In the mid 70's DJs, rappers, promoters, artists, dancers, and music fans alike aligned their talents with music to demonstrate the many breathtaking facets of urban culture which emanated from America's concrete jungles. Fueled by its fresh and unrivaled sound, hip hop became the youth's loudest and most prolific voice used to spread the message of "one love" throughout inner city communities.
This idea of "one love," a concept originated by Zulu Nation member and hip hop trailblazer, Afrika Bambaataa, represented hip hop's majestic foundations: love, peace, and equality. Despite enthusiasm from the general public regarding hip hop's potential, there were still those critics who failed to see the light. Fast forward to 2006 and that light shines brighter than ever as hip hop has blossomed into one of the mainstream media's most lucrative and influential business endeavors ever.
Artists like Kanye West, Pharrell, Outkast, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Ludacris either have their music "bleeding" people's speaker boxes, taking up space on I-pods, on heavy rotation all through satellite radio channels (where there is no censorship), airing on high definition television during commercials, or being performed during half-time shows at major sporting events. This success is a testament to the hip hop pioneers who utilized both skill and determination in cultivating the music industry.
While the effect of hip hop's evolution in America is well-documented through media outlets such as radio and television, these examples do not reveal the impact hip hop has had on other parts of the world. England, for example, has adopted hip hop culture through artists Roots Manuva and The Streets while Canada's illustrious hip hop contributions range from the Cryptic Souls Crew, Symbolik Music Crew, and Dead Celebrity Status to Vandal: The Urban Camper and DJ Dopey. Another country profoundly affected by hip hop's influence is Japan.
Japanese rappers such as Zeebra (the Japanese DMX) and Rappagariya (two rappers and one DJ faction inspired by the sounds of the Wu-tang Clan) express their deepest respect for America's pioneering scene not only in their lyrics, but also through fashion – sporting baggy "fubu"-esqe jeans complimented by American football jerseys (a style popularized by many rappers including T.I. and M.e.t.h.o.d. Man).
In short, Japan's youth culture loves hip-hop. Some adults are still stuck in the hair band days of Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, but to walk down Osaka's cultural hub, America-mura (America Village) is to be bombarded with record shops, shoe stores, clothing stores, and head shops. My guess is this fondness for hip hop was the key element which incited a collision between Canadian and Japanese urban networks in late November when Vandal, Canada's premier underground emcee from Toronto, brought the Rebirth of Classic Obsession tour to Japanese soil for two energetic shows.
Vandal (a.k.a. Jason Schadt) has been in the business of spitting wicked rhymes and producing music for over a decade, and is no stranger to performing overseas. Known as the Urban Camper by his friends and fans, Vandal has performed in both Malaysia and China, as well as collaborated with Malaysian producers on a number of tracks off his most recent album, "The Rebirth of Classic Obsession."
For the Japanese leg of his Asian tour, Vandal put together an ensemble cast guaranteed to make waves in both the Shirahama and Osaka hip hop scenes. The first addition to the tour was Vandal's partner in rhyme, Symbolik (a.k.a. Kwame Newman), a founding member of both Canada's Cryptic Souls Crew and the Symbolik Music Crew. After adding Symbolik's charisma to the tour only thing remained missing: a DJ. Luckily, the 2003 DMC (Disco Music Club) World Champion, DJ Dopey (a.k.a. Jon Santiago) was on hand to add some beat breaking skills to the cause; thus, completing Vandal's three way sonic assault on Japan.
After locking the tour's framework these three "b-boys" made their way to Japan's West Coast with hopes of giving audience members a taste of Canadian hip hop fury. The first stop on this two day rollercoaster ride through Japan's westside hip hop scene was at Club Footprint, a small venue located across from the white sanded beaches of Shirahama.
Club Footprint: Shirahama, Japan
The Shirahama Beach show kicked off the tour's two night showcase. While Osaka is Japan's fast-paced metropolis, Shirahama, conversely, is a quiet beach paradise. To get a feel for both Japan's city and country life, the two hip hop troubadours, alongside their mixmaster, trekked 100 kilometers through the mountains (opposite Osaka) with the hope of learning how people "kick-it" in Japan's southern areas. What they stumbled upon was a town fully equipped with the hip hop heart and soul reminiscent of New York in the early 70s.
Many of Shirahama's young locals who are interested in music seek passion as either DJs (Oka and Kakka), Emcees (Choke SP: The Human Beatbox and Kingstar), promoters (DJ Kenji), or devoted fans. After talking with some of the DJs around town (in Japanese) I learned that when kids in the "country" graduate high school, often, their initial thought is to move north to Osaka in search of a more active social life. Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with this option which leads to many kids staying in their hometowns to work part-time as clothing store salesmen, waiters, convenient store clerks, gas station attendants, and the like. Once these employees finish their workdays, however, they return home to get behind their turntables and diligently practice mixing the newest cuts from hip hop greats with dreams of becoming the next world champion DJ. This motivation has helped Shirahama's hip hop scene build an excellent reputation which, in-turn, has caught the attention of famous big time Tokyo artists like Rappagariya, Moomin, and Sphere of Influence, along with Osaka's very own DJ faction, Kireek (see Virtual Turntablism article).
Upon entering Club Footprint for sound check, Vandal, Symbolik, and DJ Dopey were immediately greeted by local members of the hip hop community. Albeit a large buzz surrounding the Rebirth of Classic Obsession tour in Shirahama, DJ Dopey's presence carried enormous weight among locals due to the mystique surrounding his DMC title.
The DMC world title is a distinguished award reserved for only the most skilled hip hop DJs. Some DJs spend years perfecting their three minute routine for the competition. Thanks to the accomplishments of both 2002 champion, DJ Kentaro, and 2004 champion, DJ Akakabe, Japan has come to be known as "the land of the rising DJ" throughout hip hop's world forum. In the time since becoming DMC champions, both Kentaro and Akakabe have begun performing before sell out crowds at the hottest clubs in the Tokyo and Osaka areas. The accomplishments of Kentaro and Akakabe have set a standard of excellence among Japan's underground elite.
DJ Dopey, on the other hand, had never performed in Japan prior to this tour and was unknown by most Japanese fans. When people heard he was a DMC champion sandwiched between two of Japan's most recognized DJs, word spread like wildfire. This added an underlying sense of expectancy which Dopey lived up to a few hours into the night. As he stepped up to the decks at Club Footprint, the World Champion did not hesitate to drop the beat like it was hot.
Club Footprint's doors opened at ten in the evening with house DJs Oka, Show, Kakka, and Takumi getting the crowd poised for the main event: a showcase saturated with titillating rhymes backed by mesmerizing beats. At the stroke of midnight Vandal and Symbolik hopped on stage to give everyone a ride on their lyrical rollercoaster. Playing off the crowd's energy, Vandal and Symbolik began by rapping about everything from the true essence of hip hop to greasy street food venders; and like "street food" (a song off Vandal's album), people ate it up. Due to there being a good amount of English speakers in the audience, Vandal and Symbolik were able to incite chorus sing-alongs, but the non-English speaking fans seemed to be getting short changed. That was until DJ Dopey injected the crowd with a dose of splendorous ear candy.
Dopey's fingers slid between the decks as harmonies gushed out of the Club Footprint's speakers like a waterfall of ecstasy. Audience members attempted to dance with the music, but eventually surrendered to Dopey's intoxicating sounds which everyone in a trance. All eyes were focused on the elevated DJ booth as Dopey beautifully transitioned between songs with a master's touch. Each set ended with a two second pause quickly followed by a roaring applause from the audience. The show then proceeded in alternation between the two lyrical wordsmiths and their sonic titan, coming to a close with Vandal, Symbolik, and Dopey being surrounded by impressed fans eager to have their pictures taken with the Rebirth of Classic Obsession crew.
After exploring Japan's countryside it was time for the crew to head north towards Japan's neon-lit urban area: Osaka. The long train ride to Osaka gave the crew a well deserved rest before their big city debut. As the train neared its final destination the green, mountainous landscape gradually morphed into a bustling metropolis. Aside from the scenery, Osaka's most noticeable difference, compared to Shirahama, was the amount of non-Japanese people walking along the overcrowded streets. In fact, it was this diverse "melting pot" dynamic that enhanced the show at Club Triangle.
Club Triangle, located in the heart of Osaka's America-mura, is a beautiful three-story, state of the art club famous for attracting superstar DJs such as Andy C, Roni Size, Ed Rush, and Optical. Because Club Triangle imports some of the best DJs the world has to offer, it has developed a respectable foreign following which is accompanied by an equally sized Japanese fan base. No matter what country one represents, Club Triangle is the perfect place to party on a Saturday night in Osaka; and on this particular Saturday more than 60 percent of the club's patrons were non-Japanese (unlike the Shirahama show where the number of foreigners in attendance could have been counted on two hands).
Club Triangle: Osaka, Japan
The original idea behind the Rebirth of Classic Obsession tour's Club Triangle performance was to showcase some of Canada's finest and most respected underground hip hop artists. Feeding off the victory of Shirahama's stellar performance, the crew entered Club Triangle like hip hop warriors with only one thing on their agenda: to turn the party out. With no sound check and not a moment to lose, Dopey got behind the wheels of steel to set up his gear as Vandal and Symbolik hit the stage to get their routine underway.
Despite being close to midnight, only a few people were on the dance floor when the show commenced. The crowds were lounging at the bars as the house DJ maintained a constant rotation of energetic house anthems. That soon changed. The instant Vandal and Symbolik began showering people with tongue twisting rhyme combinations, crowds slowly trickled away from the bar areas to catch a glimpse of this energy's source. What they came across were two non-Japanese guys on stage slicing and dicing syllables between each other (in English) with both style and grace. Resembling the Death Star's tractor beam from Star Wars, Vandal and Symbolik used their witty lyrics matched with impeccable synchronicity to draw audience members onto the dance floor. The people strong enough to withstand the lyrical torrents of the Urban Camper and his lyrical savvy companion were, however, no match for the awe-inspiring sounds of the turntable monk, DJ Dopey.
Dopey's Osaka performance mimicked that same tenacity and prowess that made the Shirahama show so spectacular. The only difference was that there were twice as many people in the crowd unprepared for Dopey's virtuosity. Patrons congregated around the elevated DJ booth to catch a glimpse of the self-taught technique that won Dopey the 2003 DMC championship title.
As Dopey's routine galvanized crowds on the first floor, second floor onlookers marveled from above. In a mere 30 minutes the evening's vibe took a complete 180 degree turn as the dance floor filled with people bouncing to the music and leaving bar areas barren. Similar to the show at Club Footprint, Osaka's Club Triangle was "Dopified" and everyone in the building felt it. The evening ended on a high note with Vandal, Symbolik, and Dopey receiving hi-fives from everyone in the club, as well as being asked to play an encore performance.
Based on the crowd's enthusiastic reaction following each show I would venture to say that the Japan leg of the Classic Obsession tour was a success. Thanks to Japan's love and appreciation for hip hop Vandal, Symbolik, and DJ Dopey received the opportunity to touch many lives with their art. For the Shirahama community, having DJ Dopey perform at their local club was similar to having U2 play at the local Irish pub down the street. Everyone was thrilled about having the chance to witness the strength of Canada's underground hip hop heroes. Moreover, the Urban Camper emcees, Vandal and Symbolik, were the ones responsible for awakening the dormant audience during the second show. Their abilities complimented by effervescence were the ingredients required for sending shockwaves throughout Club Triangle. The ripple effect incited by the crew's sonic boom lasted until closing.
Traveling alongside Vandal, Symbolik, and DJ Dopey, I learned that regardless of its evolution, hip hop will always be the youth's loudest and most prolific form of expression as long as it stems from love, peace, and equality. Back in the early days of hip hop people questioned the importance of this urban gateway which gave the world a bird's eye view of inner city life. Its significance lies in the hearts of all the DJs who mix music as a reflection of their own emotions or the people who attach themselves to the lyrics of strength and survival spoken by rappers they respect.
Through evolution the idea of this gateway has transformed into more of a global bridge, promoting the idea of unity, or "one love," through international lines of communication. The shows in both Shirahama and Osaka validated the bridge's existence when it provided a means for connecting globally diverse hip hop fans and artists who might never have had a chance to meet otherwise. What makes this message of "one love" so unique is its ability to be passed on through a musical medium. As Vandal, Symbolik, and DJ Dopey proved in both Shirahama and Osaka: in musical form, "one love" transcends language constraints to become a universal concept understood by music lovers everywhere.
Sam Frank, Journalist/Publicist The O-shinboon