Speakeasy Park Jam in Odaiba
By Eric Burton
Back in early September, I was taken on an audio journey through Hip-Hop history, on the rainy rooftop of Odaiba’s Diver City. The Speakeasy Park Jam. An outdoor event which hosted a full lineup of skilled DJs; crossing genres to reveal the roots of the music I had grown to love as a kid.
It was my first time going to a Hip-Hop event in quite a while. Although Hip-Hop is quite a thriving subculture in Japan, finding out about events has proven a bit more difficult in the few years I’ve been here. Venues close or rebrand themselves. Weekly events turn into monthly ones, and sometimes stop altogether. So when I found out about the Park Jam, I was more than hyped. I had to be there.
After I hiked up to the top of Diver City and made my way to the venue, HLNA Skatepark, I thought it was gonna be a bust. The rain did not hold out, unfortunately. Staff were racing around with push brooms, trying to get rid of the puddles of rainwater. Many were huddled inside, but that didn’t stop the others hanging outdoors from dancing. My friends and I joined them.
After the Reebok Classic sneaker raffle, DJ Sarasa took over the turntables. The rain cleared up and we all vibed out to funk, Brazilian jazz, and breakbeats. Although it wasn’t the music I grew up on, Sarasa weaved everything together so well. I could hear the connections between this classic music and current radio hits. She got everyone out on the floor dancing. From little kids trying to perfect their cute moonwalks, to their parents practicing right along with them. The rain returned, but no one cared; everyone was having a good time.
Up next was DJ Azusa. An all-around Hip-Hop head, she blended the sounds of modern Japanese rap with well known American acts. Her set didn’t travel as far back in time as Sarasa’s, but instead focused on classics from the late 90s up into the 00s. Lots of throwback Jay-Z, and Nas, with random sprinkles of Kendrick Lamar and rare songs that I was surprised a Japanese DJ would even know about.
That’s what really caught me off guard that entire afternoon. For everyone there, Hip-Hop wasn’t just a music genre, it was a way of life. A means of expression. I couldn’t believe that this type of music—which is layered with slang-filled lyrics, double entendres, and gritty realness—could have such a loyal group of followers in a city where English is seldom spoken. It got me to realize that Hip-Hop is more than just the lyrics. At its core, it’s about total freedom of expression.
As the sun set, the headliner, legendary DJ Scratch, came on the stage. The rain was just about pouring now, yet the crowd was the largest it had been the entire day. Scratch took a totally different approach than all the other DJs that evening; and effectively blew my mind in the process.
Instead of playing songs back to back while using the BPM as a guide, DJ Scratch would start off with an original song. Then he would live sample that song and connect it with its counterpart in the Hip-Hop world. It was like Music History 101. Just about every classic Hip-Hop beat could be traced back to a Jazz, Rock, or Funk song from a prior time. I guess, in a weird way, history does repeat itself?
Oh and I forgot to mention: All of this was FREE.
The next Speakeasy is Sunday October 4th at Commune 246 in Omotesando. The Speakeasy DJs also spin every 1st and 3rd Friday at Las Chicas in Omotesando. For more information about upcoming events and photos from the Park Jam, check out their Facebook page.
If you’re looking for a genuine Hip-Hop experience in Tokyo, check out the Speakeasy. See you October 4th.