The Good, The Bad, the WTF: Asian Culture in Hip-Hop and R&B Videos

8.2.12 ShaSha LaPerf 10 Comments

So I've already touched a bit on how some Asians treated blacks and black culture. We've seen a bit of everything from blackface to admiration. And we all remember Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku girls debacle. But one thing that hasn't been talked about much is how blacks themselves aren't so innocent when it comes to appropriating the culture of others. Blacks have admired Asian culture for some time, and haven't been ashamed to make references to it in the media. Just think about movies like The Last Dragon or Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. But this also stems to music and music videos as well, much beyond the WuTang Clan. While some video have turned the use of Asian culture into something cool, some other ones have made a hot mess of it. So let's take a lot at a few videos.

The Good:
Kanye West - "Stronger" (2007)
Yep, I'm starting off with the guy we all love to hate, Kanye West. Back in Graduation days, he released "Stronger," which sampled Daft Punk. Although I'm pretty indifferent to the song, I was a bit surprised when I saw the video for it.

What Makes This Video Good:
The video works for several reasons. Kanye put a lot of thought into this video. Although this video borrows from Japanese culture and is on the flashy side, it's still not as over the top as some of the other videos I watched. For one, this video doesn't try to touch on everything cool and fun in Japan, but pays homage to one particular thing: The movie Akira. Ironically this video is probably a better homage to the movie then the planned American remake.

This video was actually filmed in Japan. It's not a cheap computer generated set; those are real streets in Tokyo and real Japanese people. The bike gang (which according to Wiki is a real Japanese bike gang), and the hospital scenes is where Akira comes in. Kanye also employed Cassie Ventura, who is blasian, to be a part of the video, but I'm not sure of it was a conscious decision or not.

Where as Gwen Stefani thought it was a good idea to show her love for Japanese things by being followed around by four silent Japanese girls, Kanye showed it a different way. His Graduation album covers were created by artist Takashi Murakami . Furthermore he also released a single with Japanese hip-hop group, The Teriyaki Boyz-- yes that really is the video for that song. So for all his faults and dumbassness, I still have to commend Kanye for this video.

The Okay:
Nicki Minaj - "Your Love" (2010)
The self-proclaimed "Harajuku Barbie" (does she still call herself that) showed off her love for Japan with this video.

Why This Video is Okay:
Yes, that is Micheal Jai White and it's okay to ogle him too.

Fan service.
Interestingly this video doesn't bug me as much as it could have. This video seems to have one cohesive story and the use of Japanese things make a bit more sense here. Rather than going with "cool wacky futurisic Japan" we have "kinda-sorta historical Japan." Historical Japan is still pretty cliche, it's still something we don't see to often in hip-hop videos. I rolled my eyes at Michael Jai White being a samurai, but the man is a martial artist, so I was cool with him being a teacher. The Japanese things were a bit more subtle like the little bridge. I really liked the use of color in the video as well. What bothers me the most is this line:
When I was a Geisha he was a Samurai
Somehow I understood him when he spoke Thai


Mariah Carey - "Oh Boy (I Need You)" ft. Cam'Ron (2002)
Who doesn't love Mariah "I always need the wind blowing my hair" Carey. For her Charmbracelet album, she released "Oh Boy" which sampled the song "Oh Boy" by Cam'Ron which sampled the song "I'm Going Down" by Rose Royce.

Why This Video is Okay:
Three words: Will Yun Lee. Please ogle.


That's pretty much the only reason why. This is the only video on this post that features an Asian man and he's being a badass. At the same time however it's also a bit stereotypical to have an Asian badass.'s Will Yun Lee.

What bring down the video is the things that don't have anything to do with Lee's story line (though I did give side eye to a Korean playing a yakuza character, but whatever). But this video seems to have a bunch of stories happening. There's Mariah inexplicably being chased by and Asian girl, then Godzilla attacking "Tokyo."

What. The. Fuck.

Of course we can't have anything related to Japan without random Japanese all over the place as well as the anime and video game look thrown in there. Yeah, this was more of the "we need to throw some Japanese shit in this video" and also feels a bit cheap.

The Bad:
Nicki Minaj - "Check It Out" ft. (2010)
The Harajuku Barbie strikes again! Not long after releasing "Your Love" she released the more upbeat "Check It Out," using a sample from Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles.

Why This Video is Bad:
Where as the "Your Love" video had some good points to it, this one is all types of fail. First off, the video is supposed to be a homage to anime. Then why the first are they using Korean language!? Fail.  

I'm completely confused as how this relates to anime at all. The only reference I could see potentially is Nicki Minaj's outfit. It reminded me of outfits from the anime Evangelion, but that's about it. There are a lot of Asians in the video but they don't seem to be doing anything but...being Asian. And please go back to your "It's a New Day" and "Yes We Can" days. PLEASE!!!

The Ugly:
Travie McCoy - "Need You" (2010)
Travie McCoy is the front of the group Gym Class Heroes. Last year he released a solo album. Most people may remember his song "Billionaire" which featured Bruno Mars. But Travie also released this generic little song.

Why This Video is Ugly:
Where as many of the other artists chose to go for Japan, Travie decided to bas his video off China...or maybe one of the Chinatowns located in the US. This isn't the ugly this. The problem here is like Travie wanted to shove every recognizable Chinese thing into 3 and a half minutes. We have:

- A Chinese acrobat
- A dragon
- His outfit, with chopsticks
- Lanterns
- Rice hat
- A kinda-sorta pagoda looking building
- The obligatory Asian girl

And none of these things really have anything to do with each other outside of being cool Chinese shit in a video. And can we get any more cliche with rain. Anyway, there seems to be some sort of a story between Travie and the girl but it's completely bogged down by the other random shit that's going on. If you did a drinking game off this video, you'd be totally wasted.

R.Kelly - "Thia Thoing" (2003)
I'm not a fan of R.Kelly. I think it has to do with him marriage a an under-aged Aaliyah and later peeing on another teenager. Anyway, he unleashed "Thia Thoing" on the world in 2003.

Why This Video is Ugly:
R. Kelly managed to beat both Mariah and Travie when it comes to shoving Asian shit into a video. We've got:

- Half-naked Asian (and blasian?) girls
- kinda-sorta geisha
- Japanese text
- a dojo
- ninja
- sake
- kinda-sorta kimono
- nunchaku
- samurai
- A fuckin "rising sun"
- Half-naked girl playig a flute?

If a drinking game to Travie McCoy's video would get you wasted, you would die from alcohol poisoning on this one. I'm surprised there wasn't any anime jammed into this one here. I'm not bothered by the lack of a storyline in this video. With that silly ass "Trapped in the Closet" story, I'm fine with R Kelly, not having them here. But there's just too much stuff going on in here. A fashion show, a party, ninjas? It's just a bunch of scenes jumbled together. Here the Asian guy is literally a prop in the background. The only positive thing I can say about this video is that even though there are half-naked women he does have does that are doing more than just shaking their asses and some of them are darker skinned. But I couldn't help but wonder if this is where Sonya Tayeh from So You Think You Can Dance got her "geisha dance" idea from for last season.

There's nothing wrong with music artists that have an interesting in Asian culture, but it would be nice if the use of said culture in videos wasn't always so lazy. It's funny how blacks and Asians borrow from each other, yet really have little interaction with each other. Let's see some of that in these videos!


  1. Have you seen Jay Park's new video? He actually has a black girl as his lead and it is a very nice video. :)

    1. I heard about Jay Park's new video but didn't actually watch it until yesterday. LOL I get so distracted with cat videos on YouTube! Anyway it's great that he had a black dancer, but I'll be more excited when he gets to Monsieur Nov's level of using black women in videos, LOL.

  2. Great topic.

    I read a book( I once mentioned it on Blasiannarrative) about an African-American man( The late Phillipe Wamba. Sure hate that he died. I was looking to reading his second book)) who talked about living as such in both of his parents homelands. Not only did I get learn about his cultural experiences,but there was something else he mentioned that I didn't know when it came to one of Michael Jackson's songs. In his Liberian Girl song, the woman who sung the non-english part of the song was supposed to be singing in Liberian text,but according to the author, he said the language she was singing wasn't native to Liberia but in Kiswahili/Swahili, languages more native to countries like Kenya or Tanzania( I think, don't want to lie on the man).I was surprised,but then not surprised. He lived in Tanzania since most of his childhood and he knew the language right off the bat. Now, I know some Liberians who can speak in the native tongue or another language,but most of the ones I come across speak English. As a person who don't know these language, I was clueless about it and probably many others who may not be aware of it.

    Depending on who song it is, the use of ones cultural background can enhance their music,but we ignore the understanding of it. I've come across some Nigerian guy who may be named for example Blessing. To some Americans , it may sound like an odd name to give their children,but in their native lands it have meaning behind it, or you mentioned about the samurai. To Americans..especially children, they are some fighters coming from anime cartoons,but it's far more than that more than what is being portrayed and seen on TV.

    Black people get upset about them improperly mimicking them and Asians complaining the same about us. This is why we should, like you said, have more interaction with each other. As a Black woman sometimes I get uncomfortable with some non-Black people and even Black people portraying what Black culture is because it most times comes off a stereoptypical( ie rap culture), empty and of no cultural value. I also can get why Asians get upset when we or other cultures may mimick their culture because it has a lot of meaning that a non-Asian would never know. The last thing these singers probably want to be portrayed as is as people who is disrespecting each others cultures.

    1. Thanks for the tidbit about Liberian Girl. I like that song a lot and it doesn't get the play it should I think.

      It's a bit funny that blacks and Asians have such shallow ides about each other, and does feel like they're basing things off something they saw on TV. It's like they're like, "oh yeah anime is cool now let's make an anime video" or "oh yeah Kanye had this car in his video let's do that too." And I'm also conflicted about the lack of blacks and Asians in each other's videos. On the one hand, when Asians make a hip-hop video I would like to see them use black people, but at the same time, I don't want them pandering to us as well. Likewise with blacks, some of them did use Asians, but they were just...there. I would like to see a better blending if the two groups decide to take elements from each other's culture, but honestly I can't think of better ways to do so.

  3. I'm curious to know your take on Janet Jackson's "If you were my lover" video. It's full of Asian (mostly Chinese) imagery.

    1. I had forgotten about the If video and had to look it up (LOL after wading through cat videos). When you mentioned Janet, it also reminded me of her "Doesn't Really Matter" video which was also supposed to be "anime" inspired.

      As for "If" I'd say that goes into the "okay" category. It has a Chinese theme to it, but it felt like she was performing at a speak easy or something. I liked the fact that she has Asian men and women and they're both being portrayed as sexual people, but some of the clothing and hair choices may be a bit over the top. It's better than her "Doesn't really matter" video is a strange cross between the Nicki Minaj "Check It Out" and Mariah's "Oh Boy" video though. Makes much less sense.

    2. Yeah, I found "Doesn't really matter" to be more futuristic themed than anything else. It was only in the last 20 seconds of the video that you realize that the setting is supposed to be Asia.

  4. Have you seen "Roll Call" with Lil Jon and Ice-Cube? Will Yun Lee is in it. Tamala Jones plays his love interest. Lil John is a boiling hot mess, but I thought I'd mention it.

    I love your blog by the way!

    1. I think I remember that video. Didn't it have something to do with a gang I'm blanking out on it. I'm too scared to look at the video though for fears of being assaulted by Lil Jon's YEAHs! and OKAYs! On a random note, I can't even think of Lil Jon without thinking about Dave Chappelle, LOL.

  5. Enjoyed this post. You have a new reader, thanks.