I'm loving this Current TV special right here. The series is called Embedded. I believe it just started this month, but if you go to current.com you could probably find future episodes as they become available. I was put on to this from a few other sites though - I hadn't heard of Current TV or the Embedded series before now.
This particular episode follows Mos Def on tour in Japan performing songs from The Ecstatic as well as some joints from past albums. The special includes much more than footage from the various concerts and preparation for the performances. In fact, the majority of the special really centers around Japanese culture and the way they incorporate western influences into their society and own proud traditions. The appreciation by the Japanese youth of hip hop culture specifically is woven into all aspects of the documentary making for a really interesting look at just how far this Bronx-born art form has reached.
This look into Japan and hip hop is fascinating as it all comes through the eye of Mos Def and with the backdrop of his incredible music. It's good to get a person's take on it from the standpoint of an MC and just as a travelin' man (pardon the pun)in general, experiencing the world.
I do feel that some of his views relating to Japan vs. The USA were clearly absent of some important facts that would do well to quell his arguments, especially in the first half of the video. So, I have to address them here. Appreciating Japan doesn't mean you have to basically call America inferior (not that America is without its problems). He talked about the fashion in Japan being superior to what's found in America, and marvelled at some of the clothing he found in a certain store. He talked down about American fashion, seemingly right after the store owner was interviewed specifically stating that the style comes from older American fashion that was tweaked in order to make it new and exciting again. He said that Japan's culture was way up here (holding his hand up) and they were looking down on America like "how are you down there with your Big Macs?" Meanwhile, if he would go outside and look to either side on the block he was standing on, I bet he'd see the golden arches somewhere in the distance (or closer). Or, ask the Japanese what they think of Disney cartoons, or Tokyo Disney, the Disney Land-modeled theme-park in their country. Answer: By and large, they fucking love it.
Mos went to a baseball game there and said that the Japanese love baseball more than we do (kind of implying, imo, that there is something wrong here since America invented the game)- judging by the crowd, and unified noise. Maybe true. But, on the other hand, if you go back to his earlier statement that Japan is about as large as California, the claim may start to unravel itself a little bit. A small country with a very homogeneous group of people, versus a very large country that is largely heterogeneous in many different ways. The homogeneity of Japan may also lend itself to what appeared to me to be his feelings of a drop in racism while in Japan. Yet, further research will reveal some questions about this. White (or, rather light) is still seen as right over there too, sadly. A trip to the cosmetic aisle of a store in Asia with all kinds of products to lighten skin and appear as fair as possible can attest to this.
I'm not saying that Mos Def is completely wrong or that I'm completely right (let it be known that I have no counter argument of our lack of high-speed bullet trains in this country), just that his comments were limited to the limited information he had on the subject - his own direct experiences and how he perceived them at the time. I want anyone that came across this special through me to see the arguments from other angles too, or I wouldn't feel good about posting it. But, I digress. It's his TV special and he can say what he wants.
While I disagree with his perspective on some things, I can still respect his viewpoint, and can definitely appreciate some of the other great things that this special has to offer. Mos' feelings on hip hop, moving forward artistically, and his overall philosophy on life among other things are interesting to hear out of his own mouth. You'll have to watch to understand the title of this post, I guess. It's nearly an hour long, so make sure you have the time - it's definitely worth it though. Oh, and be sure to check out The Ecstatic (if you haven't already - or, again if you have), easily one of the best hip hop albums of the year and another gem in Mos Def's hip hop career.