Bratty Otaku vs. Soulja Boy: No, This Isn't A MC Battle
I’m going to lead this off by saying the following:
- I don’t like Soulja Boy as an MC. However, he wasn’t in the wrong on this. He did what every other rapper who makes mixtapes does, just with something besides the backing music, and with something outside of the mainstream HipHop milieu.
- The site that I’m not going to name because it’s past toonzone’s PG rules may be famed for it’s questionable journalism and serious bias, but I respect their love of free speech and their occasional serious article. They normally do a decent job considering they are the otaku version of FHM or Maxim mixed with the National Enquirer.
Anyway, so Soulja Boy recently released a mediocre mixtape with a Death Note theme, and a somewhat Death Note-inspired backing track. This should be news for one reason, and one reason only: a multi-platinum rapper with a reputation of being the most lowest common denominator MC on Earth decided to let his nerd flag fly and do a mixtape themed off an anime. That’s it.
However, instead of finding Soulja Boy’s co-option of culture an interesting and positive moment for anime’s penetration into the mainstream, one major otaku culture site seems to feel this is a case of theft and misappropriation. I can understand why they might come to that conclusion, but this wasn’t Nick Simmons part two. In the mixtape context, especially with the direct references to Death Note, it seems clear that it was an homage to something he probably really enjoys. After all, Soulja Boy has said that he wanted to be a flash animator and a game designer when he was younger. Is it that much of a stretch to think he was an otaku? He was right in Toonami’s target demographic growing up, and with all the other rappers who dig anime (more on that later) it hardly seems like a stretch.
Besides, mixtapes are all about MCs grabbing other people’s tracks, and in a best case scene scenario, laying an amazing flow over the top. (In the worst case, they ruin a perfectly good beat, so much so even the original track is now tainted.) This has been the case with mixtapes for decades. A lot of MCs build their reputation with these tapes, and if they prove their skill with other people’s beats (and have some other connections,) they may go on to sign a record deal and make a real album. After that, the mixtape is a perfect promotional tool because while the album may be homogenized by their record label, the mixtape is often a pure expression of skill. It’s no-holds-barred HipHop, and that builds street cred. Given those elements of what mixtapes are about, it should be considered pretty interesting that an MC as well-known as Soulja Boy would pick a niche property from a from a niche medium as a theme for his mixtape.
For something that’s meant to build hype, an obscure anime seems like a poor choice, unless he really likes Death Note, and like I said, the mixtape is the place where signed artists have direct self-expression.
Additionally, I used that “well-known” qualifier quite intentionally. This is because it’s really only newsworthy since Soulja Boy did it, and did it quite obviously. As alluded to earlier, tons of lesser-known MCs have done anime-themed mixtapes, and one-shot anime references have turned up all over commercial HipHop. In the mainstream, Lupe Fiasco raps about giant robots and Lupin the 3rd, GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan compares his group to Voltron, and KanYe West’s “Stronger” music video visually nods Akira. In the underground, it quickly outstrips easy enumeration: from Backpacker rappers like Del the Funky Homosapien referencing Outlaw Star, to Nerdcore rappers like Maja doing whole mixtapes about Bleach, underground rap has tons of history with anime.
In fact, that’s part of why it’s clear Soulja Boy did a bad job with the mixtape – other rappers have done it way better. For example, Random, an MC based out of Pheonix, did a MegaMan-themed mixtape that sampled the music from said games. Capcom USA liked the end result so much they negotiated with Capcom Japan to make it an officially licensed product. I’ll even go so far to say that it isn’t the act of co-opting Death Note that’s worthy of complaint, it’s act of doing a mediocre job with it.
That said though, it should be considered a positive thing that MCs of all stripes are taking note of anime. Word of mouth and over-all exposure for anime and manga aren’t what they were half a decade ago, and if people check out Death Note because Soulja Boy referenced it, that’s a net-positive for the medium. Besides, if Soulja Boy is the anime fan he would seem to be from this act, maybe he could have a much more direct effect on the industry…
…maybe he can buy FUNimation off Navarre.