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Hip Hop loves anime loves Hip Hop

While anime has influenced Hip Hop in many ways, the reverse is also true

LiFTED | Marcus Aurelius | 28 May 2021

Hip Hop and anime go together like two turntables and a microphone. These two seemingly unrelated things have been commingling for decades with Hip Hop artists sampling theme songs and dialogue while anime writers and artists have been influenced by the rugged and rawness of Hip Hop.

Here LiFTED takes a look at five anime that Hip Hop loves and vice versa.

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Dragon Ball Z

Once Wu Tang brought crazy kung fu samples into Hip Hop, the floodgates opened. Decades later, instead of sneaking into a showing of The 36h Chamber of Shaolin, kids were skipping school and watching anime on The Cartoon Network and later Adult Swim.

Dragon Ball Z got a lot of play and in The Tao of Wu, RZA pontificates why Black people love it. “It’s one of the deepest cartoons in history. You learn that Son Goku is part of an ancient race called the Saiyans, who come from a distant planet and were known as the fiercest warriors in the galaxy. So Son Goku has superpowers but doesn’t realize it - a head injury destroyed his memory, robbed his knowledge of self. Then one day, he gets stressed beyond his limits and Hulks out into his alter ego, Super Saiyan."

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If Dragon Ball Z is for Generation X, then Naruto is for Gen Z and beyond. Rappers love Naruto so much because of three things - ninjas, being the underdog, and having a code. Soulja Boy was into Naruto so much that he made a mixtape modeled after the show in 2011.

Naruto loved Hip Hop, too. One character, Killer Bee, was a powerful shinobi whose passion was to be the best rapper on the planet. Bee would go so far as to take a break and write down rhymes in a notebook during the middle of battles. As a matter of fact, Bee had face tattoos, so he could easily blend in with the mumble rappers of modern times.

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Artist Takashi Okazaki loved Tribe Called Quest, J. Dilla, and more classic Hip Hop as well as soul music when he was growing up. He had the vision to write about the one Black samurai that was around during the Sengoku period. Eventually, he came up with Afro Samurai and it has been a smash from when it was introduced in 1998 until now.

Afro’s dad had the Number 1 headband. The only person that could challenge Number 1 had to wear the Number 2 headband. Anyone could challenge Number 2. When Afro was a kid, he saw his dad get killed by Justice and take the Number 1 headband. From an early age, Afro decided that he would eventually get to Number 2 and be able to avenge his father’s death.

Afro Samurai is a brilliant anime series with a soundtrack produced by RZA. It is Hip Hop through and through.

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While it only ran 26 episodes from 2004 to 2005, Samurai Champloo perfectly amalgamated ancient Japan with modern Hip Hop. Director Shinichirō Watanabe had just finished the genre-defining Cowboy Bebop and needed something antithetical. Samurai Champloo is his retrofuturistic masterpiece with three characters influenced by Hip Hop who ran wild over Japan’s Edo period.

Fuu is an animated 15-year old who is harassed by a band of samurai until Mugen rushes in to save her with his unorthodox fighting style that is akin to breakdancing. Jin is also involved in the melee, and soon he and Mugen are set to be executed for an accidental death. Fuu comes to the rescue and all three head off for an adventure looking for the ‘samurai who smells of sunflowers.’

Watanabe said at one point, "I believe samurai in the Edo period and modern Hip Hop artists have something in common. Rappers open the way to their future with one microphone; samurai decide their fate with one sword."

Watanabe nodded to Hip Hop with the music and visuals for Samurai Champloo. He had Nujabes, one of the first producers to make what is now known as LoFi Hip Hop, produce the intro theme. Also, the three main characters would use graffiti as their form of writing.

While all of Samurai Champloo is tremendous, the final three-episode arc is celebrated for its complexity and ingenuity.

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Hypnosis Mic is where Hip Hop, American Idol, and anime merge as one. The show started in 2017 and has continued until now. The basic premise is that after war, women have taken over and all weapons have been destroyed. Therefore, the only way to do battle is with Hypnosis Mics, which can alter minds and change people’s thoughts. The Dirty Dawgs were a storied rap group, but they’ve split into four divisions to rap against each other.

When Hypnosis Mic launched, each crew released music with a voting card attached to it. Viewers voted for who they thought was best and Matenro won. The anime crew celebrated by putting out an album.

By having anime rappers, the possibilities for music, tours, video games, manga, and merchandise are endless. The fact that animators can create new crews and MCs with input from audiences shows where the future of Hip Hop and anime is really going.