One deep dive is not enough to unmask the female J-rapper taking over the scene.
Words by Dexter Thomas.
Nowadays, everybody wants to play Barbie.
Every week, it seems like there’s some new female artist with pink hair, donning doll clothes. I mean, I get it. It’s not really about dressing up as dolls, but more about referencing these old, unrealistic images of ‘women’ that girls are given when they are young, and then totally flipping those stereotypes on their head. I think….
But even Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu draw the line somewhere. They are real people that dress up as characters and perform. They eventually get off stage, and we see them in their “normal” day-to-day lives. Even super pin-up Russian princess Valeria is real (in spite of her body parts).
This is where sexy Japanese anime rapper RANL lives on another plane entirely: not only is she two-dimensional, but there is no alter ego. RANL is RANL. And this is sort of a scary thought, because it means that the Japanese rap scene is being ravaged by somebody that doesn’t actually exist, if that makes sense.
WHO IS RANL?
Writing about RANL (pronounced “Lan-Luu”) is pretty difficult, mainly because very few people actually seem to know anything about her. There are no actual pictures of her, only drawings of a black-haired woman with unreasonably large breasts, dressed in a skimpy, sexy nurse get-up.
Her rapping voice is high-pitched and squeaky, like something ripped out of a cutesy anime. Actually, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if it turned out that she was a professional seiyuu (voice actress…or actor for that matter). Meanwhile all of her tracks are club bangers, and the lyrics are alternately about her mic or sex skills– generally of the S&M variety:
“I’m the mysterious female rapper RANL
People worship me, RANL
I’m nothing like those bitches that hang around in Shibuya
I’m not some paranoid nerd or immature kid
I got the mold-breaking MC boobs
My favorite kind of guy is a total masochist
Haters, come at me!!”
- RANL’s “Shake It!! off of Service Time
She’s something like a cartoon of Nicki Minaj, taken to its logical Japanese extreme.
And she even plays her character perfectly on Twitter. When I asked her to do an interview, for instance, she refused, saying “RANL [note: yes, she speaks in the third person] doesn’t know what that [an interview] is, so no thank you! Sowwie!”
Sowwie? Generally, I would get a little annoyed with an artist giving me the brush-off like that, but RANL plays off of the childish dynamic very well, and in much of her music.
Exhibit B, an excerpt from a skit on her album, Service Time:
RANL: (cheerfully) “Poop!”
Some Guy: “W..what? RANL, what did you just say?”
RANL: “Poop! poop!”
Some Guy: “RANL, you can’t say that. You’re a hip-hop idol!”
RANL: “Who cares? Rappers are always saying stuff like ‘fuck’ or ‘motherfucker’, so why can’t I say things too?”
Some Guy: “Yeah, but…”
Some Guy: (angrily) “Yo, if you’re going to do that, I’d rather you just say ‘fuck’ or ’motherfucker’, damn!”
RANL: (sadly) “Poop…”
Some Guy: (suddenly regretting scolding her) “Uh, as long as you’re sorry, I guess…”
And here’s the thing, if you can get past the cutesyness, and over the fact that RANL’s voice is about two octaves higher than any rapper— or singer, really— then you start to realize that RANL is actually, well, pretty good.
LOVE IN TWO DIMENSIONS
What most might find really interesting is RANL’s wide appeal. The Japanese star is able to draw in an entire fanbase that’s usually not associated with hip-hop at all. Think anime nerds, or otaku. Actually, a lot of her image is completely pandering to otaku sensibilities. For example:
“Zettai joushiki ha kutugaesareru / Zettai ryouiki ha shiro ni kagiru!
Hakui no shita / Misete ageru … uso uso!”
“I’ll definitely flip ‘normal’ on its head / Zettai ryouiki is best when it’s pale!
I’ll show you what’s under my panties / [3 seconds of silence] …just kidding!”
For the uninitiated, zettai ryouiki, when literally translated means “absolute territory”, which is slang for the area of pale, exposed skin in between knee-high stockings and a mini skirt. …She does a lot of this sort of thing – straddling both the tsundere (alternately abrasive and lovey-dovey) and the sexual dominatrix archetypes present in a lot of anime aimed at sexually frustrated teenage boys. Other times, her lyrics reference obscure internet in-jokes pulled from 2chan (the Japanese message board, perhaps best known as the inspiration for the infamous 4chan). Even her name, RANL, references “Ran-Ran-Ruu”, a meme based on a McDonald’s commercial that swept the Japanese internet a few years back.
And if you really want to get all anthropological about it, there’s probably link to her popularity and that of Hatsune Miku, the mascot for a vocal synthesizer software package. Unlike Miku, however, RANL can’t be manipulated via software, but as she asserts on her Twitter profile, she only “exists in everyone’s minds.”
HOW DO YOU DIS AN ANIME CHARACTER?
A few months ago, a male rapper named Cherry Brown released a particularly morbid dis track aimed at RANL, to which the Barbie queen replied with a pretty great answer song. She not only teased him by contorting lines from his past songs, but she brushed him off with a lyrical pat on the head, insinuating that Cherry was just an immature, frustrated virgin who was having trouble distinguishing his fantasies from reality. To add insult to injury, RANL even put a short advertisement for Cherry Brown’s new mixtape at the end of her video. “I know you just did this for attention,” she seemed to be saying, “so I’ll help you out a little here with some promo! Teehee!”
To say that RANL is backed by some pretty strong producers would be an understatement. The anime rapper has more features on established rappers’ tracks than I can reasonably list here, possibly because of her uniqueness. There’s really never been anything like her, either on the Japanese or the US scene, and just how she originally found her way into staking a claim in hip-hop is completely unfathomable. But to be completely fair, she does stand in stark contrast to a lot of J-rappers that go completely out of their way to make their voices sound low, raspy and guttural—Think Zeebra— and perhaps having a female…or at least the image of one…who commands the mic doesn’t hurt either.
RANL is currently rejecting interview requests, so getting her (or him) to answer questions or verify whether she stacks up to all the things she says she is, is impossible. Her free album, Service Time, is available for download. And while there’s no word of any future albums, one has to wonder what’s next for the virtual star. Will she continue to be featured on Japan’s hottest rap tunes? What sort of long-term impact will she have on the game? Is virtually rapping—beyond Hologram Tupac at Coachella— the new wave? Only time will tell…