Red Monkey Rhythm (And Blues)

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The blues has always been totally american
As american as apple pie
As american as the blues
As american as apple pie
The question is why?
Why should he blues be so at home here?
Well, america provided the atmosphere...
-Warren G. "Do You See"
A friend of mine told me something once that has stuck with me since that time years ago... "Hiphop artists, singers", he said, "what they're writing about, what they're talking about, these things don't have anything to do with you".

You, being me, a white suburban kid who grew up in the south. I listen to hiphop like a lot of people in my demo do... The music however no more represents me than say Waltzing Matilda or Kimigayo. That is, from listening to this music, I may glean a bit of info about what is happening, what is being said, why it's being said... but the connection ends there. My urban street cred ends with the closure of the Hell Rell mixtape. When I turn off the music, I go back to living my life, predominantly void of stereotypes and racial stressors. This music isn't about me, it wasn't written for me, and it doesn't speak for me... at best, I'm appropriating it--- always for my own uses--- to imagine there is another possibility is futile.

This is the problem, now, and in the future, of Japanese R&B... J-Hop, JUrban... etcetera. The cards are on the table: Japanese music is largely for Japanese people--- Whatever it's origins, it has been transmogrified, changed, to suit the Japanese market. Take out the gritty street crime, put in synths and a chipper chorus urging you to "Make it, if you try!"...

Moreover, can you really call music made in Japan, cranked out by the top dogs at For Life, Avex, and Sony, "Urban"? Japanese people tend to look at white people suspiciously--- so I can't imagine how they would deal with the cultural addition of a Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood--- with all the additional element of being truly "urban"... Sorry to burst your bubble, but when we say "urban" we mean brown folks... White people living in a white neighborhood is what we call the area of a city that most people without a trust fund just cant afford to live in.

In Japan, you've got roughly three types of this sort of music: Party Music--- the musical stylings of Young MC et al combined with lightweight subjects and bouncy simple beats--- Think HALCALI, Terriyaki Boyz, Rip Slyme. J-Urban/R&B--- Mostly done by girls who've lived for a bit the USA, gleaned a bit of culture and came back to sell that to Japan... Most are 'deeply moved' by the unfortunately un-translatable styles of women like Mary J. Blige & Faith Evans--- that sort of thing... Think AI, Bennie K, Heartsdales, m-Flo.

And last, and certainly least--- the dregs... the sort of music made in Japan that takes itself much more seriously than it should especially considering the fact that it's largely unlistenable. Think Zeebra, S-Word and all the other no-talent wanks who flex and floss & wind up dropping a track on Beats & Breaks Disney. These are the people who aren't invited to the party, shouldn't know about it, but show up anyways and make you listen to their demotape of FRESH RHYMES which feels overall like being punched in the face by music. Wretched. Painful. The sum realization that Japanese is not a language that translates to hiphop very well.

Still, I'm guilty of liking the first two strains. It's music that I enjoy segregated (oh?), by myself that is--- it doesn't translate to anything else. It's like bubblegum mixed with a cookie... sweet and crunchy and weird. Yes, that Japanese girl really is wearing a shirt that says "Black Woman's Pride", what the fuck? It's best to keep this stuff to yourself--- where it belongs.

As HALCALI begin their mediocre climb into adult-hood, they're dropping English versus in favour of delicately crafted Japanese nonsense phrases... Whereas before you got the feeling when they sang, "Meguro, New York, London", that really--- you could just have simplified that listing to "Meguro"... that's not posturing--- that what people accuse Vanilla Ice of--- posing... Now, HALCALI are turning into the girls you will never date--- enough money and age to look and dress like the girls in Egg & Knuckle... a little more refined--- but right back to being 100% Japanese.

And that's the problem--- a lot of articles will tell you how international this music is becoming... Sure, Namie Amuro, Heartsdales, Bennie K etc all sing in English as well as Japanese, but it's no more international than goya champuru... The music's issues and ideals, its topics are squarely and solely within the range of the Japanese consumer, and no place else. This is what people never understand--- this music is not even world-music, it's not trying, nor is it becoming, nor is it geared for a world audience. Simple as that.

The future is HALCALI growing up, buying Hermes bags, and going to trance raves at Air, Heartsdales continuing to sing catchy candy party pop that goes unlistened to outside of Japan, Bennie K continuing to make music that is like the theme song for Any Teen Movie USA mixed with that growling girl rapper vocal style that seems to be influenced by Diggy Mo... And of course the rest of the meaningless hiphop that is unlistenable unknown and not even worth writing about.

Black woman pride? J-Streets wanna know about it. But the streets cant see (What I see...), Every day as Warren G.

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  • Hey I thought I'd clue you in that I don't live in Japan anymore... more than a few blog posts that nobody reads back I left Japan, but was unable to get back in which completely fucked my relationship up, and well, here I am now... single again. Am I bitter about Japanese immigration, fuck yeah (Sea King!), but what can you do...
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