My cousin Ying works at Céline and I always forget what a big deal that is until I tell my friends and they gasp and remind me that Céline is their favorite womenswear brand. Everything Céline does is right–elevating a woman’s sex appeal by emphasizing elegance, sophistication, and style. Even when the shoulders are slightly enlarged and the cuts are boxy, the woman behind the garment still looks undeniably sexy. 


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. 


Date: 2/27/06 

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[1]. Corporate America has elevated the ‘street look’ to fashion prominence[2] 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[3] 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[4], 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[5], 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[6]. 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[7])—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[8]. Much of the Japanese youth today have turned to the States for many of its modern artistic archetypes[9]. 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[10], 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.

[1] William Eric Perkins, Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture (Temple University Press: 1995) 283.

[2] William Eric Perkins, Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture (Temple University Press: 1995) 284

[3] Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 7

[4] Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 8

[5] Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 289

[6] “Far East Coast ,” Fader Magazine Fall 2000: 154

[7] Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 9

[8] Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 290

[9] “Far East Coast ,” Fader Magazine Fall 2000: 153

[10] Marvin Dale Sterling, In the Shadow of the Universal Other: Performative Identifications with Jamaican Culture in Japan (University of California, Los Angeles: 2002) 300

In these times, a blanket is a utilitarian necessity, or it becomes a canvas for over-designed Ikea duvet covers. But the old-world tradition of tapestry-weaving transforms the humble blanket into a work of art. Recently, I was introduced to textile artist Richard Saja who weaves one-of-a-kind blankets that deserve the kind of exposed brick wall-space that none of us middle class city dwellers will ever have access to. These blankets are huge and completely breathtaking when hung from the ceiling. Saja’s work is available for purchase at de Castellane Gallery in Brooklyn. Each blanket is unique and the price? Surprisingly low for such detailed handiwork.

I came. I tumbled. I sort of got bored and kind of stopped tumbling. And yes, I mean Tumblr, which I have to blame for the recent lull in blog content. Of course, I am still an advocate for Tumbling–the dissemination of re-purposed content through the simple click of a boomarklet and the half-poetic, half-baked sentences that become captions for interesting photos. Initially, I wanted to escape the murky trenches of blogging, which had become out-of-mode and tiresome, like a bumbling old geezer recounting tales from the barber shop. Tumblr on the other hand had cooler layout designs free-of-charge! But cheap and easy has never been my thing.

What it all boils down to, is that I have a lot to say. Why wouldn’t I? I live in NYC and ride the subway, which alone gives me 60% of my content. I recently experimented with gluten-free eating to tame my eczema, and that’s another 10%. I enjoy doing stuff, seeing stuff, and listening to stuff that hurts my eardrums. Twenty percent. Run-ins with old flames. Ten percent (though, this number would be higher if I was still living in Cali). With all of this material, how could I have ever found blogging to be tedious? I blame it on the non-stop visual orgasms New York City-dwellers get from doing the most mundane things, and the difficulty of conveying these experiences in blogspeak. So, naturally, we do the next best thing: we use Tumblr, we tweet, and our lives become headlines or punchlines and we stop telling the good stories.

Rolling in bed as the LED screams in red
my stunted dreams bled.
Jolted from sleep to wake, but sleep I choose instead.
My casket–tempting–two pillows, those warm embraces
a black tarp of forlorn faces morning erases
this eternal tryst with death replaces.

And then chapter two. You.
Words tumbling over breasts and thighs
fumbling “rest of our lives”
faking “goodbyes”
Your eyes, Nirvana
idyllic wandering around infinite shades of blue
lull me into comatose longing for you.
and suddenly, I’ve put sleep on hold.
It’s you I’ve chosen instead.

Perhaps it was Rachel Comey who did it–who made me fall in love with the wooden heel. It was this shoe from her spring 2010 footwear collection that inspired me to “spruce” up my shoe collection. But alas, I had to choose between paying rent or looking chic–oh New York. Those Carrie Bradshaw-illusions feel so early 2000s, now don’t they?

Since then, my taste has evolved. I’m not sure I like fringes or wedges as much anymore, but I am still head over heels in-love with the wooden heel. There’s something fantastically mid-century furniture-esque about the contrast of leather and wood, paired together like an Eames lounge chair. I went shoe-shopping last weekend and found myself in Park Slope’s only acceptable shoe store, Eric on Seventh, and stumbled upon fierce wooden heeled-oxford-pumps blurring feminine and masculine, casual and dressy. Basically, it was my kind of shoe. The price–though not cheap, was doable. And it was definitely the most comfortable in its category. And here’s the shocker: These shoes were Timberland’s. The same brand that the hip hop streetwear community embraced in the 90s. Wait a sec. TIMBOS? I have a pair of Timbos at home but they’re mustard-colored construction worker shoes that I purchased to be quirky. These Marge lace-ups emanated something totally different–elegance and timelessness. But after a little research, I found out that Timberland does carry a luxury line of footwear that includes various wooden-heeled brogues, lace up pumps and boots, and more. Anyway, loving them!

Eric on Seventh
202 7th Ave., Brooklyn, NY
(718) 369-4189

Ikea dominated the furniture market, and now the Swedish retail giant is rolling out a mass media takeover. The recently-launched Ikea cookbook is visually remarkable. The arty photos were shot by Carl Kleiner and styled by Evelina Bratell; and though it’s not food porn, it’s definitely soft core art porn. One can only imagine how fun it was to strategically place the ingredients in abstract formations. Well, fun, or just really annoying. This reminds me of this video.

But Ikea isn’t stopping there; a branded iPhone-app that’s being marketed with the book, the Kondis, is being rolled out. Here’s sneak peak:

The app is more or less a cooler, streamlined version of Weight watchers. And honestly, I’m not over the moon about the app’s usability. I’m mostly impressed with how awesome (and Scandinavian) the commercial is.