When most people think about anime soundtracks, hip hop probably isn't the first genre that comes to mind. Japan does have a hip hop scene, but it's not something that makes its way into anime all that often. But anime with rap soundtracks and hip hop themes do exist.
Perhaps the most famous among them is Samurai Champloo, an anime that blends samurai imagery with a hip hop soundtrack. There are also shows like Megalo Box and Devilman Crybaby that use rapping characters to underscore the series' themes, as well as shows with actual hip hop artists, like Beck, Tokyo Tribe 2, and, believe it or not, Naruto. Most of these series are wholly Japanese in origin, but Afro Samurai, which features a soundtrack by a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, is a collaboration between Japanese and American artists. There's also The Boondocks, which is completely American and therefore not technically an anime, but which uses anime style to depict hip hop themes.
Each of these examples of hip hop in anime has something to recommend it, so play the videos, and enjoy some sick bars.
Like most anime directed by by Shinichiro Watanabe, Samurai Champloo was created with music in mind. The series follows Mugen and Jin, two samurai with wildly different personalities, on their journey to accompany a young girl named Fuu who is on a journey to find a mysterious samurai who smells like sunflowers.
Devilman Crybaby is a reboot of the Devilman franchise. Akira Fudo just wants to lead a quiet, nonviolent life, but that proves impossible when his friend Ryo Asuka forcibly transforms him into the bloodthirsty Devilman.
So, how does hip hop factor into any of this? A group of teenage boys who live in the town where the series takes place communicates the details of their lives and their community through rap. Through their music, we learn that the town is polluted to the point of giving people asthma, that many of the youths feel like they have no meaningful future ahead of them, likely due to economic inequality. It's a clever way to establish setting and context.
Afro Samurai, a series about a samurai named Afro who seeks to avenge his father. It's a collaboration between Samuel L. Jackson, Takashi Okazaki, and Gonzo, and the soundtrack was created by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan.
It's a brilliant mashup of Eastern and Western cultures. Though not as well-known as it was when it debuted in 2007, it's well worth any hip hop fan's time.
Megalo Box follows an underground boxer that scrapes by on fixed matches until he decides that he wants to win a real tournament - Megalonia, which requires boxers to use robotic augmentation in their matches. He enters with a fake ID and no robot arms, under the nickname Gearless Joe.
How does hip hop factor into this? One of his companions, a homeless little boy named Sachio, occasionally freestyles about what they're experiencing as a team. It effectively underscores the series' gritty, urban environment, while still implying a sense of hope and creativity.