as a black kid, anime music taught me to appreciate rock & roll

February 16, 2017

You probably don’t know the first person who took highlights from an anime and put music on the track to create the first Anime Music Video (or AMV, for the initiated). And I don’t know either. But God bless them. I mean that sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, may God bless them with riches and happiness, because they unexpectedly changed my life. And while they live in anonymity without the accolades and Grammy category deserved to them, the least the rest of us can do is celebrate what they’ve given us.

You might remember the first AMV you ever watched. If I had to guess, I would say the year was around 2003 and it was a Dragon Ball Z montage with either Linkin Park or Rage Against the Machine. And yo, they went hard. I wasn’t introduced to rock bands until I transferred to a school outside of my hometown of Detroit that had White people who knew squat about hip hop but much about tracks that scream violently to its audience, and I had no idea how to appreciate this new music. My earliest foray might’ve been the same as yours – the ending credits to The Matrix, where you undoubtedly turnt up at the credits before knowing what turning up was, and then you lost all memory of the moment because banging to rock music made no sense in your life. How could it? Who was our closest analog? Probably Mystikal, or maybe DMX, but even they didn’t prepare me to value the strength of hardcore cathartic screaming for 3-5 minutes.

By Jordan Calhoun / Black Nerd Problems, AFROPUNK contributor

But there was a serendipitous relationship that developed from 90s and early-2000s rock, the popularization of anime with millennials, and the rise of YouTube all happening at the same time. One day, sometime around watching the Cell Saga during Dragon Ball Z‘s run on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, I wanted to re-watch the scene where Trunks died and Vegeta lost it. I was working my first campus job in college and a coworker told me to find it on YouTube. It was 2005, or maybe 2006. “YouTube has everything,” he told me. He wasn’t entirely right – not yet, at least – but none of that mattered when I came across my first anime music video, cutting up scenes of Vegeta and Goku with Linkin Park’s “In the End.” I watched it repeatedly. I watched it my whole shift. I watched half a dozen similar videos that existed at the time, including some band called Godsmack. That’s not a joke, that’s a real band name. And something crazy happened – I memorized rock lyrics for the first time.

In 2015 there’s nothing revolutionary about my respect of other music, but at the time, “revolutionary” would probably be the best word to describe it. This is before Pusha T called himself the Black Zack de la Rocha on “King Push.” Yes, this was after Run-DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way,” but how much did that matter to our age group? Ice Cube did that song with Korn once, but really, our generation – the 90s hip hop-loving generation of Wu-Tang Clan, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Tupac versus Biggie – we slipped through the cracks when it came to loving what most of us called “White people music.” History of the Black origins of rock and roll aside, we were sort of cheated. That is, until many of us came around through a friend, a movie, or, in my case, an AMV.

Granted, the spectrum of rock music that fits AMVs is a narrow one. Few-to-none are learning to appreciate Vampire Weekend over montages of Eren and Mikasa protecting Wall Maria. Yet and still, the gateway unlocked those songs that did fit, and opened many of us to a genre we otherwise ignored existed. And so like most interests, they snowball until I myself, for example, learned the entirety of “The Battle of Los Angeles” and “Hybrid Theory” without even the tiniest shred of embarrassment. My rock knowledge is still relatively slim – probably 10% compared to hip hop – but yo, I’ll take that 10% of RATM and everything that followed over the 1% I stumbled across as a kid flipping through MTV during the wrong hours. What is life without “Sleep Now In the Fire”? AMVs showed me what I was missing from those Columbia House CD Clubs: a few dope albums, and basic financial knowledge.

Remember Columbia House? The sweet nostalgia of my first debt owners.

The marriage of anime and rock taught me, a Black kid with a very narrow worldview, more than I ever could have known by sparking a simple curiosity based on something I loved, and something I would learn to understand. It was a seemingly minor collision whose effects rippled through my life like skipping stones to a rhythm. And it’s one that lasted for a few powerful years, so that for a time – even if only for a short phase in my life – being a nerd expanded my universe yet again. That is, until people started making hip hop AMVs. “We give Dre rock its props, but that’s where it stops.” It’s still hip hop over everything. But if you haven’t watched your share of rock anime AMVs, I offer a sincere suggestion you try the best mashups that nerddom has to offer, because they truly are some of the most glorious food for a nerd’s soul. Ask your friends, or if you’re already a connoisseur of the art, share your favorites with the world. There are people out there who need to hear it. Really. Wake Up.

Art Credit: YoungLinkGFX

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