By Kyle Mullin
His words paint manga panoramas for your ears, rhymes that spin like the 2D martial arts characters that have endlessly inspired him.
Although Shing02’s lyrics lace the Japanese cartoon classic Samurai Champloo’s soundtrack, his mind draws on far more animated real life experiences.
It all started when he moved from Tokyo to San Francisco, under his given name Shingo Annen. Upon arrival, he was greeted by the rubble of the Quake of ’89, which devastated the area a few short weeks beforehand.
“They’ve spent the last 20 plus years trying to fix the Bay Bridge and the freeway system,” Shing02 (performing at the Shelter on May 4), says in an exclusive with The Shanghaiist of San Francisco’s lingering flaws and fault lines.
But what truly charted off young Annen’s Richter scale was The Bay Area’s fractured social classes.
“Being in the Bay Area was such an educational experience,” he says. “I have had the opportunity to meet artists and activists alike, visit internment camps for Japanese Americans from World War II, and interview scientists from the Manhattan Project era for my projects.”
Recently, he met the community’s most endearing, and enduring, innovator.
“I spoke to Marion Fulk. He’s a physicist and it’s amazing how he continues to read and study new material past the age of 90. He gave me books about Developmental Biology, and it helped me acquire a perspective for my report about radiation.”
Today Shing02 is a Los Angeles residing rapper, amateur academic, and outspoken activist whose latest obsession has been the corrupt causes and dire effects of the 2011 Fukushima reactor disaster. But it was the music that helped him reconnect with Japan decades ago, while nestled in his adopted Californian abodes.
While studying art at Berkeley in the mid 1990s, his recreational bilingual MCing made its way to other Japanese American hip hop heads, who eventually passed them on to Mr. Higo of Mary Joy Recordings back in Tokyo. There, Shing02’s lyrics were embraced by a budding hip hope scene. But when he returned to his birth town to perform for those newfound fans he was greeted not with hospitality, but reverse culture shock.
“Initially I couldn’t believe young children had committee responsibilities and had to line up in assemblies like the military, after all it’s an old tradition,” he says of Tokyo’s regimented norms. “I think rules can give you discipline, but too much without reason can give you prejudice against authority.”
Today, he has to buck against far more bitter prejudices, especially as he readies himself for the May 4 Shelter gig.
“It’s my first time to even visit China. I am aware of certain tensions between China and Japan, but as a musician I firmly believe that we are all brothers and sisters on the same planet. We have to transcend differences while respecting boundaries and celebrating diversity.”
Shing02 will perform at the Shelter tonight.