anime. But also more anime references in songs as a wink to those who “get it”. As the role of aesthetics have always played an important role in hip hop, many hip hop heads already know what’s up — anime is a vibe.
Let us know what are some of your favorite anime in the comments below.