March 31, 2008

Wuhan's Hip Hop scene: Community and Freestyling

Two Examples of Community: and Wuhan’s Hip Hop Family
As we touched upon in our post “Hip Hop Hero,” the importance of community building in China’s growing Hip Hop scene should not be overlooked.
At this point, the Internet is the major vehicle for promoting and developing Chinese Hip Hop. In addition to extensive Hip Hop message boards and music downloading sites, the influence of sites like YouTube is tremendous, as they act as a visual and aural encyclopedia of Hip Hop from around the world. Chinese Hip Hop artists also rely on the Internet as a means to collaborate with other local artists. For example a Beijing artist will make a beat and send it to a Shanghai artist who will write the chorus and send it to a Wuhan artist who will add the verse. uses the Internet as a platform for their Hip Hop magazine/network, giving anyone with access to the Internet a chance to participate in the growing Hip Hop scene. On the website users can see profiles of local Chinese Hip Hop artists, hear their music and find out when their next performance is. The website also features album reviews of international Hip Hop stars (in Chinese) as well as articles on relevant Hip Hop related issues, ranging from explaining the importance of Black History month, to clarifying the various “beef” that Eminem has with other rap stars. (We hear that also wants to put up the links to our videos on, China’s equivalent, albeit censored, YouTube).
In Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, local Hip Hop artists refer to themselves as a “unit” and stress the value of connecting the different elements of Hip Hop culture. For them, these different elements include not only MCs, DJs, dancers, and graffiti artists but also skateboarders and street-ball players. Compared to Beijing and Shanghai, Wuhan’s Hip Hop scene is much smaller. Where Beijing has a relatively large number of active Hip Hop groups, Wuhan’s No Fear Family is the city’s only well-recognized group. Despite its smaller circle, Wuhan is home to some of China’s most successful Hip Hop artists. For example, at last weekend’s first Chinese Hip Hop Awards show Wuhan’s No Fear Family cleaned up, winning three awards, including “Most Popular Hip Hop Group.” While the Internet provides a virtual space for young people all over the country to appreciate and learn about Hip Hop culture, Wuhan is home to a vibrant physical community of Hip Hop artists from all different disciplines coming together to support each other. Check it out.

An Introduction to Wuhan’s No Fear Family

The members of No Fear Family do a good job introducing themselves, their group and their city; reiterating what they say might not be necessary. However, I think it is important to explain why No Fear Family is made up of two subgroups, Wu Ju and FATLIPZ. Wu Ju makes Pop/R&B-inspired Hip Hop music and was recently signed to a local Wuhan record label. FATLIPZ describes their music as “underground Hip Hop” their songs having more provocative lyrics and perhaps presenting a less market friendly image. Having both “commercial” and “underground” elements in one group make them unique in the Chinese Hip Hop scene. At this point, basically all Chinese Hip Hop artists exist in the underground. Perhaps a more correct description of Wu Ju and FATLIPZ should be “commercial underground” and “underground underground,” respectively. While adding that extra “underground” might seem a little overboard, for many Chinese Hip Hop artists these distinctions are of the utmost importance.
And so what is the difference between the two? It is hard to say, but perhaps one difference is the different attitudes each have towards the Chinese music market. The “commercial underground” artists incorporate existing models of what sells in the mainstream into their music and their image, their goal being to reach a wider audience so that they can use their music to support themselves. The “underground underground” pay little attention to the mainstream, scorning it in their search of “real” Hip Hop music, placing more emphasis on making music that satisfies there own desires rather than the general public. Within this kind of environment, No Fear Family is singular. Operating more as a music alliance, the self-defined goals of No Fear Family are to incorporate the ideals of the underground into Wu Ju’s more commercial style, and to have Wu Ju break open the music market so that artists like FATLIPZ will have a chance to reach a larger audience. Take a look.

No Fear Family’s Freestyle
With this project we are continuously on the road. We spend about two to four weeks in each city, trying to talk to as many Hip Hop artists as we can and going to as many events as possible. As we travel to these different parts of China, one of the questions that we ask over and over again is: “What is special about the Hip Hop in your city?”
When we asked members of Wuhan’s No Fear Family what they thought was special about Wuhan’s MCs, the answer seemed to roll right off of the tongue: Freestyling. For the past two years the winners of China's Iron Mic competition, the annual nationwide MC freestyle battle, have been from Wuhan. Talking with Big Dog, the 2007 Iron Mic champion, about why he thought Wuhan was able to win these back-to-back victories, he was humble in his response: “We practice a lot.” And practice they do. Every Saturday the members of No Fear Family hold their own Freestyle battle to crown that week's winner. Also in attendance at these informal battles are No Fear Family "students," Wuhan's more rookie MCs, who hope to learn and study the freestyle techniques of No Fear Family’s established members.
Saying that Wuhan's "speciality" is freestyling is not to say that we haven't come across MC's in other cities who can drop an amazing impromptu freestyle. We surely have. But it is No Fear Family’s organized emphasis on freestyle that is singular. It is their dedication to coming together every week to develop their craft that once again highlights Wuhan's attention to the importance of community. Check it out.

~ Lila

March 26, 2008

DòngTīng Song of the Week

MCs Dai Bao Jing & Joe of Guangzhou Crew Uranus

This week’s song comes from MC Dai Bao Jing of Guangzhou crew Uranus and MC Davey from Taiwan. One of the few female MCs in China, Dai Bao Jing is definitely holding it down for the ladies. Her distinctive voice and rapid delivery light up this track. MC Davey adds his characteristic flow and rhymes. “什么屌” is the perfect song for bumping – loud – in your car.

本周的歌来自广州天王星的呆宝静和台湾的Davey。其中少数的女性MC在中国,呆宝静能让全国的女生很自豪。她独特的声音和快速的唱法让这首歌很精彩。Davey也加上了他特有的flow和押运。“什么屌” 是一首理想大声的听在你的车上的歌。

"什么屌“ - 呆宝静 & Davey

March 20, 2008

Pioneers & Pianzi – Foreigners in Chinese Hip Hop

Yesterday we had a very interesting lunch with a young man named Huang Zi’an, one of the organizers for the upcoming Chinese Hip Hop Awards in Shenzhen. For two hours we listened to him explain principles of the Yi Jing and Chinese history. His passion was infectious and it was one of those conversations that you need a few hours to process. One of the many things that really struck me was the way he spoke about personally reconciling the desire for modernity and preserving cultural heritage. Knowing that I had to go home (read: back to the internet café) and finish this post about foreigners in Chinese Hip Hop, I started rehashing these words – Westernization, globalization and cosmopolitanism. We use these words to define a combination of liberal economic development, consumption of global goods and representation of global cultures. Undoubtedly, the fact that foreigners have been able to participate in Chinese Hip Hop is a result of all of these processes. But these words often obscure the human stories behind them, a few of which are below.

Completing this post has really been a huge challenge. Technical difficulties and mysterious illnesses aside, any topic that deals with foreign influences in China is destined to be controversial. The issue is situated in a history of hundreds of years of exploitation and cooperation, mutual benefit couched in mutual suspicion; and a present where foreigners are criticized for their decadence and ignorance but will just as quickly be given special treatment to the point of sycophancy. Trying to write even one accurate, all-encompassing sentence about the countless ways foreigners have influenced Hip Hop in China proved impossible and I must suffice it to say that foreigners have had a profound impact on Chinese Hip Hop.

From forming online communities, to sending vinyl records to friends in China, foreigners affect Chinese Hip Hop in many ways. However, the foreigners I refer to are those who live in China and are active, on the ground, in the Chinese Hip Hop scene. So, what exactly have these foreigners done for Chinese Hip Hop?

On the positive side, foreign Hip Hop artists and fans were among the first people in China to form crews, organize events, and focus on building a Hip Hop community. Japanese and Korean exchange students began holding Hip Hop parties in Beijing’s university district around the year 2000. At the same time in Shanghai, a group of American, Canadian and Chinese Hip Hop fans were starting Shanghai’s first Hip Hop party at Club Pegasus. Foreign promoters have helped bring over artists such as Jin, Alchemist and Ice T and foreign and Chinese MCs across China have joined together to form groups such as Yin Tsang, Rap Republic and Redstar. (If the upcoming awards had an award for best live show, it would have to go to Redstar. Meet the members of Redstar and see some footage of their live show.

Perhaps the most important contribution of foreigners is communicating and translating the values and history of Hip Hop. This includes answering questions about Hip Hop history and form, such as “Did Hip Hop start with Dr. Dre?” or “What’s the difference between krumping and clowning?” as well as trying to make competing and conflicting Hip Hop themes meaningful to Chinese youth – themes such as individualism, materialism, social consciousness, self-awareness and community. Foreign MCs have also been able to use their knowledge of rhyming to push the boundaries of rapping in Chinese language. These are no small feats and not many foreigners have been willing or able to take up these challenges. A few foreigners who will be remembered among the pioneers of Chinese Hip Hop are Dana Burton, Paul Gray, Marcus Zhong and Jeremy Johnston. Check out all of their stories.

On the negative side, some foreigners in China have also exploited their foreigner privilege to gain opportunities in the Hip Hop scene. This is a complex issue. On one level, there is the question of personal intentions. Is someone just out to make quick money by DJing a few nights in a club? Is it alright for Hip Hop to just be a part of your job? Not everyone can be a pioneer and does not giving back to the community make you a pianzi (cheater, liar, fraud, poser)? On another level, there is the issue of categorizing Hip Hop as a foreign culture. Hip Hop began in the United States and American Hip Hop will always be seen as the original. Consequently, club owners and event organizers often seek foreigners for shows and gigs because of a misconception that foreigners are inherently better or will at least be more marketable. Which presents another question: how can people with a limited understanding of Hip Hop begin to differentiate between the real and the fake? Take a look at what some Hip Hop artists have to say about this issue.

In our interview with MC Tang King, he stressed that dazhong, or the masses, have to first recognize that anyone – Chinese or foreign - can do Hip Hop in order for Chinese artists to be considered alongside foreigners. But then who is responsible for educating the masses? The only solution seems to be for Chinese artists to keep working, keep putting themselves out there, so that people will begin to realize that China has a vibrant Hip Hop culture. This is not meant to absolve foreigners in Chinese Hip Hop of any responsibility to give back to that community. Rather it is to recognize that there are foreigners who are both supporting and undermining the growth of Chinese Hip Hop, and, despite the fact that Chinese artists may never escape comparisons to foreign Hip Hop artists, if Chinese artists continue to develop their skills, they will reach a level where they can no longer be ignored.

Call it Westernization, globalization or cosmopolitanism; Chinese society is undergoing rapid change much of which is initiated by exposure to foreign cultures. These processes are not just driven by abstract cultural flows but also by face-to-face exchanges. For better or for worse, the influence of foreigners has given Chinese Hip Hop artists and fans a particular understanding of Hip Hop that they will have to reconcile with their own knowledge, culture and ambitions.

~ Angela

March 19, 2008

DòngTīng Song(s) of the Week

No Fear Family at Freestyle Practice

This week we give you a double serving of Chinese Hip Hop. Both songs come from Wuhan’s No Fear Family, a Hip Hop alliance started in 2004 by leader Break-D. The No Fear Family split last year into two subgroups, Wu Ju and FATLIPZ. These two groups reflect two different directions in Hip Hop music, Wu Ju being more R&B inspired, commercial Hip Hop and FATLIPZ being more underground, alternative Hip Hop. As the two groups work on their respective Hip Hop development, both Wu Ju and FATLIPZ continue to primarily identify themselves as active members of the No Fear Family.

这个星期我们给你两首歌的中文Hip Hop. 两首歌曲是来自武汉的
No Fear Family, 一个Hip Hop 组织于2004年由领导者
Break-D创立的. 去年No Fear Family分裂到两个分组 以反
映两个不同的方向在Hip Hop音乐. 无惧 是更加流行, R&B等
商业Hip Hop和FATLIPZ是更多的地下Hip Hop. 在这两小组
继续在各自的Hip Hop发展工作中,无惧和FATLIPZ的成员
一直成为自己于No Fear Family的积极的成员.

无惧 - "文舞双台" temporarily unavailable

FATLIPZ feat. Break-D- "Ni Zai Gan Ma"

March 12, 2008

DòngTīng Song of the Week

This week’s song comes from MC Lot Z of Shanghai’s 021 Crew. One of the few rappers on pop label SOMA Records, Lot Z skillfully synthesizes rap, R&B and pop music. The result is songs like “侬白相啥” - a lighthearted tune about life in Zanhei (aka Shanghai).

本周的歌来自上海021团体的MC Lot Z. 他是SOMA唱片公司其中一个说唱家。他巧妙地结合说唱,R&B和流行音乐。结果是像“侬白相啥”这首歌。

March 4, 2008

I Guess He Thought No One Would Notice.

We have all seen our share of poorly written articles on China, articles that seem to be culled from Google searches and Associated Press updates by journalist who do not speak Chinese and have probably never set foot in China. While I’ve gotten used to the sensationalism and smut, I was furious after reading Stephen Armstrong's recent article “Kirby Lee and the curiously pleasant world of Chinese hip-hop” (February 10, 2008). I have never before seen such an egregious act of plagiarism. The author reprints, practically word for word, the writing of LA Times journalist Ralph Frammolino.

In a 2004 article titled, “Chinese find a way to tame hip-hop” Frammolino wrote:

"... But when Wang "MC Webber" Bo opens his mouth to rap, what comes out from one of China's hottest young artists would make an original gangsta' cry.

'In Beijing, walk along Chang'An Avenue. In Beijing, there are many exotic, beautiful women. In Beijing, you can burn incense at the Lama Temple. In Beijing ... '

China, accomplishing what millions of disapproving American parents could not, has tamed hip-hop music.

Instead of often obscene and violent tales from the inner city, Wang and other leading rappers here are taking to the stage with lyrics that glorify national pride, celebrate tourist attractions and preach against the dangers of adolescent impulsiveness.

One group is so proud of its songs that it has affixed a sticker to its debut album asking fans to share it with their parents."

Comparatively, in his article, Armstrong wrote:

"Now Beijing: “In Beijing, walk along Chang’an Avenue/In Beijing, there are many exotic beautiful women/In Beijing, you can burn incense at the Lama Temple/In Beijing, study history at the Forbidden City.” It’s enough to make Snoop Dogg weep. China has accomplished what millions of disapproving parents could not: tamed hip-hop music. Chinese rappers deliver lyrics that glorify national pride, celebrate tourist attractions and preach against the dangers of adolescent impulsiveness. One group is so proud of its songs, it has affixed a sticker to its debut album asking fans to share it with their parents."

Perhaps Armstrong believed no one would notice his caper since Frammolino’s article is no longer available on the LA Times website and is only archived on a handful of obscure sites. (To see Frammolino’s full article, click here.) Regardless, he is in clear violation of journalism ethics and standards.

I posted a response on the Times Online page about both the factual errors and the plagiarism. Unfortunately each comment box is limited to 500 characters so you will not be able to read everything I wrote. The page also doesn’t let you “Read All Comments”, which is suspicious. (The issues I have with the arguments of both articles is for another post.)

The Dragon Tongue Crew performance received this similarly uninspired review that, while at times is parochial and condescending, is at least in the author’s own words.

~ Angela

DòngTīng Song of the Week

Jiverson - "Homie"

This week’s song comes from MC Jiverson, a member of Shanghai’s To Be Continued (TBC) Crew. Jiverson has a reputation as a comical, over-the-top battle rapper. Though his freestyle rhymes are wild and loose, his written rhymes are far more polished and introspective. “Homie” is his celebration of two positive themes in Hip Hop – friendship and brotherhood.

本周的歌来自MC Jiverson,上海To Be Continued (TBC)团体的团员。他的名誉是他说唱比赛的时候,他的歌词和行为又好笑又极端。虽然他的自由试很猖披,但是他写的歌词反省他的生活状况。 “Homie”这首歌庆祝Hip Hop文化里面其中两个积极的主体-友谊和兄弟情谊。