Rap music comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes. The genre has its common denominators but having spanned over 40 years in history and being made by artists of all ethnic, economic, religious, sonic and ideological backgrounds, rap's also a culture that has its fair share of disagreements: East versus West, new versus old, boom-bap versus trap, conscious versus ignorant, club versus street. And why not? It's generally music from the youth for the youth, so sonic, clothing and lyrical trends are as diverse as they come and change year by year. The one topic or theme, however, that rap from the '90s and beyond seem to have unanimously embraced is Dragon Ball Z. Like sports, fashion, and Pokemon (that's another topic) DBZ has been embedded in the spirit of hip-hop; it's hard to find a rapper who has never delivered a Goku or Saiyan reference in their music.
If you grew up in North America, you'd probably understand why the references are being made. In 1995, Funimation acquired the distribution license of Dragon Ball in the United States. Unfortunately, due to low ratings, only 13 episodes were aired in its first run before it was cancelled. It's follow-up series Dragon Ball Z, which was also acquired by Funimations the same year, did slightly better but was cancelled after two seasons. During the summer of 1998, re-runs of the cancelled dub started airing on Cartoon Network as part of Toonami. This time, it was very successful, and Funimation resumed production on Dragon Ball Z's dub by themselves, without the help of Ocean Studios (a Canadian voice-over company that did the dub work for the first run.) The new dub premiered on Toonami from fall of 1999 to spring of 2003, and re-runs continued through 2008. Dragon Ball was also returned to American television in 2001 and aired till the winter of 2003.
This means that anyone with basic cable who watched cartoons from the mid-90s all the way to 2008 would probably have laid their eyes on at least a few of the show's 291 half-hour episodes -- '90s rappers to millenials included. Snoop Dogg proclaimed that he is the fan of Gogeta (the resulting fusion between Goku and Vegeta), RZA claims that “Dragon Ball Z represents the journey of the black man in America” in his book The Tao of Wu. Denzel Curry compared Goku to Jesus, A$AP Rocky came clean with his Dragon Ball fandom, and AK from The Underachievers even told us that he watched the latest Dragon Ball Z movies, Battle of Gods (2013) and Resurrection 'F' (2015). Additionally, with DBZ's sequel Dragon Ball Super currently running (it began airing on July 5, 2015), the Dragon Ball series is bound to influence at least another generation or two of rappers and artists.
Why was the Dragon Ball series specifically impactful? In an interview with Inverse last year, Adult Swim creative director Jason DeMarco said that their mandate originally was to create an after-school block of action cartoons for boys aged nine to 14, but it was quickly recognized that the show was viewed mostly by ethnic minority youths who were into hip-hop music. They further capitalized on it by giving DBZ an edgy presentation and attitude that other shows lacked, such as incorporating hip-hop and drum and bass music into its soundtrack. DeMarco gave a theory as to why some of the kids who watched the show had an affinity for hip-hop or grew up to be a rapper:
“At the time we were acquiring Dragon Ball Z, we knew it would be a new, fresh type of entertainment for most of our kid audience that American cartoons just weren’t taking [to the level that] Dragon Ball Z did in terms of the stakes, in terms of, to be frank the level of violence. [...] All the things that as a kid who’s going to school, who may or may not be in a great situation, sometimes entertainment can relieve some of those pressures. I think Dragon Ball Z did that for a lot of kids. [...] [It is] an empowerment fantasy, so of course if you feel powerless, or you feel beat-down, it’s good to watch a story about a hero who is reaching deep within himself and coming back even from death to beat the next challenge, because he overcame all the odds and adversity thrown at him. [...] I totally get why a kid would watch that. I get why that same kid would become a rapper, and then rap about wanting to be like Goku because you take your heroes where you can get them. There’s nothing wrong with a kid whose hero is a carton character if that hero encapsulates the values that they want to, the type of person they want to be. Media can be aspirational, just like real life heroes can be aspirational.”
Well, there you have it. Want proof? Check out some Dragon Ball Z references by some of the biggest rappers out there.
Ab-Soul - "Way Up Here"
"Hah, can't hear what you saying /
Smoking on that strong, strong, like a Super Saiyan."
Big Sean - "Paradise"
"I hit the booth and I just went Super Saiyan."
Casey Veggies - "Super Saiyan"
"I'm Super Saiyan like I'm Super Saiyan / I'm shining on 'em, feeling like I'm Super Saiyan."
Chance the Rapper - "Cross Roads"
"Kamehameha, Chi may have made a spirit bomb."
Chance the Rapper - "Blessings"
"Dying laughing with Krillin saying something 'bout blonde hair."
Childish Gambino - "My Shine"
"Honesty, I’m rappin’ ’bout everything I go through / Everything I’m sayin’, I’m super sayin’ like Goku."
Danny Brown - "Shooting Moves"
"Smoking on some Goku, bud's like Dragon Balls."
Domo Genesis - "SS4"
"Oh my, harness power like I'm Gohan / F*ck a co-sign, I ain't got no time for the program / Hit the Hyperbolic Chamber flow / Super Saiyan when I flame the 'dro."
Earl Sweatshirt - "Kill"
"Super Saiyan with ruthless slayings."
Frank Ocean - "Pink Matter"
"That soft pink matter / Cotton candy Majin Buu."
Jay Rock - "Hood Gone Love It"
"Coming down in an old school, so cool / Whip like a fire ball call it Goku."
Joey Bada$$ - "Christ Conscious"
"Wouldn't want to be ya, dish lyrical fajitas / Got dragon balls like my name was Vegeta."
Lil B - "Illusions of Grandeur (Remix)"
"Super Saiyan them guys laying."
Lil Uzi Vert - "Super Saiyan Trunks"
"That b*tch she say that she waiting (ay) / Lil Uzi go Super Saiyan (ay)."
Lupe Fiasco - "Free Chilly Freestyle"
"I push ki like Dragonball Z / You see what I'm sayin.'"
Mick Jenkins - "Peg Cuffs and Pocket Tees"
"My spirit been Goku'd / And lyrics just super sayings."
Rich Homie Quan - "Last Week"
"I'm turnt up like Goku, I’m Super Saiyan."
Soulja Boy - "Goku"
"B*tch I look like Goku / B*tch I look like Vegeta."
Waka Flocka Flame - "Wild Boy"
"Suck my dragon balls b*tch, call me Goku."
The Weeknd - Drinks On Us
"My hair be growing like a f*ckin' Saiyan."