February 28, 2008

Hip Hop Hero

Though a vibrant Hip Hop community exists in the underground, few Hip Hop artists enjoy mainstream success. We have met some extremely talented MCs and rap groups who not only create songs with contagious beats and insightful lyrics but also put on energetic and exciting live performances. Unfortunately, these artists receive little national media attention. While the music of popular singers, who define Hip Hop for many Chinese listeners, such as Jay Chou and Wang Li Hom, is regularly heard on the radio and on music television stations such as MTV Mandarin and Channel [V], it is difficult to even find a mixtape of talented underground artists. The success of Hip Hop-inspired pop music has introduced new audiences to Hip Hop music and dance; however, many underground artists do not qualify this music as “real” Hip Hop.

So, why isn't “real” Hip Hop in the mainstream? There are a number of different answers to this question. Some say that until Hip Hop “cleans up its image” it will not find a market in China; others say that the rhythm and feeling of Hip Hop do not “suit” Chinese people. Some say underground artists are still too raw and it will take time for people to develop their skills, while others say that Hip Hop is just a fad that will pass as soon as the next big thing comes along.

The most poignant reason why Hip Hop exists in the underground is that China’s music industry is dominated by pop music from Taiwan and Hong Kong, the majority of which is simple, romantic music. As a result, Chinese Rock, Electronica, Hip Hop, Bossanova (We met a Hip Hop artist who was EXTREMELY enthusiastic about Bossanova) and other music exists, for the most part, out of the public eye. These different styles of music are not played on the radio and major record labels are not willing to invest in their development. It seems as though the goals of major record labels are less about “discovering talent” and more about “creating talent from an existing mold that has been proven to sell.” We are not trying to slam Chinese pop music. There are some quality songs but we know there is more out there!

We asked a number of people in the Chinese Hip Hop community what they think needs to happen in order for Hip Hop to “blow up,” to reach a wider audience, to get to the point where Hip Hop artists can finally support themselves on their music. One solution we frequently heard was, “We need a Hip Hop hero. We need someone to make it big, someone who will pave the way for other Hip Hop artists.” However, the people at www.Hiphop.cn have another opinion. Hiphop.cn is a one-of-a-kind online Chinese Hip Hop magazine. It is a “Hip Hop bible” with bios and album reviews of international Hip Hop stars as well as frequently updated songs and concert footage of China’s own Hip Hop artists. (...yeah, we’re into Hiphop.cn). They feel as though it is important to first foster a sense of community, to create links between Hip Hop artists and fans across the country and provide a forum for them to come together. They believe you must first have a strong Hip Hop community before a Hip Hop hero will be able to have a meaningful impact on the growth of Chinese Hip Hop. These two different opinions are not mutually exclusive and we have met many people who are working behind the scenes and behind the mic.

It is exciting for us to hear from both sides, to talk with an artist who is working hard to find that crossover smash, and then to talk to the people who are working to ensure that building community remains a top priority. Most likely it is the combination of these efforts that will ultimately raise “real” Hip Hop out of the underground. From our vantage point, there is much to look forward to.

See what other Hip Hoppers in China have to say.

February 24, 2008

DòngTīng Song of the Week

MC BlaKK Bubble - "Unbeautiful Moon"

This song comes from MC BlaKK Bubble, a pioneer of rap in Shanghai. He was a member of legendary Shanghai group Bamboo Crew and now runs his own label, Phat Blac Production. BlaKK Bubble is close to Angela’s heart because he is a huge fan of New Jersey rappers. Represent! A scholar of Chinese language, BlaKK Bubble experiments with Mandarin, Shanghainese and even Classical Chinese in his rhymes. “Unbeautiful Moon” uses all three languages to weave a poetic tale of an unbeautiful moon.

本周的歌来自MC BlaKK Bubble, 上海说唱的先驱。他以前是上海
Bamboo Crew的团员。现在他经营自己的唱片公司, Phat Blac
Production。BlaKK Bubble 也让Angela很自豪因为他特喜欢
话甚至古文。这首歌 使用这三种语言叙述一个诗意的故事。

February 17, 2008

DòngTīng Song of the Week

MC Phoenix XIV - "50 Questions"

This song comes from MC Phoenix XIV a.k.a Lao Zheng, another member of Beijing's Yin Ts'ang. From former club owner, to co-organizer of Yugong Yishan's Section 6 event, to www.Hiphop.cn contributor, to active MC, XIV is a key player in Beijing's Hip Hop scene. "50 Questions" is his cheeky (and perfectly accurate!) ode to 50 questions foreigners are frequently asked in China; "Where are you from?" "How much money do you make in a month?", and most importantly "Can you eat spicy food?".
Take a look at his music video.

本周的歌来自MC Phoenix XIV a.k.a 老郑,另外一个原来隐藏的艺人。
他不但以前经营很火的北京club, 组织北京愚公移山的Section 6,
投稿www.Hiphop.cn而且是很积极的说唱家。他在北京Hip Hop文化
中是一位主要的参与者。 “50 Questions”这首歌表示在中国外国人
最常听到的50个问题。他的歌词又好笑又准确。 看一看这首歌的视频。

February 9, 2008

Why Exactly?

We know many of you are wondering, "What exactly are they trying to find out about Hip Hop in China? What is their thesis? What are their analytical points of departure?" Honestly, the answers to these questions change every day but there are definitely overarching themes that intrigue us. This short video was made for Women Making Movies and it explores a few of the ideas Angela was tossing around before beginning her Fulbright research. To understand why this post title is hilarious see Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros. It might change your life.

DòngTīng Song of the Week

MC Webber - "Choices"

This week's song comes from MC Webber. A Beijing native and one of the original members of Yin T'sang, MC Webber is an inspiration to many of China's young rappers. This song, with its ragga-inspired delivery and provocative lyrics, reflects his wide range of musical influences, which include Smif-n-Wessun, Damian Marley, Wu-Tang Clan, and Ayo.

本周的歌是来自MC Webber。他是北京人也是其中一个原来隐藏的艺人。他影响许多年轻的中国说唱家。这首个借鉴了ragga的唱法,也含有很宜
人的歌词。这首歌反映了他广泛的音乐影响,其中一些包括 Smif-n-Wes
sun, Damian Marley, Wu-Tang Clan和Ayo.

February 4, 2008

Sucka MC!

There is always an element of surprise at any live show.

Last Saturday we went to Section 6 at Yugong Yishan, Beijing’s only monthly live Hip Hop show. After a set by Beijing Hip Hop’s legendary Yin Tsang, the stage turned into an Open Mic with DJ Wesley behind the decks. Many of Beijing’s Hip Hop greats were in attendance and, along with a few up-and-coming rappers, they delivered some awesome impromptu performances. The mood of the evening was one of inclusion, nobody hogged the mic and everyone was welcome to come up on stage and freestyle.

As soon as the Open Mic started the energy level in the club blew up. The MCs were having a great time and the crowd was with them, reacting to what they liked by dancing and cheering. However…there is always going to be the sucka MC! We are all for expressing yourself, for letting it hang loose, and more power to you if you dance to the beat of a different drum … but some things are just a little crazy. See for yourself.

February 3, 2008

Lil' Ray

Though Chinese Hip Hoppers listen to Hip Hop from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, and all over the world, many still consider Hip Hop music from the U.S. to be the standard of “real” Hip Hop. The majority of Chinese Hip Hoppers do not speak English and literal meanings of U.S. Hip Hop songs are often lost on listeners. However, they still pick up on ideas, styles, movements, and individual words. In our interview with Beijing rapper Lil’Ray, we were interested in his use of three specific words – ghetto, nigga, and gangsta.

Lil’ Ray (Zhang Rui) a 19 year-old piano student, is quite a character in the Beijing Hip Hop scene. He’s a serious music fan and self-described “digger” (Our interview ended with Ray taking us to an underground music store to check out their vinyl LPs. The store was located through a bookstore, behind a locked door, and around the corner from someone’s pet duck.) He’s a member of the group Bad Blood and has recently gained a bit of fame from his appearance on an episode of “Sexy Beijing”. Before our interview we listened to some of his music including “In Da House” from the King of Beijing Mixtape, “Mighty Bad Blood” from the Section 6 Mixtape, and “Let’s Talk” and “Money in the Bank” from the FAR DVD. We found that Lil’ Ray uses a lot of English in his raps, but there were three English words in particular that we were surprised to hear . . . surprised may be too light of a description. Lil’ Ray used the words “nigga”, “ghetto” and “gangsta” as lightly, it seemed, as he used “yo” and “c’mon.” Each word setting off the, “What did he just say?!” reaction, followed by attempts to translate his verse. To be fair we singled out these words both because of their histories and also because they were spoken in English. We are sure there were similarly shocking or intriguing words that were spoken in Chinese that just passed us by. (Maybe our next post can be about Chinese Hip Hop slang & tag words.) So we decided to ask Lil’ Ray how he was using these words and what they mean in the context of China, especially the word “nigga,” a word that we both think no one should ever use.

Thoughts from Angela:

As a Black woman with strong opinions on the use of the word “nigga”, I was worried that getting Lil’ Ray to really explain his use of the word “nigga” might get awkward. I didn’t know if it would be worse if he had absolutely no understanding of the history of the word or if he knew exactly what the word means and still chose to use it. Fortunately, the whole exchange turned into a “Who’s on First?”-like comedy skit, which relieved any tension. When I asked the question, “What do you think ‘nigga’ means?” I had to make clear that I was not saying “那个” (pronounced “nei ge”). “那个” is Mandarin for “that” or "which". At first Lil’ Ray heard my question as, “What do you think ‘that’ word means?” To which he obviously responded, "Which word?" And back and forth it went. (Sigh.) So many layers of meaning getting lost in translation.

The moment made me remember the first time my Mom came to visit me in Beijing and she asked, “Angela, what is all of this nigga, nigga stuff about? I think people have been listening to too much Jay-Z in China.” Very true, Mom. (This joke would later be retold by Russell Peters.) Chinese Hip Hoppers are adding frequently used words, phrases and themes from Hip Hop from the United States to their active vocabularies.

To Lil’ Ray’s credit, after we turned off the camera he asked for the definition and history of each word. He also asked if I would be offended if someone called me a “nigga” and I told him that I would and gave him my reasons why. He then asked why so many Black Americans use the phrase if it has such a negative history. I tried to explain the difference between using the word as a pejorative, racist term and a term of endearment. I also explained that not all Black people see the issue the same, though he probably should not go around calling Black people “my nigga” and should stick with “哥们儿”.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been questioning the importance of content and form to defining “Hip Hop”. What makes a Hip Hop song “Hip Hop” – the beat, the melody, the structure, or the lyrical delivery? How much can you innovate Hip Hop before it is no longer recognizable as Hip Hop? Can we continuously expand the definition of Hip Hop without rendering it meaningless? Or, is content more critical than form? Is it the ideas and the emotions expressed through a song that make music Hip Hop? If so, what happens when content is lost in translation?

DòngTīng Song of the Week

Chen Haoran "No Moni, No Friend" - Beijing

This week's song comes from Chen Haoran, a hilarious and extremely talented member of Beijing's In3. His style is a mix of ODB, Professor Longhair, Bob Marley, and a Beijing taxi driver. This song is about his everyday life, his thoughts on Hip Hop and his true love - DJ Wordy.

本周这首歌是来自陈浩然,一位很逗,很优秀的歌手。他参与北京的In3.他的风格结合ODB, Professor Longhair, Bob Marley和一个北京出租车司机。这首歌关于他的日常生活,他对Hip Hop的看法和他的真爱-DJ Wordy.