It’s hard to know where to start here, but I guess this is as good a place as any:
Kokujin Tensai (黒人天才), or Black Genius, is a guy named Eric from Tennessee who decided in the mid-2000s that he wanted to become a J-rap star. He almost perfectly embodies the idea this blog is founded on, even if I don’t remember what that is anymore.
Black Genius formed a group with his friends in Memphis toward the end 2006, after which they began to craft their brand of rap for Japanese audiences. How did these dudes in the American South, home to its own tradition of rap including questionable Oscar winners Three 6 Mafia, decide that this was the route they wanted to take?
The best piece of biography I could find comes from a 2007 entry in Watashi to Tokyo, which reads:
This is the American Rapper “Kokujin Tensai”. He raps in Japanese. He fell in love with a Japanese girl who came to his high school for her studies. He tried to master Japanese for her because she couldn’t speak English well. She returned to Japan after just one year but he started to sing original rap in Japanese. Good story.
Good story, indeed! The bio on the group’s Myspace page goes on to explain that Kokujin Tensai began learning Japanese his junior year in high school, presumably the year a j-spell was cast on him, and upon graduating decided that rapping in Japanese was where he wanted to put his heart.
The result? A Japan tour, two albums released (both of them available on iTunes), and dozens of videos of KT & Co. dancing, performing live, taking photos with fans, and generally being a cool dudes.
I think Kokujin Tensai has done something admirable here. Japanese is not only a difficult language to learn, but also a super difficult language to rap in; I know because of some amateur bars I’ve composed myself in the eerie solitude of a parking booth. Somehow he managed a feat that some J-native speakers can hardly achieve, and in the process convinced some of his friends to do the same, formed a group, recorded the efforts and took it to Japan. Let’s be real; that takes dedication.
There is only one problem:
KT doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and instead focuses on the same stereotypical subject matter that people offhandedly associate rap with. From a musical standpoint, the shit is played out, but from a marketing standpoint this is the type of stuff people buy by the truckload. Maybe the sentiment is “THIS ALBUM IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK IT IS, SO FUCK YOU.” Give and take, right?
Perhaps KT’s goal is the export of a more authentic brand of Memphis rap to Japan. There are hella videos under the group’s accounts dellchan and kokujin tensai that demonstrate buckin, booty poppin, how to flick the LS, and at least one on how to perform cunnilingus on a cantaloupe (no linx, you’ll have to find that one yourself, kids). It’s all performed against a backdrop of the American south and soundtracked by Memphis all-stars like David Banner, DJ Paul, and the rest. Check this Gangsta Walk tutorial:
The illusory concept of “authenticity” (i.e. actually being a Black American rapping about it in Japanese) seems to be the only thing Kokujin Tensai can bring a genre that is already clichéd with clubz, thugz, sex, and drugz.
Does the Japanese demographic that buys J-rap want to hear Kokujin Tensai? Japan has a sort of lust for the exotic that clashes with the protection of their own culture. Acts can perform in Japanese, very well even, but are hardly taken seriously. How many years did it take for Jero to shake the variety show novelty of being the first Black Enka singer and be recognized as an artist that revitalized a near obsolete Japanese musical form for a young demographic?
Despite a seemingly successful, if short career in music, there is no trace of Black Genius after 2009. Did he enroll in the JET programme? Did he settle down with the girl that inspired this whole endeavor? The shit is a mystery, and we may never know.
Luckily for us, he’s left behind an incredible catalogue of Internet documents that we can enjoy over and over again. Observe this Genius track “Waruguchi Sensei,” which is probably an underground hit in Japanese middle schools.
Despite my wariness of Black Genius’ export of a played out image of black dudes, and his ultimately ridiculous rap persona, I simply cannot hate on videos like this: