There’s no denying that pop music and hip-hop dominate the charts in the Western World. Rappers such as Jay Z, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Professor Green and Drake have all become household names, elevating the rap scene to the masses. One country where rap music has failed to reach the spotlight though is China.
In a country whose culture relies so heavily on longstanding values of family, humility and respect, rap is a complete juxtaposition. As such, Chinese culture has previously presented a bit of an obstacle for this form of creative expression.
It’s the angsty attitude, urbane themes and anarchistic lyricisms, which seem to be a complete contrast to Chinese culture and the country’s traditional instrumental and folk music roots, begging the questions: is China ready for hip-hop and is the world ready for Chinese hip-hop?
Bridging the Gap Between West and East
Thanks to a recent reality show, The Rap of China, underground rappers have been raised on a pedestal for the first time, opening ears to this otherwise unexplored genre of music.
Aired by China’s biggest online video hosting website, iQiyi, the 12-episode series brought in more than 100 million views after just four hours of its first episode being aired, proving that there was (and is) definitely a place in Chinese culture for hip-hop.
The series showcased the talents of Tizzy T, PG One, MC Bigdog (Wang Ke), HipHopMan, and some 700 more auditions by aspiring rappers. Judged by well-known music industry celebrities from the Far East, including Kris Wu, Wilber Pan, MC HotDog and Chang Chen-yue, the show – which ended in September – has heralded a new musical era for China.
The strength of the online world has helped make it possible for the Chinese music scene to reach further afield as internet streaming services, and channels such as YouTube, WeChat and Instagram, offer a platform for up-and-coming artists.
Bridging the gap between the West and the East, one of the top contestants of The Rap of China, Tizzy T, has already lined up a sold-out gig in Manchester’s O2 Ritz Academy on Thursday 9th November. The M_DSK Rush Party, named after the Beijing hip-hop label that has signed the acts, will also feature sets from Kafe Hu and OB03.
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No stranger to the musical scene, Tizzy T started self-composing tracks when he was just 15. Since then he’s built a loyal following, both in his native country and overseas. When his debut album – Your Boy – dropped in 2016, it made waves, becoming one of the top 50 most popular albums of the year, according to XiaMi Music. Following its release, Tizzy T toured across 10 major cities in China, sharing the love of his music with crowds of adoring fans.
But it was the rapper’s involvement on the reality show that has really helped to catapult his musical career. His all-digital release, 768 Mixtape, in August 2017, and the consequent singles, have already wracked up millions of video views online and paved the way for worldwide events, shows and appearances, making the rapper very much in demand.
Hailing from Chengdu in the Sichuan province of southwest China, hip-hop gang Higher Brothers blend their native tongue with English, producing the kind of tracks that blow up.
The four-piece, consisting of MaSiWei, DZ, Psy.P, and Melo, bring their own brazen personalities to the forefront, but have undoubtedly been influenced by some of the biggest rappers in the world. Despite this, they aren’t trying to mimic those that have gone before them – the band’s street style aesthetics go hand-in-hand with their musical talent, earning them a rightful place in the hip-hop scene.
Their recent collab with Famous Dex, ‘Made in China’, offers a cultural collision. With a traditional backdrop of Chinese streets – complete with hanging lanterns and rooms with ornamental folding screens – intercut with live footage of the band’s explosive performances, the track promotes the band’s heritage, showing that they are not afraid to shy away from their roots.
The band have also been rather outspoken about the need for hip-hop music in China, stating that their nationality should not pose a hindrance to their success since plenty of people – both Chinese-speaking and English-speaking – can enjoy their music. Their ‘nothing is off limits’ attitude sets them strikingly apart from others. Band member, MaSiWei, even described the group as “straight outta China!”.
MC Jin ‘HipHopMan’
Holding the commendable title of being the first Asian American rapper to get signed to a major record label in the US, Chinese-American MC Jin is widely known for his freestyle approach to hip-hop. His earliest mixtapes and performances back at the start of the 2000s helped him cement his place in the rap world.
Interestingly, he competed in The Rap of China, under the alias ‘HipHopMan’, wearing a gold mask and gloves to disguise his identity and offer up a slightly different musical focus to his previous recordings.
Since he was raised in Miami and New York by Hong Kong parents, he is completely fluent in three languages: Hakka, Cantonese, and English. His newest album, Nobody’s Listening, has similarities to early Eminem tracks, making the music easily accessible to English-speaking audiences, as well as his existing hardcore fan base.
Over the next few years the Chinese hip-hop scene is expected to grow from strength to strength, whether the country’s culture wholeheartedly embraces it or not. Asia’s modern identity is changing rapidly, and this kind of music might just be the starting point for a new form of creative expression that young people can really understand and get behind.