I just returned from an epic trip to Jamaica that while brief, left some heavy impressions on me. Coming back exhilarated and more determined than ever to live a more active and meaningful life, I’ve decided to evolve my pursuit of happiness from seeking superficial pleasures to finding a deeper understanding of what it means to exist. But…that’s a whole other blog post. Until then, please enjoy an essay I found in the archives that was a prelude to a group thesis from one of my fave college clases of all time: “Black English and the Hip Hop Lexicon.” Relevance? It’s about Jamaican culture. Poorly written? Very.
Globalization: Black Music and Aesthetics As A Commodity
While the sounds of Hip Hop , Reggae, and Dancehall largely define the current generation’s interpretation of Black culture, these same sounds have traveled overseas largely due to the global saturation of American culture. In France, “Black” music is an artistic voice for the oppressed community that dually challenges and expresses frustrations with the French government’s dismissal of the socially oppressed. American Hip Hop and Reggae stem from a similar mentality and history; the Black community has created for itself avenues in place of the freedoms and equality that have been denied. Only recently has Hip Hop specifically become globally accepted as both a worthwhile business venture and an educational experience. Hip Hop and Reggae’s street beginnings are evolving into the classroom setting and into the fashion realm. Many classrooms have begun to discuss the value of Hip Hop both socio-linguistically and anthropologically. The histories of the respective music genres have been pored over in books and even celebrated on popular music television stations such as VH1 or MTV. And of course, with the advent of Hip Hop and Reggae as the voice of youth culture, fashion styles linked to the music have also evolved and become another means of expression. And as hip hop continues to grow and prosper as the defining culture and style expression for this generation, corporate capitalism’s appetite for new styles and trends will inevitably influence its course. Corporate America has elevated the ‘street look’ to fashion prominence and it is no coincidence that with the enormous wave of American commercial endorsements overseas, that Hip Hop music has gradually found commercial success in these other countries.
One specific country that while far removed culturally from both the Hip Hop and Reggae world has nevertheless adopted both respective lifestyles with open arms—Japan has become a huge market for the Hip Hop and Reggae gospel. Hip Hop and Reggae-influenced aesthetics have heavily influenced Japanese pop culture. Beginning with music, many Japanese artists artistically mimic the sounds that are popular both in America and in Jamaica be it Hip Hop, Reggae, or Dancehall. Japanese pop singer Namie Amuro—J-pop icon—has transitioned over the years from pop to “Hip Pop” as she points out in her song “Wowa”, a clear indication of where popular music has gone in Japan since the introduction of Hip Hop music and culture in Japan. Another popular subculture that has swept Japan is the Reggae and Dancehall culture. Its birth in the mid 1970s with the sudden abundance of shops specializing in reggae music directly imported from Jamaica welcomed a new legion of fans whose interests lie not only in the music and cultural aesthetics but also in the lifestyle as well. From the humble beginnings of record stores and clubs, the Reggae-Dancehall movement has transitioned into a full-fledged adaptation of its Jamaican beginnings. Japanese Rastafarians choose to speak Patois, cook I-Tal food, sport dreadlocks, make trips to Jamaica to further ingrain themselves in the culture, and other superficially charged cultural activities. Likewise, the Hip Hop-centric interest has spawned interest in American street-wear styles as well as Black cultural fashion aesthetics. The mimicry of American Hip Hop artists is visible from head to toe. What you see being worn by rappers in the states, you will immediately see being worn by Japanese Hip Hop fans.
The global takeover of “Black music” has reached new heights since its introduction into Japanese pop culture. Japanese artists who have a vested interest and practice in genres of Hip Hop, Reggae and Dancehall are perfecting their craft to be brought overseas. Many djs, producers, sound systems, and performers are exploring their options within the entertainment industry on a global level. Hip Hop dj DJ Honda for example, has gained American public interest with his handling of several popular American releases. In his second album released in the States, he included his track with Mos Def entitled “Travelinn’ Man” which garnered him much industry acclaim as well as a number 17 spot on Billboard. He has since produced beats for Common, Fat Joe, the Beatnuts, DJ Premier, Guru, Redman, and more. Another crossover success is with Japan’s most popular “sound system” (referring to the mobile disco equipment used at dancehall events and those who operate it)—Yokohama’s own Mighty Crown who has cultivated a hybrid of Japanese traditions and Jamaican culture into their dj-ing. They won New York’s “World Clash” in 1999, being hailed as the world’s best sound system. And now, they’ve helped spread Reggae gospel by putting together the annual “Yokohama Reggae Sai”, which draws more than 10,000 people each year. Another notable figure is Juko “Bashment” Kudo who in 2002, danced away with top honors at the annual Jamaican Dancehall Queen competition with renditions of Jamaican dance-moves dressed in her own personalized style. The fact that these groups are recognizable in the American/Jamaican mainstream reveals the depths varied studies of Hip Hop Reggae, and Dancehall have reached in Japan. Japanese Dancehall Queen contenders will travel to Jamaica and watch videotapes to acquire more knowledge of dance moves and Jamaican fashion. Much of the Japanese youth today have turned to the States for many of its modern artistic archetypes. Going to Shibuya, one will find graffiti sprawled on public buildings, B-Boys breaking in the streets, 50 Cent being bumped in cars, and even salons that cater to afro-perms, weaves, and dreads. At another part of town, a dancehall party will be going off with girls pussy-poppin’, guys in tams to protect their chemically treated dreadlocks, and other reminiscent images of Jamaican culture.
As we know, there is a huge global market for Hip Hop, Reggae, and Dancehall. These genres have been stirring all over the world for decades now—from Senegal to Egypt, from England to Japan and no doubt, roots themselves historically in the African/Pan-African/Caribbean diaspora. The movement in Japan has no doubt changed youth culture. These music genres have saturated Japanese fashion, music, and entertainment. Yet, authenticity and cultural values will always be in question. Because the Japanese community is removed from the historical and cultural roots of Black music, the embodiment of such music in Japan is often challenged. Especially within the Rasta movement, the identity of a Rastafarian extends deeper than just the superficial qualities of style and music. Understanding the religious and social politics of the Rasta belief is what defines much of the culture. The historical and cultural understanding is pertinent in accurately depicting the music. But because of the commercialization of Black music aesthetics, getting pass the superficial resonances that is reminded through media and entertainment will be an effort of educating these communities who appreciate the culture, yet whose knowledge of the culture ends where it begins. For the Japanese community, their love of Black music is a reminder that Hip Hop, Reggae, and Dancehall have come a long way—literally.
 William Eric Perkins, Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture (Temple University Press: 1995) 283.
 William Eric Perkins, Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture (Temple University Press: 1995) 284
 Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 7
 Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 8
 Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 289
 “Far East Coast ,” Fader Magazine Fall 2000: 154
 Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 9
 Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 290
 “Far East Coast ,” Fader Magazine Fall 2000: 153
 Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 300