The Group, 88rising, performing on stage at their 88 Degrees and Rising Tour, The Higher Brothers, Rich Brian, and August 08 are seen on stage with an 88 logo in the background.

The Rise of Eastern Asian Culture Through Hip-Hop

By Jason Arline
Music Journalist

A big difference between those born in the ’90s and those born in the 2000s is our acceptance of Japanese cartoons, also known as anime. Growing up, if you watched anime you were considered to be a nerd or uncool. Now everyone wants to run like Naruto or go Super-Saiyan like Goku. These days, it’s cool to be a nerd that’s into anime and video games. This happened partly because of hip-hop celebrities cosign on the media.

For example, look at how popular Fortnite became after Drake and Travis Scott played a few rounds with the pro-gamer known as Ninja. With the backing of both artists, Epic Games (creator of Fortnite) has made millions of dollars off a game that is considered free-to-play. Rappers may be some of today’s biggest entertainers and influencers, but not long ago rap was seen as a niche market just like anime. It was during this time that rap embraced both anime and east Asian culture, helping fuel their subsequent rise to the top of the entertainment business.

Hip-hop has undoubtedly played an important role in bridging the gap between east Asian culture and the American population. Groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, whose name comes from the 1983 Kung-Fu movie called “Shaolin and Wu-Tang,” glamorized east Asian entertainment and popularized it for their listeners. RZA, one of Wu-Tang’s founding members, even produced the soundtrack for the anime titled “Afro Samurai” which follows a swordsman named Afro on his quest for revenge.

Another anime whose identity is strongly rooted in hip-hop is “Samurai Champloo.” The series came out in 2005 and followed two master swordsman on a quest to help a girl find a samurai who smells of sunflowers. The series features elaborate fight scenes and a rural yet urban motif that went perfectly with its hip-hop soundtrack that was produced by American producer Fat Jon and late Japanese producer Nujabes. 

A more recent product of the intermingling of rap and eastern Asia, 88rising, has been on the come up in the entertainment industry. Their roster includes many diverse artists but most have strong ties to their Asian heritages like Keith Ape, who hails from South Korea and Joji, who was born in Japan. Their collective has captured a lot of attention and respect from American rappers which paved the way for collaboration tracks such as “It G MA Remix” which features Dumbfoundead, A$AP Ferg, Waka Flocka Flame, Anderson .Paak and Father. 88rising even put together its own music festival this past summer called Head in the Clouds which was headlined by their own artists. 

The subsequent nods and shoutouts between rap and eastern Asian culture are nearly endless, it seems. From spoken references in lyrics to music video tributes, it seems like rap and eastern Asia are the best of friends and both are dominating the entertainment business, making all the former cool kids jealous.

Featured image by The Come Up Show via Flickr.

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