For some time, I've been meaning to draw attention to the work of C3 Affiliated Faculty member Dr. Ian Condry, who published a book in the fall entitled Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization. Even though we've worked with Ian as part of C3, I actually read the book as part of a study on globalization in Dr. James L. Watson's globalization and culture class at Harvard.
Bringing this up is especially timely, considering the cover appears on the front page, in the left bottom corner, of today's Metro here in Boston. The article by Brian Coleman, featured on page 18, focuses on two of the artists discussed in Condry's ethnography of Japanese artists and the appropriation and cultural remixing of the hip-hop/rap genre by Japanese artists in the Tokyo clubs he visited. Those two artists, Miss Monday, and DJ Umedy, are going to be appearing at The Middle East Upstairs tonight, as part of the "Cool Japan" conference Ian is hosting here at MIT throughout the week and weekend.
Ian is quoted in the story as saying, "When I began my research on hip-hop in Japan in the mid-90s, there was a powerful underground scene with emcees rapping about teen drug abuse, homelessness and the need for the younger generation to find a new direction. Since then, the scene has become even more diverse. It keeps expanding and mutating. It does still draw from the U.S. artists and styles, but it's also heading off in distinctly Japanese directions as well."
A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece about Ian's book for the Comparative Media Studies Web site, which features an interview with Ian as well. Basically, the book stems from his dissertation and the anthropological research he did on the club scene in Japan.
"Gradually, I came to see the deeper connections between hip-hop performance and alternative paths of globalization--not Wal-Mart, Disney, and the Gap, but underground clubs, far from the big media spotlight,yet nevertheless critical sites of global communication, protest and entertainment," he said.
More recently, Condry has been studying the anime fan community and the connections between Japan and the U.S. He is particularly interested in "the intersections between media, business and culture." And that's why I think his book is so useful for anyone interested in the questions C3 is asking.
The phenomenon than Ian is looking at is about globalization, tying in with some of our writing about pop cosmopolitanism to be sure. But it's also about a fan-driven market that is realized on the underground level before anyone else realizes there's value in it. These underground fans created the market for hip-hop in Japan long before the big recording execs realized that there would be any interest. After all this is urban U.S. culture, particularly African-American, and how would that translate into Japanese culture?
Nevertheless, the fans identified and created the market, which the industry only began to recognize late in the game. This sort of "lead user," fan-driven consumption behavior challenges our culture's traditional business model as to how "media" works and also the notion that the capitalist nature of the push for globalization leads to a corporate-driven flattening of culture.
In this case, the Japanese version of hip-hop is very much "Japanese," even if appropriated from elsewhere. And, while it certainly is an economic model that labels have inserted themselves in for profit, and while these artists are certainly looking at making a living, this is not the top-down model that many have painted for globalization. For academics and industry execs alike, the book is worth a read for an in-depth case study of the development of a market that challenges many pre-conceived notions about the relationship between fans and producers and about how globalization of media products happens in real people's lives.
For more information on Cool Japan, look here.
Also, see Henry Jenkins' account of his time spent in Yoyogi Park.