Hip-Hop and Japanese animation have long had an intertwined history. Here, DJ AFOS (pronounced “ay-ef-oh-ess,” founder and programmer of the Internet radio station A Fistful of Soundtracks; he knows the score) and I take a specific look at the genre’s transnational relationship with anime in particular.
There have been many official pairings through scores and soundtracks (Samurai Champloo, featuring instrumental sages Fat Jon and the late Nujabes; Afro Samurai, which was musically envisioned by the RZA; and Tokyo Tribe, which was helmed by the King Of Diggin’, DJ Muro), but we’re looking at it from the other side: the fan’s side.
AMVs are fan-made anime music videos and are a tricky thing to get right as creators walk the fine line between being blasphemous to the anime, the music, or both. However, we’ve trawled the forums and intrepidly navigated the YouTubes to bring you some of the best, most symbiotic examples of the craft.
Speed Racer / Daytona 500 – Ghostface Killah featuring Cappadonna and Raekwon
DJ AFOS: In the late ’90s, that official “Daytona 500” video was, to borrow the words of Spock, the next step in the evolution of AMVs, after college student and anime fan Jim Kaposztas, who was inspired by The Prisoner‘s use of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” invented the AMV in 1982 by editing together on videotape a Star Blazers/Beatles mash-up, and then in 1991, power pop musician Matthew Sweet and music video director Roman Coppola introduced the AMV to MTV viewers with their official video for “Girlfriend.” The anonymous “Daytona 500” editor’s techniques of making Speed and his clan look as if they’re rapping and re-editing the action scenes to match the rhythm of the scratching are both still cleverer than anything in that live-action Speed Racer movie, and unlike that flick, they didn’t cost $120 million or £77 million to do. When you’re a rapper who’s always owing child support, of course you don’t have $120 mil. All you’ve got left is your anime VHS collection and a clever editor.
Sword of the Stranger / Samurai Champloo / The Countdown, Pt. 2 – The X-Ecutioners featuring Blue Man Group
DJ AFOS: The “Daytona 500” video is still dope, but now it looks like Pong compared to the Halo 4-level sophistication of suckafish80‘s 2009 AMV, where footage from 2007’s Sword of the Stranger and Samurai Champloo is mashed up with a pitch-perfect X-Ecutioners/Blue Man Group collabo. In his AMVs, suckafish does more than just marry footage to music. He chops up the footage and purées it. He takes AMVs to another level and amps up the speed of the edits to match scratching rhythms that are even wilder than the scratching during “Daytona 500,” using what I assume are Pioneer DVJ-1000 turntables and the Pioneer SVM-1000 mixer.
Japanese animation has advanced so much between the Speed Racer era and Sword of the Stranger, and as the Sword of the Stranger/Samurai Champloo/X-Ecutioners mash-up demonstrates, so has the editing in AMVs.
Hardeep: Absolutely one of my favourites on this list, the transition between the two animes is some masterful stuff.
Future Boy Conan / Break Ya Neck – Busta Rhymes
Hardeep: Busta Rhymes’ warp-speed, staccato-style rhyme cadence fits right at home amongst these choice visual cuts by BMA from Future Boy Conan, an anime that looks bonkers enough to inspire a circa ’99 Busta/Hype Williams music video (Williams heavily referenced the Holy Grail of anime, Akira (1988), directing the video to Kanye West’s 2007 song “Stronger”).
DJ AFOS: True. This Future Boy Conan AMV’s bananas. I think I like the AMV more than the actual “Break Ya Neck” video Williams dropped in 2001.
Ga-Rei: Zero / It’s Your Thing – Lou Donaldson / The Infamous Date Rape – A Tribe Called Quest
DJ AFOS: I have no idea what Ga-Rei: Zero is about, and I don’t think I’ll be watching it any time soon. But I’m amused by this 2012 AMV because Upgradem mixes and scratches Ga-Rei: Zero‘s slapsticky love scenes to a deep cut off The Low End Theory and that omnipresent Lou Donaldson cover of “It’s Your Thing” that was made famous by De La Soul’s “Bitties in the BK Lounge” and Brand Nubian’s “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down.” I just like any combination of Blue Note soul jazz instrumentals with animation. It creates a naughty Charlie Brown special vibe. More cartoons ought to be needle-dropped with Blue Note.
Afro Samurai / Vaudeville Villain – Viktor Vaughn
Hardeep: From the sepia-drenched intro, you can tell you’re in for a treat here. Complementing the feudal-superhero-Blaxploitation tale with the emcee who comes “right out of a comic book” (RIP Jim Kelly) himself was also a genius move by the AMV’s creator Photoshop_degenerate. This is Saturday morning for big kids to the core.
DJ AFOS: That sepia-tinted intro actually reprises the Vaudeville Villain album’s opening clip of the quasi-disco theme music from an early ’80s animated version of Spider-Man (simply entitled Spider-Man), so for 23 seconds, this video is also an Afro Samurai/Spidey mash-up (Hardeep: No way!). The ’80s Spidey instrumental works pretty well with the Afro Samurai footage, especially because of the titular character’s Afro.
“Vaudeville Villain” isn’t a bad choice for the soundtrack (because of sharp-as-a-Bushido-blade putdowns of lesser MCs like “For a buck, they’d likely dance the jig or do the Hucklebuck/To Vik, it’s no big deal—they’re just a buncha knuckle-fucks”), although I think “Vaudeville Villain” would be better paired with Fist of the North Star footage because of DOOM’s references to Hoktuo Shinken and Nanto Suichō Ken. (I had no idea what DOOM was referring to, until Rap Genius pointed out that Hoktuo Shinken and Nanto Suichō Ken are fighting styles from Fist of the North Star—good lookin’ out, Rap Genius). No one’s cobbled together a Fist of the North Star/”Vaudeville Villain” mash-up yet, and someone ought to.
Air Gear / Butter – A Tribe Called Quest
DJ AFOS: I also have no idea what Air Gear is about—I have to confess that after childhood, I pretty much lost interest in watching anime shows, and as an adult, the only anime show I became a fan of was Cowboy Bebop—but an AMV producer named Upgradem fills us in on the main character’s tastes in women, with the help of “Butter,” a showcase for Phife Dawg and one of Phife’s illest moments as a lyricist (it’s one of the few Quest tracks where Q-Tip doesn’t get a verse all to himself). Upgradem’s editing touches during this 2009 AMV are superb, from the montage of Air Gear love interests during “I had Tonya, Tamika, Sharon, Karen, Tina, Stacy, Julie, Tracy” to the insertions of Bell Biv DeVoe and Heavy D clips and even pages from the original Air Gear manga itself.
Hardeep: Great narrative-matching here, for sure. This approach reminds me of DJ Q-bert’s turntable-based musical Wave Twisters, the one where the animators created a movie in retrospect from the album.
DJ AFOS: Wave Twisters! I love that Wave Twisters robot in the Kangol hat because he reminds me of the Palomino ship’s robot from Disney’s The Black Hole. When Wave Twisters dropped on DVD, I interviewed both Syd Garon, one of the Wave Twisters animators, and Q-bert about the making of that movie for an unpublished article. The only thing I remember about that interview was asking them if they made the hero a dentist because a dentist’s drill sounds like the scratching of a turntablist, and they weren’t aware of the similarity. Those Thud Rumble instrumentals were born to be used in an AMV.
We’ve seen “Butter” merged with anime. Now some Star Trek head ought to take “I had Tonya, Tamika, Sharon, Karen, Tina, Stacy, Julie, Tracy” and place that and the rest of that verse over clips of Captain Kirk getting his swerve on.
(By the way, mashing up ’60s Star Trek footage with present-day music is mad difficult! When Psy’s “Gangnam Style” went viral last summer, I attempted to edit together a ’60s Star Trek/”Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”/”Gangnam Style” mash-up, using as many Trek dance scene clips as I could find. I gave up after editing together only 30 seconds of material. I called those 30 seconds “Star Trek Into Gangnam.”)
Hardeep: Here’s to hoping that’s the working title of his follow-up to the space themed Seeking Major Tom. I still think he should have tackled Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” on that. Abram’s Kirk seems to like them.
Spirited Away / Take You There – Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Hardeep: This short but sweet AMV is like a daydream into the fantastical mind of Hayao Miyazaki. Significantly less swaying rap arm movements by CL than the songs original video; thank you for that, dmangaka7.
DJ AFOS: It’s not a rap track, but I would have mashed the film up with “I Forgot My Name” by The Coral instead of “Take You There.” The Coral song’s chorus even says, “I can see through you,” which would be fitting due to all those transparent characters Chihiro encounters in that fucked-up hood straight out of a D12 acid trip. I guess the “Take You There” instrumental’s alright. The sample of “Risin’ to the Top,” Keni Burke’s sensuous chill-out classic, suits the idyllic dragon flight scenes, but I don’t think it works well with the rest of the film. Good thing that editor didn’t include CL’s verses because nothing from Spirited Away would have fit those lyrics.
Amazing Nuts! / Electric Relaxation – A Tribe Called Quest / Lyrics to Go – A Tribe Called Quest
DJ AFOS: Jim Kaposztas, the aforementioned inventor of the AMV, once told an interviewer that storytelling matters most to him when he’s evaluating the effectiveness of an AMV. For me, AMVs don’t always have to tell a story or lay out a linear narrative. Sometimes they just have to be edited terrifically, like when Upgradem from the Air Gear/”Butter” AMV took two classic Midnight Marauders tracks and mixed and scratched them to footage from the Amazing Nuts! series of animated shorts after the smooth sound of those two joints made him think of the artwork of Studio 4°C, which produced the Amazing Nuts! shorts.
The two shorts Upgradem pulled footage from are called “Global Astroliner” and “Kung Fu Love: Even If You Become the Enemy of the World.” I’ve never peeped this series. Its drawing style brings to mind Jamie Hewlett. The Hewlett style meshes well with ATCQ, which isn’t surprising due to Hewlett’s character design work for Gorillaz. The insertion of clips from the actual “Electric Relaxation” video is a plus too. However, I wish Upgradem flashed on the screen some more text of the “Electric Relaxation” chorus like he did with some of the bars from “Butter,” so that people are made aware that it’s “Relax yourself, girl, please settle down,” not “Relax yourself, girl, piece of clam.”
Golden Boy / Bonita Applebum – A Tribe Called Quest
Hardeep: Never seen Golden Boy, but… [Googles it] …I’ll take this AMV as a pretty solid synopsis. The hormone-fuelled pursuit of the geometrically pleasing really goes well with this example of the unashamedly hyper-sexualised portrayal of females in anime.
DJ AFOS: Yo, someone in Japan made an animated version of Loverboy starring Patrick Dempsey! Ain’t nothin’ wrong with eye candy, but I outgrew this type of Benny Hill rom-com anime years ago. Cowboy Bebop looks like a Terrence Malick film compared to the Golden Boy OVA (original video animation). The best element of this 2008 AMV, which was made by knight_rhythm, is the choice of clips whenever the “Bonita Applebum” sitar sample pops up, like the clip of Patrick Dempsey shifting his eyes or the jiggle footage. “Bonita Applebum,” the classiest of romantic rap tracks, actually classes up Golden Boy a bit. ATCQ ballads and rom-com anime shows just mesh so well.
Hardeep: Haha – right. Something more comically base such as Ghostface’s “But you sexy mutha DAMN! what’s the recipe?/ You make a n***a wanna GOD DAMN!/ Can you cook darlin’? At the stove you’re revolvin’/ Bake macaroni, turkey wings, a n***a starvin’!” would probably have matched the tone of Dempsey’s game here.
Dragon Ball GT / Rigamortis – Kendrick Lamar
DJ AFOS: I was scoping YouTube for any possible AMVs with Big Sean’s “Control,” which features some modest guest verse by an obscure Compton MC named Kendrick Lamar, and I stumbled into a killer AMV of Dragon Ball GT footage that a YouTuber named Lawwww edited to Kendrick’s fantastic “Rigamortis.” Peep the split-second insert of Laurence Fishburne’s face when K.Dot name-drops Morpheus and the split-second insert of Marilyn Manson’s face superimposed over Goku’s face at one point later on. They’re among several amusing touches in the “Rigamortis” AMV, along with the shots of defeated combatants that Lawwww chose for Kendrick’s “He dead” refrain.
All I know about the Dragon Ball franchise is that its hero is named Goku and it was made into a whitewashed live-action movie that Chow Yun-Fat ought to have stricken from his filmography. This AMV schooled me a little bit about Dragon Ball. What I learned during the AMV is that the animators who made Dragon Ball were on mescaline.
Samurai Champloo / Battle – Gang Starr
DJ AFOS: An older AMV from suckafish80 that he posted back in 2006, this video isn’t as mind-blowing as the later Champloo AMV suckafish80 made with an X-Ecutioners track, but it has a few clever bits of editing, like the insertion of a clip of Champloo anti-hero Mugen knocking back a shot of sake when Guru says he used to guzzle 40s. Gang Starr was a fitting choice for a Champloo AMV because show director Shinichirō Watanabe also directed Cowboy Bebop, which modeled much of its score music and DVD artwork after Blue Note albums, much like how Guru worshiped Blue Note artists and DJ Premier sometimes sampled the work of those artists.
Cowboy Bebop couldn’t quite make room for Gang Starr on its crowded soundtrack full of original Yoko Kanno music, and Champloo couldn’t quite squeeze in a track by an act like them either because of the terrific work of Nujabes and Fat Jon, so this AMV is like a tantalizing peek into an alternate universe where Watanabe cartoons got soundtracked by the likes of Gang Starr. In fact, all these AMVs are like that: interesting glimpses into what anime shows would be like if they were less reliant on original score music and they all recruited Boondocks music supervisor Derryck “Big Tank” Thornton to pick out the soundtrack.
For this 2006 AMV, suckafish80 chose “Battle,” a cut Gang Starr contributed to the first of two 8 Mile soundtrack albums. However, “Battle” doesn’t appear in the 8 Mile movie, so it’s one of those “Inspired by the Movie” cuts that are part of “Music from and Inspired by” soundtrack albums. I often hate those tracks. Why the hell is it on the soundtrack album if it’s not included in the movie? But “Battle” is a solid later cut from a duo whom we’ll sadly never get to hear new material from again.
Sword of the Stranger / Cowboy Bebop: The Movie / Neon Genesis Evangelion / I Can’t Help It – The Roots featuring Malik B, Porn, Mercedes Martinez & Dice Raw
DJ AFOS: Speaking of Bebop, such a great show deserves better-made hip-hop AMVs from its fans, and this AMV—not surprisingly another video by suckafish80—is one of the few Bebop/hip-hop hybrids I’ve found to be effective, although the footage is from the 2001 Bebop feature film, not the show. This AMV of “I Can’t Help It” is bookended with footage from Sword of the Stranger and Neon Genesis Evangelion respectively, but the middle Bebop section is the best part because, again, it’s like a glimpse into an alternate reality where Bebop was scored by the Roots.
The Philly crew’s organic approach to music and Questlove’s vast knowledge of music history, which he expresses when he references artists from other genres or musically demonstrates how much of hip-hop is rooted—no pun intended—in jazz, are similar to Kanno and the Seatbelts’ approach to the music they wrote and performed for Bebop. After reading Questlove’s recollections in his Mo’ Meta Blues book of all the many different artists who dropped by his South Philly living room in the late ’90s to perform with his band (“It was a madhouse. People were milling around outside, waking up the neighbors, playing loud music until all hours”), I imagine that’s how a lot of Seatbelts jam sessions went down too.
Kanno and that big band of hers crammed so many different genres into their Bebop score music—ooh, look, it’s an Arabian instrumental, and now there’s a Dixieland number—that it’s difficult to categorize their specific sound for that franchise, much like how the Roots can sometimes be difficult to categorize too. That makes the Roots the perfect band to score Bebop in an odd alternate universe where Kanno didn’t become part of Bebop and the show wasn’t made until the Roots became the big-name act they are now and a band everyone—whether it’s Jimmy Fallon, John Legend, Elvis Costello or Shinichirō Watanabe—wants to collab with.
My favorite bit of editing by suckafish80 in this AMV takes place when the music behind Black Thought pauses to give the words “N***a, I can’t help it” more impact, and suckafish80 inserts a clip of Vincent, the Barry Gibb lookalike who terrorizes the Martian capital of Alba City in the Bebop feature film, triggering one of his bombs. The ensuing explosion syncs perfectly with whatever Questlove does with his sticks to disrupt the pause (I’m not a drummer, so I can’t describe it in drummer terms).
Lupin the Third / Fat Pockets (Radio Remix) – Showbiz & A.G.
DJ AFOS: Here’s one more dope AMV by Upgradem. With the help of Virtual DJ software, he mixed and scratched footage of gentleman thief Arsène Lupin III at his money-grabbiest to the radio edit of Showbiz & A.G.’s “Fat Pockets,” a single that compensated for the loss of curse words by flipping an extremely brassy cover of Dennis Coffey’s classic “Scorpio” break, an additional touch that automatically made the radio edit superior to the album version. That “Scorpio” horns sample is ideal for really old-looking but still-entertaining footage from Lupin, which spawned last year’s Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, a 13-episode prequel/reboot that just recently hit Blu-ray in America and is now on Blu-ray in your home turf, Hardeep. Speaking of Fujiko, she turns up briefly in the AMV and is fully clothed, unlike in most of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, a show that’s sort of like if someone took the artsy-fartsy, bisexual eroticism and full frontal nudity of Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale and grafted them onto Lupin.
Meanwhile, Upgradem grafted “Fat Pockets” onto Lupin, and the result is like a great Adult Swim promo Adult Swim never made (Hardeep: Couldn’t have put it better myself). The best part is a clip of Arsène that Upgradem flipped so that it looks like he’s scratching. I like how Upgradem doesn’t use the entire song like other AMV producers do and uses only fragments of songs to scratch them together with the footage and go buckwild. It’s a very hip-hop approach to AMVs.
Samurai Champloo / Pac Blood – Danny Brown
DJ AFOS: Here’s one more AMV containing Champloo footage. This time, it’s the show’s opening titles, and Jonathan Alexander replaced Nujabes’ “Battlecry” with Danny Brown boasting about his lyrical prowess in profane and dead-rap-icon-blood-borrowing ways (“Rhymes so real, thought I wrote it in ‘Pac blood”).
I’m surprised at how well the combo works, despite the absence of samurai analogies in “Pac Blood.” Instead, Gandhi, the Pope, the Virgin Mary, Sarah Palin and Bishop T.D. Jakes are the figures Danny Brown references and jokes about corrupting or causing to be even more corrupt than they already are. On second thought, the way Danny Brown (whose name, by the way, has to always be uttered or typed out in full, like Charlie Brown or every time Tracy Jordan addresses Liz as “Liz Lemon,” or else it looks weird) verbally cuts down the Pope and Palin in “Pac Blood” is akin to Mugen’s dexterity with a sword in Champloo.
Janelle Monáe has great anime hair, and so does Danny Brown. He looks like he stepped out of a Watanabe anime. If he winds up in the rapper retirement home about a half a century from now, he’ll look more like Stinkmeaner from The Boondocks.
Redline / Daytona 500 – Ghostface Killah featuring Cappadonna and Raekwon
Hardeep: The list comes full circle with this AMV by brooklyn560. I know animators who watched Redline with a constant boner because of the retina-scorching vibrancy of its visuals. Splice this with the scratch-heavy “Daytona 500” and you have the perfect graduation from the original Speed Racer AMV; showcasing the modern-day editing capabilities of fans, and the legacy that continues from the original.
DJ AFOS: I hipped you to that Redline AMV, Hardeep. I’m actually not familiar with Redline, which you’ve watched in its entirety (while I haven’t done so), but I first learned about the movie while working on reviews of episodes of the visually stunning American animated show Motorcity, and I wrote about how much I dug an action sequence in which a Motorcity gangster’s giant tank fired stretch limos from its cannons instead of shells. I said, “What other show has done that?,” and a commenter replied by posting about Redline, which he said contains a sequence where race cars shoot out of a giant spaceship. So when I finally got to watch some Redline footage when I stumbled into brooklyn560’s AMV, I thought, “Wow, Motorcity was mad influenced by this movie.”
One of my favorite Ghostface joints, the fast-paced “Daytona 500” suits any car-racing anime, whether it’s the movie that influenced the Motorcity animators or the ’60s Speed Racer. I especially like brooklyn560’s insertion of a shot of a Mafioso holding up a paycheck when Cappadonna bursts in with “Give me the 50 thou small bills.” I also like how brooklyn560 misspelled Ghostface’s name as “Ghostfaced Killah.” It makes him sound like he’s an open-faced golf club brand marketed to the hip-hop community.
There it is; some of our favourite examples of the AMV culture. Shout out to the stinging eyes of all the editors who put in the hours of work to craft these. We’ve tried our best to hunt down the original uploads, but if shit doesn’t correlate then credit to the OG’s where its due. Let us know what you think to the above, and if you feel any AMVs were overlooked.