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 Boyz‘ Beef 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!