Is rap being overused in Japanese TV commercials?

by g.o.a.t Hip Hop

Ever since It G Ma became a big hit on the internet a few years, the Japanese rap scene has been garnering some attention from hip-hop heads around the world. Hypebeast recently dropped an article that lists top 10 Japanese rappers to watch out for in 2017. It’s worth checking out if you want to familiarise yourself with some local up-and-coming acts.

The genre’s popularity has also been increasing domestically, mostly due to the sudden rise of the battle rap scene. Freestyle Dungeon is perhaps what sparked this widespread popularity of battle rap in Japan. It’s a TV program that invites relatively unknown rappers to challenge some big-name artists in rap battles - the challenger has to battle through consecutive ‘stages’, facing an opponent on each until finally facing off against the ‘boss'. I haven’t been following it personally, but the video game-like format of the program sounds like a good fit for Japanese audiences. Other competitions have been taking advantage of streaming platforms like YouTube to build a fanbase, most notably Highschooler Rap Championships.

Some brands and companies have jumped on the bandwagon, trying to capitalize this growing popularity of rap. There are numerous commercials and campaigns released in the past few years that either feature a rapper or try to get actors to rap. You’d be surprised by the wide range of products these rappers (or rapping actors) advertise - kicks, cup noodles, hair growth tonic, and even life insurance. I’m aware some purist fans may be against this trend, as it potentially undermines the culture’s rebellious tradition of opposing the corporation and mainstream. However, in the context of the Japanese rap scene, I do not think it’s such a bad thing. Let me explain.

First of all, some of the ads are just simply dope. The collaborative promo video by Reebok Classic and KANDYTOWN is not only well-made musically and visually, but also complements each other’s brand image perfectly.

And props to PUNPEE for successfully showcasing his skills in the span of 30 seconds.

If artists can take advantage of the hype and use corporations as a way to publicize their creative products in a dope manner, then why not?

Secondly, this could open the door to a new generation of hip-hop fans in Japan. Hip-hop in the country has never really seen the light of the day, rarely being picked up in the mainstream media. For much of the past few decades, the hip-hop scene here has been somewhat esoteric, with the majority of listeners being limited to hard core fans. Unlike in the US, there just haven’t been enough platforms for hip-hop to be heard. So, if these commercials can reach new audiences and turn some heads, it could lead to the growth of the industry.

Lastly, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that some of the bars featured in the ads are wack. I have to admit, some of the performances are embarrassingly bad, especially when actors attempt to rap as in the ad below.

Other ads, over-emphasize the commonly seen
stereotypes of hip-hop, as Nissin has done in its promotional video
for its iconic product cup noodle.

Being an artist myself, it’s difficult to
defend such commercials, but I believe even they serve a purpose.
Like I said, hip-hop is unfamiliar to a lot of people in Japan, which
means they likely cannot distinguish good rap from weak rap. As
hip-hop enters a new era in Japan, new listeners need to grow a taste
and standards need to be set, which is why I think even the wack
commercials are helping. I’m half joking here, but half serious
given the current status of the local scene.

Written by Atsu


g.o.a.t Hip Hop