As I listened to pop singer Charli XCX’s latest mixtape, I perked up at rapper Mykki Blanco’s verse on “Fembot”, a song about being a horny robot. Blanco opened by describing herself as a “ghost in the shell and a beast in the sheets” and goes on to reference going super saiyan in a feature that is a highlight of the entire mixtape. Blanco, like many rappers before her, is apparently super into some great classic anime.
That rappers love anime isn’t exactly a secret. More than that, rappers seem to have really specific tastes, usually referencing a handful of shows and movies from the late eighties and early nineties like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and especially Dragonball Z.
Sometimes these references to classic shows are small asides, like Lupe Fiasco calling himself Lupin the Third on a guest verse on Kanye West’s “Touch The Sky”. Other times, they’re elaborate homages, like Kanye West’s video for his song “Stronger,” which is basically just an Akira short film.
West has also named Akira and There Will Be Blood as equally his two favourite films, and apparently spends time looking at anime top ten lists on YouTube:
When the references do get more modern, they still demonstrate some discerning taste. Pharell’s music video for “It Girl” basically just is an anime, produced by Takashi Murakami, the progenitor of the Japanese aesthetic movement “superflat.”
Lil Uzi Vert’s video for “Ps and Qs” is like a nightmare version of a slice of life, high school romance show.
Lil Yachty and Offset also rap over an out of control beat that samples a song from Yoko Kanno’s classic score for Cowboy Bebop.
Of course, the pieces of media that keep getting referenced are enormously popular, and are considered defining works of the genre. Still, it’s amusing as an anime fan to pick up an otherwise serious hip hop album and catch a reference to Majin Buu, as you do on “Pink Matter”, from Frank Ocean’s critically acclaimed album Channel Orange. But what makes verses like Blanco’s so good are the specificity of the reference.
“Fembot” is a kind of ridiculous song, with a lot of dubious references to computer terminology and hacking. Blanco’s reference to Ghost in the Shell isn’t just about juxtaposing the name of the movie to “beast in the sheets”, but also about the experience of being a human mind in a robot body, which Blanco’s verse is concerned with, albeit in a much more superficial and sexual way than the source material.
It demonstrates a knowledge and genuine appreciation for Ghost in the Shell, at least moreso than a song like Soulja Boy’s “Anime”, which is basically a list of anime. These rappers aren’t just casual anime watchers. Like me, they’re huge nerds.