All kinds of societal and cultural elements have an impact on rappers. Any true hip-hop enthusiast can name a few musicians who have been significantly influenced by comic books, video games, and films. But what about hip-hop’s influence on Japanese anime?
The appeal of anime to Black hip-hop artists is numerous, but the dynamic character of the medium is at its core. Unlike animated shows and films in the West, Japanese culture considers animation to be a serious medium for exploring topics ranging from childish curiosity to more mature issues like mortality, identity, and what it is to be human. The hyperreal images of action and violence surely appeal to viewers from hip-youth-oriented hop’s culture, and the well-developed characters and storylines ensure that the flashiness of Japanese animation keeps new fans engaged and returning.
While anime does not have the same level of devotion as comics had for rappers like MF Doom and Ghostface Killah, it has impacted certain notable hip-hop tracks and musicians, ranging from Denzel Curry to Kanye West, and alternative new generation rappers like Rustage. Let’s take a look at the various ways anime has influenced hip-hop.
Animes with the Most References
To begin, let’s look at the anime that rappers most regularly cite. When a piece of anime work becomes popular among rappers, it can easily integrate into hip-hop culture thanks to frequent name drops and allusions. Naruto, Death Note, Dragon Ball Z, Attack on Titan, and Inuyasha, as well as the legendary 1988 film Akira, are all popular anime among American rappers.
Naruto’s appeal stems from the main characters’ unique characteristics and connections to gang culture. The show’s various clans have their own abilities, such as the Sharingan eye, fighting styles, and hand gestures known as hand seals. The narrative of Naruto as an outcast, as well as the combat sequences, are riveting, with parallels to the enviable aspects of gang culture. A number of rappers, including Lil Uzi Vert, Robb Bank$, Ski Mask the Slump God, and Duckwrth, have created punchlines based on these Naruto qualities.
Death Note’s attraction is simple: the show’s main character, Light Yagami, has a notebook that allows him to kill someone supernaturally after he writes their name in it. Death Note references have been made by rappers such as the late Lil Peep, Denzel Curry, and Open Mike Eagle.
The popularity of Dragon Ball Z is self-evident, with innumerable punchlines and references to the show’s iconic warrior characters Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Frieza, and others being incorporated into rap since the 1990s. RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan has gone on record to suggest that Goku’s predicament is similar to that of a Black man in America, particularly the portions about Goku having to find his history and secret Saiyan talents in order to become all that he can be. It’s strange when a rapper claims they don’t really meddle with Dragon Ball Z because it’s so popular. Ugly God, a well-known anime enthusiast, named his favourite anime, including Yu Yu Hakasho and Maison Ikkoku, in a Pigeons and Planes video series dubbed “Trending Topic,” but unexpectedly maintains he was never a big Dragon Ball Z fan.
Attack on Titan, a show themed in a future world where the remaining humans live within a walled community defending them from huge humanoid beings known as Titans, is a recent but very popular anime cited by rappers. Rustage, a popular Youtube rapper, has a song called “Levi” based on the show, and other rappers have made references to the show, such as Rustage with the line, “Power runs in this Levi’s genes, But bet you ain’t evеr gon’ R.I.P. me,” referring to a character in the show (Levi) having inhuman strength in his DNA, which means he doesn’t die (“R.I.P” also refers to the LEVI Jeans (a wordplay on genes) being so robust that they cannot be torn.)
While not as popular as Dragon Ball or Naruto, Inuyasha is a classic anime that has been referenced in raps by a number of rappers, according to Genius, including Soulja Boy’s “Anime” and XXXTentacion’s whole song “Inuyasha.“
Anime-Themed Songs And Music Videos
Rappers have frequently carried their enthusiasm for anime beyond one-off mentions, as seen in the X song “Inuyasha.” Among prominent anime-influenced songs and music videos, we must start with Kanye West’s “Stronger” video, which was greatly inspired by the dystopian 1988 anime film Akira. Not only do several of the shots in the music video seem like moments from Akira, but Kanye West still holds Akira up as a creative benchmark for all of his visual work.
Many of XXXTentacion’s early tracks gained traction when they were mixed with anime clips to give the music a gorgeous yet melancholy visual life, despite the fact that they were fan-made. Before releasing his debut album 17, songs like “I spoke to the devil in Miami, he said everything would be great,” and “I’m Sippin Tea In Your Hood” were given thrilling visual narrative employing striking footage from the series Naruto and The Garden of Words and became popular deep cuts of X’s. When anime culture and young X fans collided, something new was born, giving each art form a distinct flair.
Rustage’s highlight track “Demon King” from his 2021 single release is one of the most anime-based hip-hop songs in recent memory. In his lyrical substance, he borrowed significantly from Jujutsu Kaisen (JJK), as did many other rappers before him. But, from the chorus to the evolution of the verses, Rustage deftly immerses himself in the character of Sukuna (the show’s demon king), even having a feature with the most distinctive voice I’ve ever heard. With lines like “I kept the monster in, like I’m a lycanthrope, Call me the king of kings, I got that Cyrus flow (look up King Cyrus, you’ll be mind blown.)”
Anime-Inspired Artwork By Artists
Only having a creative persona steeped in anime can beat having complete songs and a record studded with it. While rappers like SahBabii, Lil Uzi Vert, Juice Wrld, Ski Mask the Slump God, and Madeintyo all take inspiration from anime, it’s difficult to find a hip-hop musician who is as anime-inspired as Rustage.
Rustage, formerly known as TheDumplingz on YouTube, got his start in music when he was 14, rapping against some of his buddies, and later as Rustage in 2014, with a style highly influenced by drill rap. Now he is the biggest anime theme rapper on the internet.
Rustage’s anime bar is one of the smartest I’ve ever heard, especially when compared to other mainstream rappers who just craft simplistic bars when mentioning an anime. Because he is interested in history, you can see how he combines history and anime, elevating his anime bars to a new level by making you think about it.
For example, in his Supernova cypher verse, he raps as Trafalgar Law, one of the important characters in the show One Piece. “Step in my room and I’m moving compartments, Shambles, break ’em apart like I’m fusing with carbon.” Trafalgar Law’s Room ability allows him to create a spherical room in which the user can alter the direction, movements, and physical configuration of anything and anybody (including themselves) in a “surgical” manner, transforming the user into a Free Modification Human (改造自在人間 Kaizō Jizai Ningen).
Rustage’s widespread usage of One Piece in his artwork is intellectually brilliant. One Piece is a manga series about a young boy named Monkey D Luffy and his quest to become the Pirate King, for those unfamiliar. He assembles a squad and meets (and creates) a host of opponents, including the government itself, as he travels throughout the world. It’s a tale about how just because you claim to be something that the majority of people perceive to be evil doesn’t imply you actually are. It’s not uncommon for the most awful thing to be the thing you most trust.
Hip-hop culture has always been about the creative reuse of other cultures, starting with breakbeats from disco and funk music. The combination of anime with hip-hop is an edgy mix that enables many musicians to add colour and depth to their music through sampling, references, and graphics. The anime/hip-hop crossover has also resulted in other artistic successes, such as iconic animes being soundtracked by hip-hop, such as Afro Samurai, which features Wu Tang’s RZA’s production, and Samurai Champloo, which features the late Japanese hip-hop composer Nujabes.
Although the cultural interchange between Japanese and American and British hip-hop adolescents isn’t always flawless, the bonds are strong and based on mutual respect and intrigue.
The advent of East Asian hip-hop bands like Higher Brothers, who have songs like “One Punch Man,” will further enhance the anime/hip-hop relationship in the future. With many of today’s most promising hip-hop acts having anime influences and artists like Jaden Smith being allowed into the world of television, this relationship appears to be expanding.
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