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Who's Got Beef? You Chicken?


Word’s already out on the street, and I’ve got a published review coming out later this week, so I don’t want to go all apesh*t on Teriyaki BoyzBeef or Chicken, but before you all dismiss the group as a vanity project or an enormous commercial for a clothing brand, let us give big ups and mad props and one ups and Mad props to Nigo for shelling out the big buck$ for what could be considered a once-in-a-lifetime experiment answering that eternal question: What is the problem with Japanese hip hop?

I’m sure there’s a minority out there who think Japanese hip hop is a near perfect art form, misunderstood by straight society and foreign nations alike. Everyone else can’t help but notice something’s off — whether they be Japanese purists buying imported 12″s at Manhattan Records or the African-American members of Mariah Carey’s entourage laughing at Zeebra backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards Japan. Like many others who are sympathetic to Japanese music in general, I have always liked the light-hearted, middle-class fare that only loosely resembles the American original — Scha Dara Parr, Rip Slyme, Halcali, M-Flo, Zen la Rock. The Teriyaki Boyz MCs all come from that lineage of “Party Rap” (Condry 1999!), which puts the Boyz in good shape from the opening dash.

For the last three months, Digiki’s been harping in my ear that the beats of J-Hiphop are the problem! And I can’t help but think he’s right. So, look what Nigo does: brings in legitimately A-list hip hop producers from a wide spectrum of sub-genres. Problem solved! (And we get to see Daft Punk be even lazier producers than when working on their own album!)

On the input side, we’ve got the least aggrevating Japanese MCs plus the best world class beats money and co’nnects can buy.

Output: Hit and miss. But since we’ve got so many hip hop styles, we can use this opportunity test to see what kind of backtracks work for Japanese rap:

1) Cornelius — he makes them sing like The Jacksons right around when Michael was going solo. This works very well.
2) Cut Chemist — Takagi Kan told me that the early Japanese rappers couldn’t quite match Japanese with old-school rap, but this track seems to prove that the sing-songy, comical, 18-phone-calls-to-Brazil Kurtis Blow lyrical delivery style matches the dominant Japanese rap mode perfectly.
3) Neptunes — They’re trying to front all tough and wealthy here. I don’t buy it. Pharrell comes in and skoolz them. Need I repeat, Pharrell skoolz them.
4) Just Blaze — This shouldn’t work but does. They’re doing a parody of Ozawa Kenji on top of raw monotonous beats. Crosscultural miscommunication at its best.
5) DJ Premier — Sounds like 2 ft. High and Rising. Maybe 1.5 ft. But it works — as Jpop.
6) And so on…

But here’s where everything comes into clear view: DJ Michael 5000 Watts screws and chops up the DJ Shadow track, and with the voices pitched down, the Teriyaki Boyz sound like “real” rappers! I’m convinced that the problem this whole time has been the relative high pitch and narrow range of Japanese male voices. I’m no expert on this matter, but I feel like the (stereotypical?) low timbre of African-American voice has become an implied aural clue towards “authenticity” in hip hop music, and sure, Eminem and his third cousin MC Paul Barman subvert this in their own Anglo ways, but if you’re going to pose all thug, you need to the booming voice to match.

Practical Applications of this Research: Just screw every Japanese hip hop track from now on, and we’ll have the next international hip hop unit tearing up the American charts! Move over, TTC!

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 21, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

26 Responses

  1. alex Says:

    I agree that Zeebra and his hopscotch imitation (DMX to Fabolous to…) is more or less as “real” as Namie Amuro’s ‘Queen of Hip Pop’ burger king crown.

    But in his early King Ghidora days w/ K Dub Shine, there was – at least sonically – a semblance of cottage industry street signification in the beats and rhymes. It’s possible that groups like this or Microphone Pager were just appropriating a 90s East Coast “authenticity” which only sounds gritty in retrospect, but then again they weren’t East End x Yuri either. DJ Honda just released a single w/ Raekwon on it and as outdated his insistent I-<3-NY production sounds, it’s frozen in a place which once sounded ‘relevant’ anywhere. It’s hard to say.

    So it’s all a bit dicey but I think there’s still a sliding scale to discern. I know it’s a comedy research conclusion but I’d wager that high pitch rappers like Twigy or Rino sound “realer” than the Teriyaki Boyz at whatever RPM they care to be spun. More Lil Wayne than Adrock if only because, in the endless hall of credibility mirrors, they chose the right horse to back or backed it earlier or whatever.

    Anyway, w/ the south being large in the states right now, we should expect plenty of screwed & chopped j-hip hop in, say, 6-12 months. Backdoor acceptance ahoy.

  2. alex Says:

    This got cut off:

    DJ Honda just released a single w/ Raekwon on it and as outdated his insistent I-love-NY production sounds, it’s frozen in a style which was once relevant anywhere.

  3. Antonin Says:

    ha ha, yeah chopped ‘n’ screwed mixes are the way J rap will take over the world ! Why not ? but I know a lot people can’t (under)stand c&s mixes. I think it’s one of the greatest innovation of hip hop music in the last 10 years. And yes I have the chopped and skrewed mix of the latest TTC album if you want to give it a try :)

  4. odot Says:

    aaaaw come on cut the crap with TTC, they’re terrible mc’s with appalling lyrics (well, i’m exaggerating a bit, teki latex is allright, and they have interesting producers, but oh my, the lyrics) – i can’t understand they being that hyped. hip-hop is a ghetto thing, is all, and obviously, if you take the ghetto off the recipe, all you have left are nicey forms. (speaking of French hip-hop, it’s either krush, despite being a premier copycat, was really the thing, or so i remember. he sometimes had a couple of nice mcs, didn’t he?

  5. odot Says:

    too much cut and paste above, ごね

  6. alin Says:

    it would be fair here to do also discuss other non-english speaking hip-hop/rap.

    basically, the popular stuff at least, is pretty much everywhere all the dj honda trick. on the other hand however technically atavistic it may be, say, ok, romanian rap, it has a poignancy and straightness of expression expected in hip-hop yet rarely found in j-stuff. so all technical stuff aside i think some of the issue goes to , yes, culture, the GAP between content and it’s expression (occasionaly taken to the point where all BUT the gap is lost). there’s where a lot of it gets lost i think. [and to not be labeled essentialist i say if japanese rappers were rapping now with the gusto and bleeding hearts japanese rockers were doing their thing (the american rock thing that is ) in the sixties the issue wouldn’t be ‘what’s WRONG with japanese hip-hop’. it would be a perfectly ok, un-wrong, n-grade local hip-hop.
    So a lame conclusion is that rap (as we know it) is a form unsuitable to the japanese cultural animal. Yet there are plenty exceptions: say DJ Krush Candle Chant, Chie no wa etc. yet groundbreaking they may be in aligning, straightening, content and expression they’re also kind of embarresingly bleeding. Like dazai osamu minus the cynicism and self-irony.
    Just a thought.

  7. alin Says:

    also i wonder if japanese people wonder and discuss at great length the fact that western cultures have twisted genuine karaoke from a truthful, honest means of expression and connecting into a perverse, monstruous display of ego and cynicism.

  8. marxy Says:

    If you’re trying to say that hip hop is just karaoke, I think that’s a dramatic simplification.

    But yes, everything Japanese is “truthful and honest” and everything Western is “perverse, monstruous, and egotistical.” Glad we cleared that up.

  9. ted Says:

    If it’s a matter of voice pitch, why don’t Japanese rappers emulate the gravely, gutteral sounds of samurai/yakuza? Ain’t that straight up gangsta?

    And who was the guy with the low, moony voice on Dragon Ash’s “Deep Impact”. Rappagariya? What about him?

  10. alin Says:

    you’re trying to say that hip hop is just karaoke,

    hey i never said that, you did.

    1. let’s not pooh-pooh on karaoke. it’s more creative that indie-rock-fan-ism and equally creative to indie-rock-generic-ism.

    2. j hip-hop may be truly experimental if the word experimental is “understood not as a descriptive act to be later judged in terms of success of failure, but simply as an act the outcome of which is unknown”. (john cage, silence):-)

  11. roddy Says:

    Marxy said, “If you’re trying to say that hip hop is just karaoke, I think that’s a dramatic simplification.”

    Actually, Marxy’s simplification of alin’s original statement is a pretty dramatic simplification. And really, why should hip-hop be seen as a more important global trend? Karaoke has influenced the world in big cultural ways that haven’t been fully explored, hip-hop is just more immediately obvious.

  12. marxy Says:

    Hold on, I was just assuming that Alin’s non sequiter about karaoke was related to hip hop. Otherwise I’m not sure what “perverse, monstruous, and egotistical” is dealing with in this particular post.

    I’m not anti-karaoke. I think the original creation of karaoke was a creative act. I’m not sure the goals of karaoke participation are explicitly creative however. No one goes into sing “Southern All Stars” with an eye towards creator-centered art, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun!

  13. Chris_B Says:

    I’d be willing to give this a listen, but to date all j-hip hop I’ve heard has given me as much pleasure as the average dentist’s waiting room.

    Marxy you may be onto something regarding vocal tone. Seems to me all the local stuff I’ve heard has sounded high pitched and somewhat nasal, a vocal style I associate with pop more than anything else. Pop being something lite, fluffy and innocent.

    Generally I’ve also had an issue with the sound of the language as being not condusive to the form. Aside from slang twists of words, a language where almost everything ends with a vowel just dont seem to condusive to the style to me.

    Anyways what the hell do I know about this, I have not been all that inspired by any hip hop for almost a decade.

  14. marxy Says:

    Generally I’ve also had an issue with the sound of the language as being not condusive to the form. Aside from slang twists of words, a language where almost everything ends with a vowel just dont seem to condusive to the style to me.

    This has been a long time debate, and the original Japanese rappers discovered this problem from the start. Ian Condry (1999) notes that rappers used to write in the hip hop press about what exactly rhyming is – it’s essentially a foreign concept. But there is something disappointing about

    Da da da da ja nai.
    Da da da da ja nai.

    I hesitate to really make any kind of critical judgment on J-hip hop lyrics because I can claim to understand them 100%, but there does seem to be less room for word play. The French seemed to have more luck with the form, although I’m just basing that statement on hearsay.

  15. Jrim Says:

    I remember reading an interview with Keiji Haino in The Wire a few years ago, where he raised that point with regard to rock music. I don’t have the issue with me, but I remember him saying something to the effect that the Japanese language simply didn’t lend itself to [Western-style] rock. He probably went on to say something about creating a new language (he’s a crazy guy, that Keiji) but, well, my memory of it is foggy at best.

    Anyway, lyrics are only part of the picture in hip hop – just look at the success of people like 50 Cent (to whit: You can find me in the club, bottle full of Bud / Mama, I got that X, if you into takin’ drugs/ I’m into having sex, I ain’t into making love / So come give me a hug if you into getting rubbed – and I’m told the lyrics off his most recent album are even less “challenging”). In much the same way as pretty much any “popular” music, image forms a vital part of hip hop’s appeal.

    I was intrigued by Alin’s point: “rap (as we know it) is a form unsuitable to the japanese cultural animal”. The hoary old argument about it being the music of the oppressed, blah blah blah still carries a surprising amount of weight. Just look at where hip hop’s been most successfully adopted (and I gauge “successfully” in terms of whether or not the rest of the world, or even people living in the same country, take it seriously) – in the run-down areas of London, in the favela in Rio, in Parisian ghettos, etc. etc. There’s this weird cultural baggage attached to the music, whereby people who aren’t oppressed/downtrodden/underground/whatever somehow don’t have a “claim” to it.

    Now maybe if Orange Range just started rapping about the US military presence in Okinawa, they’d be onto something…

  16. Marten Says:

    I like the Dan the Automator song the best. It’s got humming! <:~)

  17. marxy Says:

    There’s this weird cultural baggage attached to the music, whereby people who aren’t oppressed/downtrodden/underground/whatever somehow don’t have a “claim” to it.

    I agree, but there’s also “Three Feet High and Rising” and “Paul’s Boutique,” which are classics that don’t even try to really play the class card (except maybe “Ghetto Thang”).

    The problem with adapting any music to a different cultural environment is that just adding local melodic flavor and lyrics in a new language is boring. You don’t get cred until you take the original and make it into something that the originators would not expect. Most of us like Halcali for this reason – they don’t really sound like anything else on earth, even Fannypack. Same goes with SDP, or in the realm of Jpop, Puffy, Judy and Mary, My Little Lover. I’m sick of Jpop at the moment because their music has become the basis of stale conventions, but a lot of it was legitimately fresh and new when it came out in the 90s. Judy and Mary may have influences in punk and kayokyoku, but they’re pretty sui generis.

    Maybe the problem with the Teriyaki Boyz is ultimately, okay, you are doing an adequate job over pretty good beats… so what? Unless they add something new to the equation, they just shout out the scale on which they want to be judged on and then fail to beat the precrowned champions.

  18. Jrim Says:

    Yeah, exactly. I’m from the UK, and the homegrown hip hop scene there was something of a long-running embarrassment throughout much of the 90s – too many people trying to ape US stuff, right down to the faked American accents (a creatively bankrupt exercise, not a million miles away in spirit from from Utada’s Exodus album). Things only really started to get interesting when rappers stopped chasing their American counterparts’ tales and doing their own thing (cf. Roots Manuva, even the whole grime scene).

  19. Chris_B Says:

    The oppressed thing came as an afterthought to rap, it wasnt just 3 Feet High & Rising that wsa made by middle/working class kids, it was almost all the early rap records. The black/ghetto conciousness records came later, tho KRS-ONE/BDP were indeed erarly on the scene and Slick Rick The Ruler also comes in at that time but his lyrical focus was not the fruits of crime but the consequences.

    The Deejay style of reggae from which rap is derived is more clearly music of the oppressed, but if you want to go back further, there is pretty much nothing to take the cake from the music of the African slaves which is the root of the whole family tree.

  20. Chris_B Says:

    oh speaking of “Mad” props, I just came across a bunch of issues of Mad Magazine from the 70s, one includes the oringal flexi-disk with the spoof All In The Family

  21. alin Says:

    do i have to actually state that, monstruous egotistical etc was a monstruous exageration of mine describing western pub-style karaoke (not hip-hop)

    some good points here. keiji haino’s for sure. then marxy’s point about rhyme not being part of the language.

    Who then devised the torment? Love.
    Love is the unfamiliar Name
    Behind the hands that wove
    The intolerable shirt of flame
    Which human power cannot remove.
    We only live, only suspire
    Consumed by either fire or fire.

    Someone try successfuly get this across into japanese while mantaining the original feeling. surely not impossible , well , kind of impossible. Elliot’s text is doing what so much (all) intelligent english language hip-hop is: using rhyme as a building block, overloading it, trying to slip away from it, fucking with it, inflating it, coming back home to it for comfort and resolution etc.
    without getting into ‘the impossibility of doing) english translations of basho’s pond or a poetry line where the whole point is say the use of a particular kanji over another it should be said that there is plenty of stuff and nuance that is missed by the casual foreign listener even in the lamest of j-pop or j-hop.

    now pretty much every culture has some tradition of spoken/musical-story telling, akin to rap, that theoretically at least could be used to create a more authentic , local rap yet invariably when this happens the results end up closer to ‘world music’ than hip-hop (some tracks on dj krush’s last album)

    marxy, why do you have to pick:
    Da da da da ja nai.
    Da da da da ja nai.
    when there is so much more?

  22. Jrim Says:

    Mind you, it’s interesting that some things weren’t done sooner here. A J-Pop otaku associate of mine told me, that until Hikaru Utada’s First Love album, it was pretty much unheard of to break up words so they fit the music. (Then again, I guess doing this still has the capacity to shock in English, too – remember how much people were thrown by Bjork’s intonation [well, that and a zillion other things] when she first hit the scene)

  23. odot Says:

    heard heartbreaker at last. this song is a disgrace.

  24. alin Says:

    couldn’t this be someone(nigo)’s private joke on kyu sakamoto ue o muite arukou, the only jap. song to reach number one in the us charts. the sukiyaki song. ? considering the marketing games he’s been playing in the states there’s reason to believe it, semi-consciously at least, may be.

  25. karl Says:

    I’d just like to say I enjoy this CD. I don’t take it too seriously but it doesn’t have to be for enjoyment. The beats are pretty good on most tracks which saves this CD. Most of my friends who like rap atleast like a song or two… just because it’s something a tad bit different than what we’re used to. In my opinion, this is some of the best hip hop from Japan that I’ve heard. I usually prefer mixtape stuff from NYC and don’t like the lighter rap… but this has changed that. Yay for Beef or Chicken!

  26. Michael McCarthy Says:

    I’m not sure what to think, I’ve seen the Heartbreaker video about 3 times today, and I don’t even have cable… though I admit the sound was down, but I think I got the gist of it.

    Rich guy Nigo makes music for fun, has platinum fronts, puts his clothing in the video, buy more shoes. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t actually wearing BAPE… I mean— it is a tad obnoxious.

    I’m sure it’s okay stuff, nothing too sinister behind it all, niggaz gotta get paid. Better than non-pop oriented Japanese hip hop, but if this wasn’t BAPE it would all just be called repacious greed. Sad in a way.