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Exploring Dragon Ball Z’s history in hip-hop lyrics

The link between music and Goku

The link between hip-hop and Dragon Ball Z has existed almost as long as Dragon Ball Z has. The video above does a good job explaining why that connection is so strong, while providing an extensive, if far from exhaustive, list of lyrical references to the show.

The use of one pop culture touchstone from so many artists — from Yung Lean to Wale and Frank Ocean, among others listed in the video’s comments — says something interesting about the culture of hip-hop. Dropping the names or traits of these characters into a verse isn’t just a shorthand way of getting a point across — it’s a way to relate with your audience via a shared interest.

Kotaku ran a great story about the love many black men have for Dragon Ball Z, which helps to explain how lyrics inspired by the show became so common and land with such weight. To reference Dragon Ball Z is to reference a piece of shared history, while also hinting at a set of shared dreams and values.

If we accept that Dragon Ball Z is a show whose characters are aspirational figures, these lyrics have another layer of subtext. They’re about being young, watching television and learning about what’s important to you, or what you’d like to do with your life, from the characters you look up to. When an artist makes a reference to something as seemingly niche as an anime, it helps to reinforce that they may have had those same hopes as you did.

The message that even the tiniest Dragon Ball Z allusion sends, then, is that including your personal interests — common, uncommon or somewhere in between — are a natural part of how the music is made. Hip-hop today is already inspiring the next generation of artists. And that just so happens to include anime fans, too.