Did I go in thinking the event wouldn't suck? No. I knew it would. Did I feel a need to appease friends I hadn"t seen in a while? Sure. Do trashy reggae chicks do it for me? Possible. Kyoto, for being a city of 1.5 million people, has some really second rate celebrities. One of these F-listers has had me as a guest at his last to birthday blow outs. I am sure he is appreciative. To tell the truth, compared to most reggae in Japan Yujin, the character in question is alright. While I am on the subject, compared to eating poo, drinking piss is alright. Hark, through the wonders of Youtube, I have the evidence.
Most Reggae in Japan:
So the first few times I saw this guy, it was a welcome change. But do I really need to celebrate his birthday? But really, this is all beating around the bush. Yujin isn't the subject of this story. Especially considering I left about 5 minutes into his set, leaving Atsuko, who you may remember is so completely my type, although I am pretty sure she doesn't feel the same way. The real story here is the god-awful act that went on before our amiable Yujin. I almost wish I could remember their name so I could scour for evidence, but not as much as I wish I could erase all memory of them. It was five guys, in five hooded garments, screaming into microphones. One was a chubby American looking like he was there to sell copy machines or work on your tractor. He looked just young enough, and just completely clueless enough to have been in the Navy. Who knows, he might be. In any case, he sucked just as bad as his Asian compatriots. The highlight of the show, for me, was when the earnest, bald, chubby, Japanese lad who seemed to scream into the microphone a little more than the others, got the full-focused freak look on in his eyes, bald head shining and declared, as forcefully as he could- and I am translating here, except for the "yo"s:
Yo yo! Yo yo! We are reggaeton!
Yo yo! We have nothing to do with reggaeton!
Yo yo! we have a slight connection with reggaeton!
Yo yo! Do you get what I am saying?!?!?!
I got that deep inside somewhere, he wanted to say something. I can go that far.
Here is where I want to start laying it down for you in ways that those jokers never could. Japanese reggae, especially the dancehall variety sucks for two very specific reasons that also infect Japanese hip-hop, among other genres.
The stereotype that Japan imitates is true for a reason; Japan imitates. It is especially frustrating in music as there are unique Japanese bands, but, especially on the local level, people treat the music scene as a cover band talent show. Last time out I almost had to be restrained from going after the MC because he talked about how much he loved marijuana and hated gay people. In the end I realized that he hated gay people as much as he loved marijuana, which was zero. Those just seemed to him like what he was supposed to talk about. It is really kind of pathetic when you see it in action. And everybody plays along and it goes on and on like that.
This is the one I wanted to touch on briefly and come back to in more detail later. This is a cross over subject in that it goes into teaching English and understanding Japanese and all other kinds of topics. Reason two is that there is no such thing as rhyming in Japanese. Not only is there no rhyming, there is a complete and total inability to understand the concept of rhyming. Kind of puts a strange twist on Japanese hip-hop does it not? Strangely, there is some great Japanese hip-hop. In fact, I include this Rhymester song in my all time top 25:
But, without the structure imposed by a rhyme scheme, something else very interesting has to be going on in the song to make it even palatable.
I think Ripslyme succeeded on that one.
But when other elements fail, what you have is just people screaming nonsense into a microphone. What you lose are true MCs rocking a microphone. Just listen to the first verse of Wu-Tang's "Fast Shadow" and listen to what goes on with the rhymes. (If you have a low ODB tolerance, just tune him out.)
In Welcome to the Terrordome, which I consider to be the greatest hip-hop song of all time, Chuck D offers the simple proposition, "Here"s your ticket, hear the drummer get wicked." How badass is that line? It is great because of what Chuck D did with the wording and the structure imposed on him by the rhyme scheme. I don't mean to demean an entire population, but how many people in Japan can even get that line? And I mean that in a very real way. Today I was doing a listening lesson with a class and I was trying to get them to fill in the blanks on a kids song. They were incredulous. How could I expect them to understand any of that nonsense? I told them that the biggest hint was that it was a song and I had only cut out the last words of every other line, so everything rhymed. This helped zero-percent. No one could grasp what was similar about the words "good" and "wood." They couldn't even understand my explanation. I shouldn't have been surprised, this has happened to me numerous times. Sometimes someone will venture a helpful, "Oh, I see. They sound similar!" No...In fact, they rhyme. Something that is so fundamental to the way we think about English is completely absent. Maybe I am overstating the case, but I feel rhyming is essential to English education, if only for helping in pronunciation. Part of the roadblock are Japanese teachers who can't grasp the concept either.
It is frustrating as both a teacher and a musician. What you get is people content with wearing a jersey and screaming "lighter!" When what you are trying to bring them is:
Ah...I feel bad that I didn't mention Verbal, who can rhyme in Japanese. Bonus to you Verbal.