Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On hip-hop and samurai

This deserves a longer post, but one of my absolute favourite cultural mash-ups is Japanese hip-hop. There's a history here. I saw DJ Krush live in London in 1998, celebrated my 27th birthday in a hip-hop club in Shinjuku, and have watched every episode of Samurai Champloo at least twice. So the buzz that's picking up around the new Afro Samurai game, and in particular the soundtrack by The RZA, is piquing my interest. I haven't seen the anime itself, but the game looks and sounds a little like this:

Adding: The RZA, mastermind of the Wu-Tang Clan and one of the few truly gifted weirdos in hip-hop, also produced the soundtracks for Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and most of Kill Bill. As for Samurai Champloo, I bought two soundtrack albums and the PS2 game, which was undeservedly overlooked. It was rather too much of a button-masher, but the soundtrack was fully integrated into the gameplay, to the extent that it had DJ controls as part of the HUD (heads-up display) and fight mechanic. Within the game you enter a record store -- this is all in late feudal Japan, mind you -- to buy various tracks, which you select from during play to perform different groups of moves. It doesn't always work smoothly, but it's an honest stab at being true to the hybrid hip-hop/samurai/anime aesthetic that defined the series.

A great book on this topic is Ian Condry's "Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization" (Duke University Press, 2006), which I've used in class and in the lit review of my dissertation.

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