DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
The three of us, cramped into the backseat of the VW Golf, suddenly got into a contest over who's visited the most countries.  I boasted "8!" which soon ranked low on the impressive scale when Mar retorted with "12!" as he proceeded to list exactly which countries he's been to.  But then both of us were dwarfed by Ich when he burst out with "16!"  Counting with his fingers, he ran down the list of countries spanning most of Europe, North America, and Japan.  Not bad, I thought.  I wonder how many frequent flyer miles he has.

It was an odd conversation to have amongst us three grown men.  It's the kind of talk I'd expect to have on the school playground in first grade.  "I have six GI Joes, how many do you have??"  But when you speak almost no French and the French people with you speak a limited amount of English, you take what you can get.

Unlike myself, Ich was genuinely excited to talk about all the countries he's visited, many of which had to do with international Hip Hop events.  His eyes lit up even more though when he recounted the kind of food he's had in every place.  But it's not that he speaks of bratwurst from Germany or fettucine from Italy.  Instead he has the unique ability to rattle off the McDonald's menu and highlight its variations in every single country.  "You have cheeseburger with shrimp in Japan!" 

And it doesn't end with McDonald's.  He can also name every variety of Fanta and Schweppes according to the flavors available exclusively in a country.  So when Ich goes to the Netherlands, he always makes it appoint to stock up on Fanta Cassis to take back to France, a Cassis-less land.  He does the same with flavored bottled water and assorted candy.  

Why does any of this matter?  

Well, allow me to paint the rest of the picture.  During that 4-hour car ride, the only thing we listened to was the latest Lil Wayne mixtape and the new Nas & Damian Marley collabo album.  Ich and Mar don't even understand a majority of what I say in English.  How much can they really absorb of these rappers spitting fast rhymes riddled with local references and witty wordplay?  Mar admitted that he looks up lyrics on the internet and just listens to the tracks over and over again till he gets it.  

In contrast to the ethnic pride apparel I mentioned in a previous post, Ich sat there decked out in his New Era cap, I heart NY hoodie, and Japanese anime t-shirt.  Plus I can't forget his Dr. Dre Beats headphones saddled around his neck.

Ich is black but yet goes by this Japanese name.  It's short for Ichigo, the protagonist of his favorite anime Bleach.  In fact everyone in his dance crew is named after a character from Bleach.  He also has a second crew called Super Mario Bros.  I really don't know what his real name is.  Yes, hip hoppers do tend to take on aliases, but usually you hear someone refer to them by their birth name once in a while.  Not the case for Ich.

Ich's two favorite destinations out of the whopping 16 countries he's visited?  New York City and Japan.  He loves New York because quite simply it's the Mecca of Hip Hop.  He loves Japan not only because of its incredible dance scene, but perhaps more so because of anime and manga.  

When I remarked how expensive Japan is, "C'est tre cher," (OK, I speak a tiny bit of French) he revealed that he saved 9,000 euros to spend one month there.  It enabled him to live freely (ironically) and give in to his material desires.  Indeed he must have purchased every single bit of Bleach paraphernalia.  By the time the manga convention came around to Paris last September, Ich was so disappointed that he already had every product they were selling.

Though I firmly believe in the power of Hip Hop, I question the repercussions when it's propped up firmly beside these other forms of global commodities and obsessive consumption.  In part I came to Paris to get away from McDonald's and CocaCola and Target and all the crap I own.  But I also came to connect with Hip Hop out here.  Is it at all possible for me to engage one without the other?

Later the following night, Ich was inhaling a McFlurry with a topping that was only available in Holland.  "C'est la merde."  I didn't quite follow.  Was he saying that it was bad?  "No," he said.  "It's the shit."



    Brian is a writer, dancer, activist, and general hip hop head from New York City. He is currently working towards his Master's in Global Communications in Paris.  


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