Dexter Thomas discusses Japanese hip-hop music, culture and working without expectations

Dexter Thomas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, and VICE News correspondent, came to DePauw on Tuesday, Sept. 13, and gave a talk titled “Japanese Rap Music and Remixing the News.”

JP Olsen, the new director of the Pulliam Center, described Thomas as “a polymath who does everything very well”. Thomas is also the first speaker Olsen brought to DePauw as the new manager.

Thomas’ presentation on Tuesday night touched on his research into Japanese hip-hop music, specifically the contribution of a Japanese manga artist named Yutsuko Chūsonji and her “Wild Q” series to Japanese hip-hop culture. Thomas called the series “hip-hop edutainment”, where Chūsonji was teaching Japanese people at the time about hip-hop culture and vocabulary. Thomas viewed manga as an educational power like TikTok and any accessible medium.

After the presentation, Thomas showed the audience his virtual reality interview, which was part of a project on VICE News. In the interview, the audience could see a panda and a cat talking to each other as a representation of Thomas and his interviewee, respectively, in real life.

Asked about the motivation behind his decision to use virtual reality technology, Thomas said he had to convince his colleagues that the interview should be done this way.

“I saw [the interviewee] as the rest of the world saw it. I didn’t want to see anyone but this little black cat… That’s how people interact with each other,” Thomas said.

He added that this form of communication deserved to be treated seriously rather than being seen as “weird people playing in virtual reality”.

According to Thomas, virtual reality was just one of the many things he did. He doesn’t have a beat because he’s interested in culture, which he defined as “anything that keeps you on the couch and getting up to go do something, which means everything.”

Thomas also shared that he built his career doing what he loves to do with no hope of success. He said that although there are many people who are experts in Japanese hip-hop music, many who know a lot about video games and still many who are well versed in the history of Japanese disco, he doesn’t there are only a few people like him who are knowledgeable about each of them.

“What I’m saying is that I had no idea that any of the stuff I was working on would be useful in the future. However, looking back I can realize that all the things I was into, every time I got into a hobby, I learned all I can about this thing that seems very silly to other people… At some point you start to be in the middle of this very, very rare Venn diagram,” Thomas said.

More information about Dexter Thomas and his works can be found at

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