For years, Hip-Hop and Anime have shared a peculiar relationship. Artists ranging from mainstream to underground have shared their love for the art form through their music, and likewise a few anime have utilized elements of hip-hop through soundtracks, characters, and plot lines. Although some may consider the combination of these art forms almost total opposites, they actually have a number of similarities and have shown to blend well together. One reason for this may be rooted in their respective origins. Both art forms are results of rising countercultures that become a means of escape to worlds outside of the norm for viewers and listeners alike.
Hip-Hop was born towards the end of the 1970s. Its birth was predicated on the shift of attitudes and ideals of those living in the inner city of New York. Rap spawned from people looking for a new outlet. A subculture was born that ushered in new slang, break-dancing, graffiti, and most importantly, rap music. Initially, hip-hop started as something rooted in the communities of New York, it has since grown into a larger than life art form that has spanned across decades and transcended into a billion dollar empire. Its influence has even crossed over into multiple genres of music, fashion, and other forms of media. And while it may be reaching its peak in the United States, hip-hop’s popularity across the world is still growing at a rapid rate.
Similarly to hip-hop, anime has also experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. While anime is an abbreviation for animation in Japan, it has a much more distinct definition to the rest of the world. Anime, especially in Western culture, refers specifically to Japanese animation. If you ask an anime fan why they like it you hear them say, “It’s different.” While this may be a very simplistic answer, it is true. Anime is different. From the storytelling to the visuals, anime has a distinct style that captivates its audience. It has a way of making everything look cool and breathtaking. The fact that it is different from so many other art forms is probably why it has become so popular outside of Japan, particularly in the United States. Even though it has been around since the early 20th century, anime started becoming popular in the United States during the 1960s with the hit show, Astro Boy. Over the decades the popularity of anime has continued to skyrocket in the United States. Series such as, Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and One Piece are some of the most popular shows—among children and adults— in the United States, and their fan base is constantly growing.
As both hip-hop and anime have grown in popularity, there was a level of respect and adoration that developed between the two art forms . This eventually led to the two beginning to influence one another. Rappers have made their love for anime known through their music, videos, and personal testimonies. Most notably, Kanye West has made it known that Akira is one of his favorite movies of all time even paying homage to the classic film in the video for “Stronger.” While not a direct recreation there are many similarities between the music video the iconic film, such as the motorbikes with the famous trailing lights, riots in Tokyo, and Ye stumbling out the psych ward similarly to the character Tetsuo in the film. Anime’s influence has even crossed over into the realm of R&B, a prime example being Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange album. On the song “Pink Matter,” Ocean mentions famous Dragon Ball Z character, Majin Buu, to describe a woman’s “soft pink matter.”
While other artists have admitted their love for anime through their music, The RZA took it one step further and scored the entire anime miniseries Afro Samurai. With animation handled by Gonzo studios, RZA’s well-structured production, and the inclusion of animated hip hop elements (i.e. gold chains, afro picks, classic over-the-ear DJ headphones), Afro Samurai blends an authentic anime style with subtle hip-hop nuances almost seamlessly.
Much like Afro Samurai, Samurai Champloo is another amazing example of an anime influenced by hip-hop. Not only did the show combine the breathtaking artistry associated with anime and utilize dope hip-hop production, but also hip-hop was embedded in the show. From fighting styles that incorporated break dancing—reminiscent of capoeira—to DJ scratching between scenes and graffiti styled title scenes, Champloo combined hip-hop with the Japanese culture. While these shows are great examples, unfortunately in reality, hip-hop based anime are pretty rare. In fact, anime that utilize hip-hop themes tend to do it in a much more subtle approach or even spoof it. The most notorious of them all being the infamous Pokerap that concluded every episode of Pokemon during the first season. It is by no means a masterpiece, but many fans of the original Pokemon series remember the Pokerap and can recite it line for line.
While hip-hop and anime is a really niche subgenre, it is definitely clear that they have coincided on multiple occasions. Hip-hop artists new and old continue to claim their love for anime and make it apparent in their music. On the other hand, while there aren’t as many actual hip-hop based anime, the incorporation of hip-hop music into anime has been a lot subtler for the most part. However, as the world continues to become more globalized and people from different parts of the world experience new cultures, I believe these two art forms will continue to influence each other.