Ah, Japan. Walking around Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakusa, it’s hard not to be impressed by how absolutely excellent at everything the Japanese seem to be. Sure, they’re fairly attached-at-the-hip to their language so even major cities might not be inviting for tourists and sometimes the toilets spray water at you, but on the whole, not since I was in Tokyo a few years ago have I been able to find a city that so effortlessly oozes the panache of the harajuku girls, swims in an intoxicating haze of probably deserved arrogance, knows that even with its quirks (and it has a few), it is a masterpiece. In all aspects of dress and style, food and retail culture, even entertainment and urban planning, the Japanese outpace most others. Even while the country might have been in recession for ten years from 1991-2000 (and the ‘Lost Decade’ is now expanding to include 2000-2010), the dodgy Japanese economy hasn’t dampened its people’s ingenuity and creativity.
Where we can thank Japan for (among a staggering list) Nintendo and Kumon, Bathing Ape and the Yakuza focus of Grand Theft Auto 2, Shing02’s track ‘Luv (Sic) Part 2′ is an example of American hip-hop culture being reappropriated by the country that also invented karaoke. But tellingly, like most of the Japanese culture I’ve been exposed to, nothing is quite American about it. The Japanese have a way of leaving their stamp, a distinctive style of doing things, on everything. This is a worldly melange of influences, turned Japanese. The lazy soprano sax line, borrowed from Brazilian musician Ivan Lins’ ‘Qualquer Dia‘ and the beat behind it come courtesy of fellow Tokyo local Nujabes who, by all accounts, was something like the Japanese Flying Lotus or DJ Premier before his untimely death in 2010. With any other rapper, this kind of meandering beat might have dragged. The way Shing02 positively expresses each syllable of every word (his command of English the product of an upbringing in the States and study at Berkeley) provides a great contrast, helping conjure up a rap track as far from that genre’s often aggressive connotations as possible.
The Japanese tend to take things to the extreme (hence all those ridiculous gameshows) and here, something of a disconnect between the lyrics we expect in a rap song and the saccharine words that Shing02 offers up threatens the legitimacy of the enterprise. Choosing to rap in English brings with it a whole host of expectations and conventions which are difficult to shake. With the more than capable Nujabes behind the decks, however, Shing02’s sometimes odd (‘You epitomize the etymology of enthusiasm’), always earnest lyrics are more heartwarming than hackneyed. The true beauty of this song lies in the juxtapositions that punctuate it – most essentially that between the perfectly enunciating, slightly febrile Shing02 and the languorous Nujabes production. The clash of cultures is quite obviously pronounced in borderline cloying lyricism but the strange quality of the result (not unlike combining water jets and toilets) tends to intrigue more than it does offend. I have no idea how ‘Luv (Sic) Part 2’ and its instrumental and a capella iterations ended up in my music library. Shing02 proves here that sometimes a bit of mystery is a valuable thing.
Shing02 Ft. Nujabes – Luv (Sic) Part 2