Rock’n’roll not only brought the youth generations of the ’50s and ’60s together, but the original set of songs continued to be the rallying cry for teenage estrangement for decades to come. But now that “modern rock” is rarely more than a revival cast production of sounds exactly twenty years prior or slight tweaks on the ’90s alternarock format, it would be hard to claim the crunch of an amped guitar and the gunfire of a snare roll carry the same weight of cultural import. Hip hop has kind of knocked the wind out of rock by being the one pop format of the moment constantly blazing towards innovation. (“You,” as one Net-friendly rapper proclaimed, “are going to be blazed.” I am paraphrasing.)
Certainly here in Japan, rock is dead as a cultural movement — at least in the way that inspired most of the creators currently in their 30s and 40s. When you talk to a Takahashi Jun (Undercover) or Kitamura Nobu (Hysteric Glamour), you get the sense that they found fashion through an intense passion for Western rock music. Hip hop has had a strange history in Japan: Appreciation started in both working class circles and as an offshoot of the trendy Tokyo New Wave scene. Sometime around 2000 though, things went straight bling. Instead of “respectfully” working around the margins of black culture, kids just plunged right into straight imitation. Investors became bullish about skullcap futures. High school kids started crucifying themselves in homage to Puff Daddy’s profound metaphor for public criticism in the Nas “Hate Me Now” video.
Six years later, Japanese hip hop still has a certain vitality — at least compared to the “I like music” / “Oh, what kind of music do you like” / “Oh, all types” of the rock scene. Select shop United Arrows was smart enough to catch on that there would be splintering within the genre — with some local gang-bangers growing out of their over-sized sweatsuits and wanting to “tighten up” their image.
So just this month they opened the select shop Liquor, Woman, & Tears a couple of doors down from Undercover in Aoyama. Interesting store name: Kind of linking the rugged masculinity (misogyny?) of hip hop with the classic aesthetic ideals of enka. My gut feeling is that the action order should be “woman —> liquor —> tears” but I didn’t see the market research that went into the naming. (By the way, while walking to LW&T today, I glanced into the other nouveau-bling store — BAPE — and there were literally more staff members than shoppers.)
The store’s windows are covered in black ruffled blinds, and the atmosphere kind of goes for a subdued, graceful bling — a little bit like Rivington Club. Yes, LW&T have ¥3,750,000 watches from Jacob the Jeweler (“Wasn’t he just arrested?” I ask, leaving tact at the door), but they are displayed right next to jars of pasta sauce made by an Italian mob family. Clothes generally play it on the conservative side — sweaters, corduroy jackets, Supreme puffy vests, ascots. There’s your odd leather motorcycle jacket and velveteen Fila track suit, but as the clerk explained, the main concept is “just-fit hip hop” — ushering in an Usher upscale look for the “kids” in da “clubs.” Fat gold chains are supposed to go with rainbow turtle neck sweaters. They also have a glass case of expensive jewelry that will help sparkle up your look if things get too L.L. Bean Vermont winter. All in all, kind of mid-’70s low-key pimp meets Howard U. frat preps. A Different World for Tokyo. The budget-limited can just pick up a Malcolm X T-shirt and a fake mink stole.
I asked the guy in the store, “Is this a temporary shop?” Oh, no. His 50-year old superior shouted in response, “This will be around for 50 years!” Rock had its half-century, and now hopefully crying about chicks while crunk will get its own. I cannot claim to be part of the hip hop audience, but I sure hope they understand their historical mission.
Update: Liquor, Woman, & Tears closed shop on February 14, 2010.