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

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