By Mitch Cohen
In any rap song, one of the best elements is when an artist references something else. Whether it’s about an athlete or a fictional character, this helps the listener get a better understanding of the artist's interests outside of music. With that said, one of the most popular references that rappers make is about the anime “Dragon Ball Z” (DBZ). Known for its memorable characters and fast-paced action scenes, DBZ has become culturally beloved in the United States, especially by those in the rap community.
Releasing in 1989, this Japanese television show has made an impact around the world.
Before discussing the lyrical references to DBZ, it’s important to learn about the show itself. “Dragon Ball Z” focuses on Goku, a Saiyan who goes to Earth. As he gets older, he learns martial arts from a hermit named Master Roshi and battles several villains throughout his journey such as Frieza and Majin Buu. As previously stated, “Dragon Ball Z” excelled at creating fast-paced fight scenes. During these moments, characters would not only fight with martial arts, but would also rely on energy called ki. By charging enough energy, characters were able to shoot incredibly powerful bursts of energy from their hands. Some of the most famous attacks include Goku’s Kamehameha and Vegeta’s Galick Gun. Overall, DBZ’s likable characters and fast-paced action scenes made it incredibly popular amongst its fans. Some of them became hip hop's biggest stars, such as rapper Jay Rock and rapper/producer Pierre Bourne.
Although rap music and Dragon Ball Z are two different entities, they have more in common than one might think. On the website Genius.com, there is a video called “A Look at Hip-Hop’s love for Dragon Ball Z”. In the video, host Jacques Morales talks about how several rappers grew up watching DBZ. The video references Adult Swim creative director Jason Demarco, who described DBZ as “empowerment fantasy”. The show was so popular with minorities that kids would come up to Demarco and tell him how much they loved the show. “I get why a kid would watch that”, said Demarco. “There’s nothing wrong with a kid whose hero is a cartoon character [that encapsulates who they want to be]” he added. As for rap songs themselves, they are filled with references to heroes, villains and plot points from the Dragon Ball universe.
One of my favorite references comes from the Jay Rock song “Hood gone love it.” In this song, Jay Rock has a line that reads “whip like a fireball; call it Goku.” Here, Jay Rock is referencing the Kamehameha, which is Goku’s signature attack in the show. He is saying that his car is hot like a fireball, just like the projectile Goku shoots out of his hands. To switch gears, another song that references Dragon Ball Z is “Guillotine” by rapper and producer Pierre Bourne. In this song, Bourne has a line that says “Gohan on my cloud.” Similar to the previous artist, Bourne also references Goku. Unlike Jay Rock, Bourne references the Flying Nimbus. This is a cloud that Goku uses to get around when he doesn’t feel like flying. Bourne also references Gohan, who is Goku’s son.
Ultimately, the anime “Dragon Ball Z” and rap music are a perfect match. Due to the sheer amount of references to it, it must’ve garnered curiosity and lead to the show gaining new fans. It easily caught the rap world by storm and gave us several memorable lines from the nineties to the present. With how popular Dragon Ball Z is in pop culture, it’s unlikely its impact on rap music will go away anytime soon.