MOBIUS Maintenance

MOBIUS borrowing and lending services are temporarily suspended. Learn more.

Lighted shrines in the night
Back to All News

Capturing Hip-Hop Music Influence from Tokyo to Seoul

My adventure around the world began on September 20, 2023, and I will admit I was a little nervous. I had an early morning flight from Saint Louis to Washington D.C. that was scheduled to arrive in Tokyo, Japan, thirteen hours later. I may have slept an hour on the flight. Once I arrived in Japan, I was able to navigate the massive airport and make my way to my hotel via the train.

I spent four days mainly in Tokyo and then traveled to Seoul, South Korea for four days. After visiting Seoul, I returned to Japan to finish my trip. During my stay in each country, I visited several hip-hop-themed nightclubs/bars. I was barred from entering a few nightclubs in Seoul due to my mature age. This was per the bouncer at the door wearing the panda bear onesie. Seriously, a true story.

Lit up sign for a music bar
An amazing atmosphere with hip-hop karaoke and old school jams.

I visited several establishments, including:

Japan (Shibuya City and Shinjuku City)

–Family Hip Hop Club

–DJ Bar Bridge

–DJ Bar & Lounge WREP

–Music Bar LG

Korea (Mapo City)

–Noise Basement Club

–Hood Bar

–Club Madholic

American hip-hop music has exceeded cultural boundaries and gained a prominent position in Japan and Korea. The undeniable effect of American hip-hop on Asian culture has helped shape music, fashion, dance, and creative expression.

A neon sign for a nightclub
A bar in Mapo city, South Korea with bass pounding hip-hop and great DJs.

Hip-hop fashion is everywhere. Club-goers were decked out in the latest trendy high-end gear. I saw everything from Kangols, old school ruby shirts, to Biggie and Tupac airbrushed shirts.  Hip-hop slang was incorporated into general conversation. In return, hip-hop fashion in America has incorporated Asian pop culture, anime, and musical Manga. I observed a few of the locals in Japan sporting Dirty South fashion dental grills, dreads, and even Afros. Traditional clothing and urban streetwear were blended. This fusion has not only influenced the clothing choices of artists but also shaped the overall aesthetics of music videos. The influence of American hip-hop on Asian culture has cultivated a sense of community and identity among Asian hip-hop junkies.

Man outside a night club
Outside the Hood Bar which had an age limit.

The atmospheres in the nightclubs were similar to those in America. The music was loud and bass-heavy, and you could feel the energy from the audience. Tight cramped basement clubs filled with cigarette smoke and flashing lights. Sometimes the lines to enter were 20-30 people deep. It reminded me of the basement house parties from my youth. I watched the DJs use the turn tables like a snake charmer uses a flute to control the crowd. The audience would chant to the hooks and later rap 16 bars.

Hip-hop 101: A verse usually contains 16 bars, a hook might have 8 bars, and the total bars in a song can vary significantly depending on the song’s length and structure.

Hip-hop music’s infectious beats and spirited rhythms have accelerated the growth of urban dance movements across Asian countries. Hip-hop dance moves are seen in K-pop and J-rap videos all around the world. Asian dancers have incorporated hip-hop’s energetic choreography as a means of personal expression.

Asian hip-hop artists and DJs are sharing their experiences and platforms to the world through social media and web-based videos. American hip-hop and Asian hip-hop confront social injustice issues and racism. Hip-hop music is speaking and the world is listening.

A group of people smiling for the camera
Hip-hop junkies worldwide. Music speaks to everyone!

The Japanese and Korean Hip-Hop clubs were very welcoming and friendly and promoted an environment where talent and networks could grow. I also learned from several of the locals I spoke with that they were first introduced to R&B and hip-hop music by their parents.

I will never forget my time in Japan and Korea. The cities were rich in cultural heritage. There was a mixture of modern architectural design with traditional ancient sites everywhere. These cities never slept. The greenery and bamboo forests of Kyoto were stunning. Seeing the landscape change at 173 mph on the bullet train was unreal.

Everyone was friendly and super helpful as I navigated their cities. Google Maps was my plus-one in Japan. Naver Map was my roomie in Korea. I was averaging about 20,000 steps a day, which helped me burn off the amazingly delicious treats and food I ate every day. Their hospitality and warmth toward travelers were top-notch. I never felt out of place or unwelcome.

Hip-hop has made me a world traveler. This was a great experience as 2023 marks the 50th Anniversary of hip-hop. I will close out my adventure with one of my favorite hip-hop verses:

Inspectah Deck on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph” (Verse 1)

I bomb atomically, Socrates’ philosophies and hypotheses
Can’t define how I be droppin’ these mockeries
Lyrically perform armed robbery
Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me
Battle-scarred Shogun, explosion when my pen hits tremendous
Ultra-violet shine blind forensics
I inspect view through the future see millennium
Killa Beez sold fifty gold, sixty platinum
Shackling the masses with drastic rap tactics
Graphic displays melt the steel like blacksmiths

Headshot of a man with trees and buildings in the background.

About the Author

Antonio Hubbard
Job Title
Lieutenant in the Washington University Police Department