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What do Hip Hop and Anime have in common?

DJ and producer Psygon explores the links between anime and hip hop beat production

30th Aug 2016 / 17 shares

Scroll through certain parts of Soundcloud and you will find music attached to stills from Anime. This is no fluke.

Underground artists such as Godstouch and Metanite adorn the fuzzy warmth of their beats with obscure scenes from cartoons made on the other side of the globe. Other beatmakers like jigen and GåNGåR name themselves and their releases with kanji characters. The relationship isn’t an anomaly. But why have two art forms from different sides of the planet, crafted in entirely separate circumstances, found themselves so attached?

One reason could be the love of the outlandish that exists in both mediums.

Typically an Anime’s story line or premise sways from slightly weird to insanity. Take Kill La Kill for example. A major premise of this series is that clothes grant their wearers god-like abilities. There are levels to these godrobes which directly correlate with the garments’ power. Another series, Gintama, exists in a timeline where Edo period Japan is interrupted by alien invasion. The storyline then follows a trio of characters, some with exceptional skills, doing odd jobs in this strange new world. In the West these stories may broadly be defined as sci-fi and both are huge hits in Japan. Gintama is in the 300’s when it comes to episode count.

Where does Hip Hop come in to this though?

Almost all the artists who attach their work to Anime tend to be what can broadly be described as underground. Not necessarily in terms of sales, but certainly in sonics. Metanite’s songs are jittery, off beat and exceptionally warm. The drums skitter. Punching from bar to bar; whilst horns, Rhodes, piano and Moog float airily through. The whole thing swims beautifully in a sea of lo-fi fuzz. This is not club music. This is not for the mainstream. It’s outlandish music, definitely, and, to some ears, strange.This celebration of the weird, different and slightly just-off is a common thematic thread holding Anime and Hip Hop together. Enjoyment of these two art forms comes with an acceptance of this. It liberates the audience to enjoy the beauty at the heart of both genres.

Freedom in aesthetics of Anime also plays a part in its union with Hip Hop.

Anime, as a visual art, is unique. It is rooted in Japanese culture and has a highly refined style. Japanese history and culture at large respects and dignifies the visual arts. The earliest manga (or comic) has its beginning in the 18th century. While there is a definite Anime ‘style’ in the broadest sense, different production houses have distinct interpretations. The producers of Samurai Champloo, the 2004 series which mashed up Hip Hop and pre modern Japan, has a definite form. Compared to, say, Bones who produced the hugely popular Full Metal Alchemist and Soul Eater series.

Both houses are still Anime, but they are inherently unique. This is just one example. There are hundreds of different production outlets, with as many different styles. The main medium is constant but the way the artists approach it is wildly different.

This freedom of artist style is something Godstouch echoed when I spoke to him:

“I appreciate the medium because of the lack of boundaries the art style possesses. I try to take this motif from Anime and apply it to music. I would like my sound to be endless and bleed into different styles the way anime does. I try to interpret my sound as if the beats you are listening to would be an episode of Gun Smith Cats or Gundam. I would like to think that the sound I am striving for would be one that tells a story, even though there are barely any words in my work.”

Anime’s free flowing interpretation of the medium has been notably appreciated by the beatmaking community. The distinct lack of artistic boundaries appeals to a generation of producers that refuse to have their art restricted by the confines of its origin. Hip Hop, as a genre, covers a huge amount of styles and interpretations but does suffer from a stereotyping problem. “That’s not Hip Hop,” being a favoured refrain among fans fiercely loyal to their particular brand of the music. Anime speaks to the beatmaker who says “why not?”

But what if this link is rather too strenuous? What if producers choose to use Anime imagery as a gimmick or simply because it looks good?

As with all types of artist expression there is of course a danger that Anime can be used a vehicle to drive up views or sell a certain image. However enjoyment of both underground Hip Hop and Anime is very much rooted in genuine love for the art. In Japanese, the term otaku is used to describe an obsessive. Particularly in the Anime and manga community. This phrase has been co-opted in the West as a derisive term for almost all Anime fans. The phrase conjures an image of the socially oblivious and deluded.

Now, without getting into whether this term is even a fair representation of Anime fans or indeed the producers who are influenced by the cartoons, it does reveal something interesting about the depth of connection someone has with an Anime series. Anime that really move the viewer do so for a number of reasons. Be it art style, content or even the music. Uniformly, though, fans of Anime tend to form a deep connection with one or more of the medium’s artistic outpourings. In short, the affinity a viewer has for a certain Anime is a love rooted in extremely personal opinion.

Arguably, when a musician decides to attach a piece of music to an image or sound from Anime they are inviting you deeper into their psyche. Creating music is a personal endeavor. Whenever a creative gifts the world with art they are allowing the world to see a small piece of them. Attach an Anime to that and they are inviting you further in. By using an image of Spike from Cowboy Bebop as a visual for one of their tunes they are saying: “If you get this, you get what I’m trying to say.” Hardly a gimmick in our book.

As art forms, Hip Hop and Anime converge on a number of points.

Anime’s recurring fascination with outlandish themes, its unique and boundless art styles, and the personal resonance the medium evokes in its audience can all be found in the work of beat makers. Producing underground instrumental music can be a lonely profession. The work a beatmaker does is entirely his or her own. In that respect artists pour themselves into their creations. Everything influences their sound. If Anime is part of your psychology it will find a way out through your music.

Why does Anime have a place in Hip Hop?

Because Anime has a place in the people who make Hip Hop.

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