How Anime & Japanese Culture Affect Christian Rap Music & Artwork
Over recent years, anime has become more involved with the Christian rap genre. Many rappers who aim to make Christ famous at the same time have found inspiration from the shows they know and love, causing these Japanese cartoons to become a defining feature in CHH culture. These artists have gained inspiration from childhood and have incorporated bits and pieces from the artform into song lyrics, album artwork, and album structure. Specifically, there are some rappers who stand out above the rest that have greater inspiration from anime than others.
Many artists were raised on anime during childhood and it grew as a natural progression into their music. Big Yae, for example, told Rapzilla on Twitter that anime brought him through his childhood and its meaning within the stories had influenced his life and music. These influences can be seen most prominently in his recently released album, Young Gohan (cover below).
R2DJ is another prominent example who gained his love for anime during middle school through the influence of a friend. “I am heavily inspired by anime mainly because I had this one friend with a job in middle school and that’s all he would buy. So now I find myself always drawn back to it.” His single, “Never Have I Ever,” featuring KidLuna, has album artwork of a pixelized Naruto in a battle-ready stance against a female anime character who has an uncanny similarity to Street Fighter.
Thomas Iannucci, growing up in Hawaii, was surrounded by Japanese culture and influence due to the near proximity of the island, and spent much of his childhood watching anime. As he describes it, anime “tells stories in engaging and emotional ways, often about topics that are generally not covered in western creative media.”
Other Christian hip-hop artists give nods through anime references in their song lyrics. Famously, Aha Gazelle released “Super Saiyan” in his 2015 album Free Barabbas where he compares the transformation of Super Saiyan to his own personal growth, wondering if he is happy with the person he has become. From the same album, “Vegeta” was named after Vegeta, his favorite character from the Dragon Ball Z series. “Out of all the characters, his showed the most development. He went from feared and hated villain to enslaved orphaned price, to good guy with bad intentions, all the way to becoming a father with a family of his own. Through his entire journey, he often admits his yearning to be the best and falls to his desires, ultimately sacrificing his life in the end, becoming one of the good guys.” “Vegeta” also had a music video that threw fans for a loop: Akatsuki members from Naruto Shippuden in a shoot about Dragon Ball Z!
Filipino-American rapper Nak from Chino, California points to nearly every famous anime and video game character in his song “Final Fantasy” as those who have taught him that heroes are messy people who are often outsiders. “Naruto taught me/ Sasuke taught me/ Monkey D. Luffy taught me/ Kakashi taught me/ Mario taught me/ Chrono taught me…/ If games and anime have taught me one thing/ Heroes always seem different.” In addition, “Spirit Bomb” from his 2012 mixtape Fruits: The Mixape gives special reference to Fullmetal Alchemist and Death Note as he raps about exceeding normal standards of rap ability and skill.
Album artwork is another outlet of inspiration for many Christian hip-hop rappers. Parris Chariz and Jarry Manna’s EP, Super Splash Bros has both rappers standing side-by-side using water style jutsu to part back a body of water into two arching waves, giving nod to the parting of the Red Sea and the Super Smash Bros video game series (below picture). Also, every Spotify single released by N!X contains an animated style that references specific anime. “Naruto” is a prominent example that has hand-drawn designs of N!X and Parris Chariz as Akatsuki members who closely resemble Sasori of the Red Sand and Kisame Hoshigaki from Naruto Shippuden. Similar to N!X, Oklahoma City rapper Darrell Dominic has been inspired by anime to decorate his Spotify singles with an animated style. Specifically, “Goin’Up” featuring Ic3rd and 1K Phew has artwork of the three rappers sitting on Goku’s Flying Nimbus from the original Dragon Ball series, each man dressed in fighting gees.
Another major form of inspiration in Christian rap from anime has been the structure of albums. nobigdyl, in an interview with Rapzilla on August 2, 2018, explains how SOLAR was representative of an anime arc: “You come through the whole album and all the ups and downs of the story that started in ‘anime’. You are made into the protagonist and you go through the events of SOLAR. SOLAR is the name of the anime that you are placed in. That’s the arc.” Not only is SOLAR’s structure inspired by anime, but the project as a whole, with each individual track, flow fluently because of the structure. The theme of the album shines brightly in “orion,” teaching listeners that they should become lights in dark places because the love of Christ has so gripped their hearts and beckoned them so closely.
TheKnuBlack, composing of Kay Sade and Theo Blue fka KnuOrigen, is another prominent example of artists who have designed their album’s inner-workings directly based upon anime. Their Rapzilla-exclusive project, Van Goh, released in 2016 when the group was formerly known as Out of the Blue. The album was described like this – “Van Goh is a story about journey. The two characters, the Black Sheep and the Sage Ape, go through a process of realization and redirection similar to how one goes through the Christian journey. They become aware of a force (Van Goh) that has been orchestrating their lives and leading them back to himself the way God seeks to reconcile humans with Himself.” The KnuBlack, lacing their entire project with this story, accompanied it with a thought-provoking music video called “The Tank,” featuring an animated style with their characters along their journey. All of their artwork and music followed in this same vein until they disbanded.
Finally, no compilation of anime-inspired Christian rap artists could be complete without devoting an entire section to the Indie Tribe’s Jarry Manna, aka the Lotus Waver. One need only to gloss over his Spotify profile to know that he has an intense passion for the art. In a video interview with The Crew, Manna was asked why he incorporates anime into his projects and where his inspiration came from. His response: “To be honest I thought it started with Naruto, but I forgot. Y’all know about Toonami and Cartoon Network and all of that and I realized that I’ve been an anime fan. Like Yu Yu Hakisho, Rurouni Kenshin, Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, Cowboy Bebop, and all the classics. Dragon Ball Z was the main one for black kids that solidified anime for us like, ‘Oh yeah I can mess with anime! I like Dragon Ball Z!’ It goes to show you gotta go with your heart.”
From the album artwork to music videos, song lyrics, and album structure, each song and project are filled to the brim with inspiration directly from anime. Most recently is Lotus Waver 2, which released on Apple Music and Spotify on August 30, 2019, and shows cover art of himself styled after Kakashi Hatake of the Hidden Leaf from Naruto Shippuden standing behind a large wave. Continuing his trio of singles, Manna includes “Shinobi Thoughts 3” featuring Parris Chariz, which dives into the inner thoughts of both rappers on their journey creating music. Lotus Waver, an EP also released in 2019, is directly inspired by Naruto Shippuden when Naruto, the protagonist, becomes Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village. He compares himself to Naruto, mentioning, “I wanted it to be me watching over and protecting my city,” showing his strength and authority as a leader who wants to lead others in the right direction.
Overall, it becomes clear that Christian rap and anime have a close relationship due to rappers grabbing hold of the artform in various ways. Not only this, but anime has bled into their music in various ways, through their experiences in childhood, song lyrics, album artwork, and album structure. Leaders in this movement such as Jarry Manna have paved the way for future Christian hip-hop artists to follow suit and create music about the Japanese cartoons they love. There is a strong sense that the flame of anime will be kept alive in the CHH genre for many years to come.