- Phrasing in “Shell-Shocked” by Cream, Jazee Minor and Takuma the Great (Juicy J Cover)
チェケラッチョー！ (Yes, that’s actually how you say “check it out, y’all” in katakana).
Hip-hop of one form or another is by far my favorite type of music. I won’t waste your time here going into a full history — that’s what books like Hip-Hop Family Tree are for.
Japanese rap history goes as far back as the late 1980s (recorded rap music itself is regarded as having started in 1979 with the Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, but there were obviously precursors in New York’s street scene and precursors to that with something called “toasting” that came over from night clubs (“discotheques”) in Jamaica, so 1…).
EAST END×YURI’s “DA.YO.NE” was the first real domestic rap hit in Japan. That was the early 1990s. It’s been long enough now that Japanese hip-hop has accumulated some legends, established some traditions, and had its ups and downs 2. Things have definitely been looking up, though, since Aklo’s Red Pill came out and basically single-handedly KILL-la-KILLed the industry, giving it a booster shot that turned into a tide that’s raised all the ships in the harbour and I don’t actually know what I’m talking about when I use maritime metaphors but I’m going to keep doing it anyhow.
That’s a lot of intro just to tell you about one rap lyric that I really liked. It’s from a Japanese cover of the Juicy J song “Shell-Shocked” (which, I am only just now finding out, was on the soundtrack of the Megan Fox TMNT film, which explains all the references to ninjas and cowabungas; all this time, I was under the mistaken impression that the Japanese coverers (Cream, Jazee Minor and Takuma the Great) were just bilingual 90s kids who were parodying perceptions (their own and other people’s) of Japaneseness.
‘Guess I was wrong, innit? Inside all of us is a little English professor who reads way too much into everything. Mine seems to have taken over bigly.
Now, often, when English language songs get translated too literally into Japanese, you get this sort of overwrought Indo-European phrasing intruding on a relatively terse language. So you get too many words crammed into too little space. The classic example of this is the Japanese version of the My Favorite Things from The Sound of Surgery Destroying Julie Andrews’ Voice 3, where it’s all:
In this version here ([(314) The Sound of Music – My Favorite Things (Japanese) – YouTube]), they actually go “みんな大好き マイ フェイヴォリット シングス”, which is stupid for different reasons. People like M-Flo (“I get around like 寿司 on a 回転”) manage to pull off code-switching with style and verve, that is, in a way that doesn’t unintentionally induce laughter or derision; this “みんな大好き マイ フェイヴォリット シングス” business, on the other hand, just feels like lazy translation.
By the way, many Hollywood films, perhaps due to licensing issues, actually have multiple Japanese dub and subtitle versions (one for TV, another for theatrical release, yet another for VHS/DVD 4). So, even though this isn’t the そーれが私ぃの好きなー事おおおおおおおおお！ version of The Sound of Music, don’t mean that it don’t exist lol.
Anyhoo, back to the Shell Shocked cover by Cream, Jazee Minor and Takuma the Great; here is the lyric that got me smiling, laughing and singing along:
- “ねぇセンセー 、お願い、教えて、僕らだけ何で普通じゃない
- んですか？センセー 、お願い、教えて、勝つのは誰？ 兎と亀”
- “Sensei, please tell me! Why are me and my crew are so abnormally awesome?
- Sensei, please tell me! Who will win, the hare or the tortoise one?”
Believe it or not, I am not very good at expressing myself verbally, and don’t know any music jargon, so it’s hard for me to explain why I like this part of this song so much. Suffice it to say that it works not despite but because of the phrasing, which, like the rhyme scheme, is pleasingly intricate; I love how he slips that dangling んですか in there. This isn’t some old school Beastie Boy stuff 5; this is post-Rakimian 6, high-quality noise.
There are other really cool parts of this song. The constant ninja references. The “TOE-KEE-YOOOO, 摩天楼 (まてんろう）! I kill it!”. But more on those some other time. Maybe. I dunno. Whatever.
Here’s a pertinent question — where on Buddha’s blue Earth can you even find this cover song we’ve been talking about for so many paragraphs? I’m glad you asked. The answer to that question is…it used to live on YouTube but I can’t find it there any more — perhaps due to a takedown request? So, just for you, and just for educational and review purposes, I’ve gone ahead and uploaded an mp3 of it right here:
As Strong Bad of Homestar Runner might say — don’t say I never did nuffin for da peoples. Speaking of which, Rip Slyme, easily the GOATs of Japanese hip-hop, actually have an officially sanctioned Japanese version of “Shell-Shocked”(「内緒でお願いします」). So, clearly, it’s a great time to be alive. Now I’m left wondering whether there’s something about Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J songs that screams “please create covers and localized versions of me worldwide”; I refer of course to the almost surreal global response to “Black and Yellow”. Good times. Anyway, more later!
- Thomas Edison didn’t “invent” the lightbulb but we’re just going to say he did anyway because it makes life easier or whatever ↩
- Industry insiders (one an actual professional musician, the other just a guy who really knows his rap) have informed me that the late aughts were something of a drought period, so definitely a “down time”) ↩
- see what I did there? ↩
- the theatrical release version tends to be the worst, partly because it’s produced in a hurry, and partly because a small but vocal subset of Japanese moviegoers are semi-literates who can’t read full sentences fast enough, but mostly because TODA Natsuko seems to go out of her way to wring all the flavor and humor out of every translation she does ↩
- I love the Beastie Boys, despite their refusal to update their STYLE which although it makes me SMILE, keeps on going mile after MILE, rhyming it on every LINE, stretching out just like a VINE, I’m not trying to take the PISS, but there’re more ways to rap than THIS ↩
- [(314) Rakim – Guess Who’s Back (Official Video) – YouTube] ↩