Saturday, March 10, 2007

Japanese Hip Hop

Interview with Ian Condry.

Six months of hanging out in smoky, grungy "genbas," or Japanese hip-hop clubs, gave cultural anthropologist Ian Condry insight into how American rap music and attitudes were being transformed by the youth in Japan.

But he couldn’t figure out the mirror balls.

Every club, from large to small, had a mirror ball that sent glittering light into the sweaty haze above the Japanese hip-hop fans, artists, music executives and first-timers.

So "I had to develop my own philosophy of the mirror ball," Condry, associate professor of Japanese cultural studies, told an audience on March 1 during a discussion of his new book, "Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization" (2006, Duke University Press). That philosophy highlights the relationships within the hip-hop community, he explained.

The mirror ball illuminated "no single star on stage but rather spotlighting and then passing over all of the participants," Condry said, reading from his book. "The dynamic interaction among all these actors is what brings a club scene to life. Mirror balls evoke this multiplicity, splashing attention on each individual for a moment and then moving on--not unlike the furtive glances of desire between clubbers in a zone of intimate anonymity."

Such details were crucial to Condry’s insight into how affluent Japanese youth had transformed the music that came straight out of Compton into something distinctly Japanese.

"The evolution of the Japanese hip-hop scene reveals a path of globalization that differs markedly from the spread of cultural styles driven by major corporations such as Disney, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart,’’ Condry said. "Indeed hip-hop in Japan is illuminating precisely because it was initially dismissed as a transient fad by major corporations and yet took root as a popular style, nevertheless."
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