Hip-hop Japan explores the interaction of various factors around the genba, or site (i.e. club, studio), that makes Japanese hip-hop a meaningfully thriving industry throughout the past four decades. Focusing on the genba answers questions of how Japanese hip-hop culture and identity are performed at specific locations and circumstances, and how broader issues of race, gender, glocalization and commercialization are embodied in performativity. Condry asks open-ended questions that probe the cause and effect of Japanese hip-hop and the ways Japanese youths practice and implement it. Rather than coming up with a definition of what “Japanese hip-hop” is, he investigates how it works in the people: the mechanism, interplay, change and transformation of the “playas” (i.e. rappers, producers, b-boys) in relation to their fans, the media, record companies and the market at large. Reading this book will not tell you much about the musicality and poetics, or the persona and motifs of Japanese hip-hop. Rather, it tells you about the social, industrial aspect of music: “hip-hop performance as the actualization of a global Japan” (18).
Chapter 1, 2 and 5 detail the racial, historical and language background of Japanese hip-hop. Chapter 1 frames race as part of the hip-hop consciousness, through which Japanese rappers understand core hip-hop values and challenge Japanese society’s racial homogeneity through their polycultural works. Chapter 2 explores the evolution of Japanese hip-hop in three stages, using the metaphor of the “battling samurai.” Chapter 5 describes how vernacular Japanese and English usage in rap lyrics help to “crack the fissures of language standardization” (134) in order to win the fight against “the hegemony of homogeneity.”
Chapter 3 lays the theoretical foundation of the book, “genba globalization,” a method of looking at how the “local” is performing the “global” by examining how culture and identity are performed at the genba, and how dynamic forces there interact to produce the global product of Japanese hip-hop. Chapter 4 and 7 discuss other factors at play in the Japanese hip-hop industry. Chapter 4 examines fans, specifically, how the rise of the “otaku,” a specialist, nerdy kind of fan, reflects changes in the forms of cultural consumption. Chapter 7 discusses how Japanese hip-hop artists operate in an interplay of culture and market to maintain “success” in the industry. Chapter 6, standing alone, comments on how female rappers redefine gender expressions in their images and works to resist Japan’s general (homogeneous) “cutismo” gender expectation.
The strength of the book lies in its novelty of perspective that brings new ways to understand the process of “glocalization” and to predict new trends in global mass culture. Condry’s “genba methodology” examines “glocalization” in a more practical way, compared to the existing and polarizing theories of local diversification (i.e. Roland Robertson) and global homogenization (i.e. George Ritzer). Shifting focus from stagnant cultural forms to fluid practices in the genba allows for broader assessments on how local and glocal cultural production forces intersect, interact and proceed simultaneously to affect ongoing struggles, and how global forces flow in particular local spaces. As demonstrated in Condry’s pyramid structure, the genba, as a foundation of different paths of cultural globalization, also provides an instructive new model to map the patterns of these diverse paths and changes.
The realm of hip-hop is taken to be a key leisure site that speaks for both localization (through battles and debates of what it means to be Japanese) and globalization (through Japan’s changing lifestyles and value systems). In his approach of analysis, Condry stands on the vantage point of Japan’s unique racial and historical matrix instead of using the identity politics of the United States, which results in his moving away from a cliched discussion on Black cultural appropriation to an examination of the “new cultural politics of affiliation” between Japanese and Black culture. Rather than making value judgments of authenticity, this fresh approach investigates issues of inclusivity and exclusivity, and examines how hip-hop culture is received, understood and performed in Japan on its own terms, to its own ends.
However, the book suffers from an incomprehensive study of Japanese hip-hop by evading the crucial aspect of music. Condry’s redundant sociological commentary on how cultural globalization is performed can perhaps be more efficiently articulated in a musicological stance: by letting the artform speak for itself. For example, in Chapter 5, a fruitful analysis on Japanese hip-hop lyrics’ rhyming and rhythmic nuance, their linguistics, forms, rhetoric and their innovation vis-a-vis the beats will provide more concrete evidence for the author’s search of Japaneseness than an excessive discussion on sociolinguistics.
Similarly, Condry’s overuse of broad terms neglects important details. For example, his focus on the cultural consumption aspect of the “otaku” overshadows the fundamentals of the subject; the readers do not see their faces, hear their voices, or learn about how subgenres categorize their communities and how they define artistic stakes with the “family,” but are rather burdened with a theoretical analysis of “otaku-ization.” Moreover, Condry’s fixation on female rappers’ image also clouds their artistic achievements and contributions such as the use of uniquely gendered language and the reconstruction of traditional female artforms. It seems Condry’s ethnography is skewed to the industrial side, ignoring other fundamental questions: what does Japanese hip-hop sound like? What does the music -- in and of its elements and compositional devices -- say about the music makers and the society? What are the realities of the playas since they got involved in hip-hop, and how do these realities shape their artistic and personal narratives?
Unlike Marvin Sterling’s Japanese dancehall ethnography that discusses appropriation and global imagination of blackness, Condry’s angle rooted in Japan’s uniquely configured racial complex is indeed a breath of fresh air. His use of affiliation politics rescues the cultural globalization discourse from the incessant debate of legitimacy and exploitation. In addition, the section about fandom engages with the ongoing critical conversation on cultural transmission and identity formation through online communities. Further ethnography on “otaku” can provide important insights on topics of imagined and imaginary communities, prosthetic memories, rhizomes, and cultural choices. Finally, Condry’s “genba methodology” also presents a new approach to cultural studies and anthropology by moving the discussion of cultural intervention forces beyond the origin and the local to encompass “a collective embodiment in the genda.” Although this book does not talk “about” Japanese hip-hop, if you want to know everything “around” it, this is a must-read.