When Scott Shimamoto first told his parents he was releasing a compact disc of rap music called “The Banzai Beat,” with cover art of an imperialist Japanese flag, “they had a problem with it,” he said.
The elder Shimamotos, forced to relocate to internment camps during World War II, “couldn’t understand what I was trying to do,” Shimamoto said. Other people have missed the point, too, Shimamoto said, but the explanation is simple: He wants to be a rap star and the controversial symbol is part of the act.
By day, Shimamoto, a Pico Rivera resident, works as a marketing executive. At night, in clubs around the Los Angeles area, he is RAKAMOTO, purveyor of a hybrid of hip-hop music he calls the Asian sound, the banzai beat, his own interpretation of urban funk and rap, “a kind of street attitude without the guys with the Uzis.”
With the release of his first compact disc, Shimamoto hopes to break the stereotypical view of Asian men.
“They’re either karate masters, sumo wrestlers or nerdy intellectuals with pocket protectors and a slide rule. There are very few images of Asian men as normal or as a leading man type of guy. I’m trying to say we can do other things besides the stereotype.”
“The Banzai Beat” spawned several articles in Los Angeles Asian newspapers, including one in The Rafu Shimpo that showed a picture of the compact disc cover with its controversial art.
“They got a bunch of letters complaining about the flag. Somebody compared it to a German using swastikas. I kind of saw their point,” he said. “But it was too late. And besides, I liked the way it looked graphically. Not having lived through World War II, the thought that (the flag) was an imperialist Japanese take-over-the-world symbol never crossed my mind. I just thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ ” Shimamoto said.
“What I’m trying to do is twist the imagery a little. Instead of saying it’s for war, I’m saying it’s for having a good time with the music.”
Shimamoto’s music eschews the gang-crime-violence themes of hard-core urban rap and sticks to more traditional rock ‘n’ roll subjects of women, dates, sex and love. In one song, called “K-Babe,” he describes what happens to him when he dates three Asian women simultaneously. “Frederick’s of Hollywood Girl” is a melodic fantasy about women wearing lingerie. His one acknowledgment of politics, “Racial Thing,” is a call for multicultural understanding.
Lately, his parents have been getting used to the idea of their oldest son as a rapper, Shimamoto said, especially as his fame in L.A.'s Asian community has grown. RAKAMOTO and his backup group, Hibaya Posse, have played at local clubs from Little Tokyo to Century City, on Asian cable television and radio and have been the subject of local Asian-American newspaper stories that circulated nationally.
And though Shimamoto can’t play any instruments, he writes the lyrics, sings the melodies into a computer and hires musicians to play the finished product. He bankrolls the operation with money earned at his day job.
“I was raised with the Japanese-American work ethic,” he said, “with a strong emphasis on education and career.” Besides, he added, “the starving artists thing never appealed to me at all.”
Shimamoto grew up in South San Gabriel, the oldest son of a grocer and a homemaker. As a child, he used to love to watch the Jackson Five and dance to the music of the television show “Soul Train.” In high school, he took a few months of saxophone lessons but never did anything with it, he said. Then, in the mid-1980s, after graduating from USC with a degree in marketing, he started listening to rap. “I figured I could do it as well,” he said. That is when he began a second career.
Shimamoto hopes to secure a record deal with a major label and market his sound to domestic and overseas Asian markets. “I didn’t write the music for Asians,” he added quickly. “I wrote it for people. If I can get the Asian market, if I’m that good, other people will be interested too.”
Thomas J. Collins has been elected president and chief executive officer of Memorial Health Services. Collins replaces Richard T. Williams, who resigned to accept the position of president and chief executive officer at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Collins, a Long Beach native, has been with Memorial Health Services since 1982.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has appointed La Mirada resident Armando A. Moreno Jr. to serve as a member of the county’s Commission on Alcoholism. Moreno, a consultant with the Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation, is also a member of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District Board of Trustees.
The Long Beach City College Senior Circle Club has honored two senior citizens for serving as positive role models. Leona Jackson and Theresa O’Connor, both 99, were recognized for dispelling myths about aging.
Jackson, a Bellflower resident, was a teacher and principal in what is now the Paramount Unified School District until 1962, when she was forced to retire because of her age. She spent two years in Peru in the Peace Corps. When she returned to Paramount, she was allowed to resume teaching and currently instructs English as a second language to adults.
O’Connor, nicknamed “Tugboat Tessie,” was the first female tugboat captain on the Great Lakes. Currently a Long Beach resident, she moved with her family to California in 1956 and worked as an administrator of a Fallbrook hospital. After retiring more than 20 years ago, she began volunteering at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, where she continues to work.