The Laramee Filter: pseudorandom thoughts, subsequently put on the Internet.
Tom Laramee
Date Published:
August 22nd, 2022
Word Count:
737 (5:00 read time)

The Golden Era of Hiphop Had A Japanese Version'

(And It Was Rad [ラド])

Since I've been studying Japanese with Alina I decided to look into whether Japan had any kind of hip-hop scene in mid-90s and was incredibly pleased with what I found.

BTW: わたし-たち フリーモント で にほんご べんきょう つずきます[1]

I suppose my expectations where low because culturally, hop-hip doesn't really fit in with a culture that has a focus on modesty.

In a sense, original (read: good) hip-hop was characterized primarily by a lot of bravado, showcasing an MCs lyrical skill and pointing out how much better s/he is than everyone else. It was sort of inherently braggy by design, which makes it a bit of a square-peg-in-a-round-hole in therms of adoption by young Japanese people.

Some specific cultural differences that are germane here[2]:

  1. In Japanese culture, there are a million ways to apologize and to show deference. American hip-hop is both unapologetic and whatever-the-opposite of "deferential" is.
  2. すみません (sumimasen) is arguably the most useful word in Japanese and translates to something like "excuse me [I just interrupted you and/or asked something of you]" or "excuse me [I'm about to interrupt you and/or ask something of you]". The reason it's the most useful word is because it's employed in the largest number of instances.
  3. しつれい します (shitsurei shimasu) is a useful expression that translates to something like "excuse me, it's rude of me" and is a decently large step up from sumimasen.
  4. There's no version of the potty-mouth f word in Japanese. This is also indicative or a bit of a cultural clash, given the ubiquitous appearance of that word in American hip-hop.
  5. They have this weird social construct in Japan that's completely unknown here in America. It's called "civic cooperation", in which people generally look out for one another. This is the 180° opposite of the Darwinian "every person for themselves" that we have here, so neither the focus on the individual nor bragging about how great you are are an inherent part of Japanese DNA[3].
  6. There are many levels of respect built into the Japanese language (from what I understand there are approximately 6-10 ways to say the same thing, but at different levels of respect). American hip-hop is disrespectful by design (thus the ubiquitous term "diss").

This all seems to lead one to conclude that either (a) there was no hip-hop scene in Japan in the 90s (or now) or (b) it was at best an anemic one. Turns out: both of these are very, very wrong.


( 日本のヒップホップ = Nihon no hippuhoppu = Japanese Hip-Hop )

Below are a handful of songs I'd put up against any American Hip-Hop song from the 90s.

Now, I've translated some of these lyrics and, to sum up my findings in a nutshell: there's some filth and misogyny in American hip-hop, and this was sometimes imitated in Japanese hip-hop. Most of the lyrics are not like this, but you'll find some unapologetically offensive stuff if you look hard enough.

PS: I like my hip-hop upbeat, because I like to work to it, so these are all up-tempo (read: i summarily and callously dismissed a massive corpus of down-tempo Japanese hip-hop because it doesn't fit my excessively narrow requirements).

  1. (1994) ECD−マス対コア
  2. (1993) You The Rock & DJ Ben Made IN Japan
  3. (1996) BUDDHA BRAND 人間発電所
  4. (1996) Lamp Eye - 証言
  5. (1998) 四街道 NATURE - V.I.C.Tomorrow, 惨事
  6. (1999) El Dorado throw down / God Inc.
  7. (1997) SHAKKAZOMBIE 虹
  8. (1999) Beatmaster - Time Operator Feat. Bomber
  9. (2010) ジャングル殺法 Feat Stillichimiya
  10. (1998) NATURE, 惨事, live at 四街道文化センター / 四街道ネイチャー
  11. (1994) Soul Scream - 蜂と蝶
  12. (1996) Funky Methodist, Buddha Brand
  13. (1998) Lunch Time Speax - Ground Zero
  14. (2000) Beatmaster - 続 . 哲学と文学の音楽
  15. (1992) Crazy-A, Watch Me!
  16. (2007) Co-Key, What'cha Gonna Do?, 三面鏡
[1] "watashi-tachi fremont de nihongo benkyou tsuzukimasu"
("We continue to study Japanese in Fremont")
[2] Please note that I am no expert here, so by all means, if there are corrections I need to make, please just send them to me so I can make them. There's certainly no ill-intent on my part to be culturally disrespectful.
[3] Where's my "sarcastic voice" mark-up tag when I need it?