April 29, 2008

Shenzhen Hip Hop Community

In China, Shenzhen is somewhat of an anomaly. Unlike most other Chinese cities that can lay claim to a rich local history that goes back thousands of years, Shenzhen is a city that was created only about thirty years ago. Set up by former leader Deng Xiaoping, Shenzhen was China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), meaning that economic laws are more liberal in Shenzhen than in the rest of the country in order to promote economic growth. Thirty years ago Shenzhen was a small fishing village, but today, Shenzhen is one of China’s fastest developing cities. Chinese people from all
travel to Shenzhen in order to find jobs and make money, and the majority of Shenzhen’s population come from other parts of the country.

And so what does this have to do with Chinese Hip Hop?
We had the opportunity to hear what native-Shenzhen rapper JR Fog had to say about his city and it’s Hip Hop development. JR Fog sees Shenzhen’s lack of traditional local culture as an advantage. In his opinion, Shenzhen isn’t held back by many of the traditional values that might be essential to Chinese cities with ancient history, values that might clash with a young and modern culture like Hip Hop. As a result, as Shenzhen’s population starts to get more settled, JR Fog looks forward to Shenzhen’s young people being the city’s first generation of “producers of culture.” It will be up to him and his peers to weave the cultural fabric, and he is excited.

When we were in Shenzhen we got the chance to see some examples of a vibrant youth culture. Our main focus was the Shenzhen Hip Hop Awards China, the perfect example of a group of young people using their own resources to put on an event to promote and spread their passion Hip Hop culture.

We also met a group of Shenzhen skateboarders who were proud to quote an international skateboarding magazine saying that Shenzhen was a “skate capital of the world, second only to Barcelona.” Who knew? They took us out to a couple of Shenzhen bars with great live music and laidback atmospheres, one being True Colors, a reggae-themed lounge with nightly DJ sets. In my opinion, Shenzhen has some of the best alternative nightlife in China – “alternative” meaning unlike the majority of Chinese bars and clubs which feature throbbing bass-heavy music, dice games, and watered down Chivas Regal. Which can be fun…if you have earplugs.

The night after our interview with the Hip Hop Awards organizers, the organizers brought us to a local Hip Hop dance competition. Most of the dancers were in High School and their raw excitement was infectious. They cheered for each other and joked around both in and out of the dance circle. It was clear that they were having a great time, getting the chance to showcase their moves and their own personal style. And for us, it was a chance to see some of Shenzhen’s next generation of Hip Hop lovers in their element. Take look at some of the night’s highlights!


April 28, 2008

Women in Chinese Hip Hop

When I tell people that I am researching Hip Hop, they often assume that I am strictly recording and examining the production of Hip Hop music. Though my main focus is on Hip Hop music, this project is anthropological in its design and methodology. In anthropology we like to talk about “subject positioning” of the researcher, which means analyzing how your gender, race, nationality, economic status, and other markers influence the ways in which you are being understood by study participants and how you are interpreting situations. So far on this project, one of the most critical identifiers has been gender.

In terms of methodology, being women in the field has given us a different level of access. Beyond the overwhelming hospitality to guests, I think we receive genuine feelings of affinity and trust. People are eager to help us and have faith that we have good intentions. These dynamics are defined by the fact that we are two young, female researchers interacting with mostly young, male artists. We like to joke that we are like Darla in The Little Rascals, the only girls in the boys club. As a result, I think in personal interactions we have avoided a lot of macho posturing common between males and, and endemic among Hip Hoppers. Though, of course, we are seeing behaviors tailored to our positions as female and foreign. We have also made a conscious effort to find female Hip Hop artists to see what kind of challenges they face and how they feel about being in the boys club.

In China today the majority of women in Hip Hop are dancers. Many studios organize crews that include Girls Hip Hop, New Jazz, or what is often just called “Sexy” Dance teams. Such studios include Shanghai’s Dragon Dance Studio, Wuhan’s Special King Crew, and Beijing’s Wujiawu Better Dance Family. There are also independent female dance crews like Beijing’s Spy Crew and Kunming’s KTS. This trend follows the general growth of Hip Hop in East Asia. From Japan to Korea to Laos, Hip Hop is often first popularized by dance. Consequently, the majority of all Hip Hoppers, male and female, are dancers. Many artists in China like DJ V-Nutz and MC Webber started as dancers then went on to other arts. In addition, the majority of roles played by women in music videos, Hip Hop movies, and other media are of dancers and models. This fixes a male gaze on Hip Hop and dance allows women to fit into normalized roles to be sexy and attractive. This is not to say that being a dancer does not present its own challenges or that it is seen as an acceptable hobby or occupation in China, but to clarify that there is more encouragement to become a dancer.

However, beyond dance, women are already staking their claim to Chinese Hip Hop history. One of China’s most acclaimed writers is a woman named SIC from Guangzhou and DJ Yuki from Tianjin is paving the way for female turntablists. Many women also work behind the scenes as managers, promoters and event organizers. Women are also sources of motivation as dedicated fans, friends, and mothers. (In Shantou, the mother of the leader of Keep On Hip Hop Studio was very active in her sons Hip Hop career and business. She was essentially the crew Mom and spent hours at the studio cleaning up, talking with the kids, and even cooking huge dinners. The kids at the studio loved her and she made them feel like a big family.) There are also several solo female rap artists and female artists in rap crews.

The challenges faced by female MCs in China are many, and undoubtedly similar to those faced by women in Hip Hop around the world. To be an MC you have to be able to pick up the mic and command respect and attention from an audience that will be scrutinizing what you say and how you say it. You are also operating in a creative community of predominantly males, which can be lonesome and frustrating. Though many say having a woman in a crew makes her the highlight and is attractive, it also carries a (perhaps unwanted) responsibility to represent all women. Fortunately, none of the women we interviewed felt pressured by being one of few female rappers and felt they were treated the same as male crew members and friends.

Whenever you talk about female rappers, I think you have to talk about representation. One of the reasons I fell in love with Hip Hop was because I was seeing women on television and hearing women on the radio that I felt represented me. One of my very first Hip Hop albums was a bootleg tape of Salt N Pepa “Very Necessary” and my sister and I would learn the verses and pretend to be Salt, Pepa, and Spin. I would rap along with every Lil Kim album that came out, which was probably traumatizing for my mom since I was only about 12, and debate about who was the better first lady of the crew Rah Digga of Flipmode or Eve of Ruff Ryders. (Still have to go with Rah Digga, Flipmode is the squad.) As a Black woman in America, I loved these women who were not only making music I was into but also representing an element of my life experience. Of course, they were not representing a complete image of Black female life but I won’t get into a discussion of bitches/queens stereotyping. Though I clearly did not become a rapper, I had played the part enough that the idea existed in the realm of possibilities and I always thought it was normal for a woman to rap. In terms of received global Hip Hop images from abroad, I question, when Chinese girls see female rappers on TV, movies and in the media, what, if anything, are they relating to? How do female artists from abroad also represent them? How is any encouragement gained from seeing the few women with global distribution like Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill affected by the deluge of male-centered Hip Hop images? There are no female rappers in the mainstream music industry in Mainland China and no underground artists with national distribution aside from the Internet. So who are young girls in China looking up to and rapping along with? Who represents them?

We got to meet several rappers holding it down for women in Hip Hop. Aken is an artist in Shanghai who has been rapping for five years. She is now teaching rap at New Idol Arts School, a school that produced many of Shanghai’s earliest Hip Hoppers. ALion is an artist from Shantou’s AFinger Crew and is the youngest female MC profiled. TZ Jane is a singer and rapper from Wuhan’s No Fear Family. Dai Bao Jing is an artist from Guangzhou crew Uranus and is definitely one of China’s best rappers. Check out what these ladies have to say about their own Hip Hop careers and women in Chinese Hip Hop.

~ Angela

DòngTīng Song of the Week

MC Vyan of Guangzhou's Jiangzhe

This week’s song comes from Guangzhou group Jiangzhe. “The Generation” is Jiangzhe’s ode to Chinese youth born in the 80’s, as they discuss some of the unique problems and issues that their generation faces. In this song Jiangzhe’s main rappers Fat B and Vyan rap their verse in Cantonese while guest artist Q-Luv sings the chorus in Mandarin. Take a look at their music video.

本周的歌来自广州的讲者团体. “The Generation” 是讲者的一首歌关于中国
八十年代出生的青年人, 他们讨论他们这一代人面临的一些独特问题. 在这首,
讲者的主要说唱者 Fat-B和 Vyan 用广东话说唱,客户艺术家的Q – luv用
普通话唱合唱. 看一下他们这首歌的视频.

讲者- "The Generation"

April 27, 2008

Follow Your Heart

Since its inception, feature and documentary films have been used to preserve and promote Hip Hop culture. In the 1980s films such as “Wild Style”, “Breakin’” and “Beat Street” captured the earliest days of Hip Hop and introduced it to audiences around the world. Recent films such as “8 Mile” and “You Got Served” became box office smashes and reignited interest in freestyle and dance battles. While the majority of Hollywood films focus on Hip Hop stories in the United States, there has been a surge in documentary films about global Hip Hop. Films of note include “Hip Hop Colony”, “Cuban Hip Hop: Desde El Principio” and “Resistencia: Hip Hop in Colombia”. While a few Chinese filmmakers have completed Chinese-language documentaries, until now, the only film released internationally that offered a glimpse of Hip Hop in China was Director Todd Angkasuwan’s 2007 film “No Sleep till Shanghai”, which chronicled Jin Au-Yeung’s tour. Director Duncan Jepson has just completed a documentary titled, “Follow Your Heart”, that provides the first comprehensive introduction to Hip Hop in China.

“Follow Your Heart” brings together four of the architects of Hip Hop in China. DJ VNutz, China’s first DMC Champion and founder of The Lab; MC Webber, China’s three-time Iron Mic Champion and one of the original members of Yin Tsang; Sic, China’s most acclaimed writer and Stanly, one of China’s earliest Bboys and owner of Dragon Dance Studio. The film presents their individual stories and brings them all together to throw a Hip Hop party in Guiyang, China. The growth of Hip Hop is contextualized within Chinese history and China's rapidly changing society. The characters voice their opinions on issues facing both Hip Hop artists and Chinese citizens, such as generational conflicts, consumerism and, of course, how to reconcile your dreams with the pressures of reality.

The film is excellent and a must-see for anyone interested in global Hip Hop, urban youth culture or modern Chinese society. We caught up with director Duncan Jepson in Hong Kong to get his thoughts on making the film. Check out what he had to say.

~ Angela

April 26, 2008

Shenzhen holds the first Hip Hop Awards China

Last month we had the opportunity to attend a very special event, the first ever Hip Hop Awards China held in Shenzhen, Guangdong. We managed to stumble upon the event through a series of zany misadventures, which included a somewhat fortuitous bout of food poisoning and a particularly generous and hospitable skater from Changsha, Hunan. That is the somewhat irrelevant back story. Regardless, we heard about the awards show directly from an interview with a local Shenzhen rapper, JR Fog, who turned out to be involved in organizing the event himself. The day after the interview, JR Fog accompanied us to meet the event’s main organizers, Acome, King and Vincent. We spent the day with them and learned about their goals for the Awards show as well as their personal connection to Hip Hop. Besides JR Fog, who is younger than the rest of them, they had all met in college and in 2001 Acome and Vincent had formed Shenzhen’s first B-boy crew, B.O.F. Later on, Vincent studied abroad in England and switched his focus to DJing. And two years ago King and Come had embarked on an incredible journey to make a documentary film on Chinese Hip Hop, by walking all the way from Shenzhen to Beijing. And by walking, I meant walking.

We met the organizers about a week before the scheduled Awards Show, and we were surprised that this was the first time we had really heard about Awards. In Wuhan, No Fear Family leader Break D had mentioned the awards, and he had told me that they would probably be going. But there was no reference to it on the front page of Hiphop.cn, where some of China’s big Hip Hop events are usually posted. And when we asked some Hip Hop artists that we had met before if they were planning to go it seemed as though many of them didn’t even know that it was happening.

With all of the efforts towards community-building that do wonders for connecting Hip Hop artists throughout China, naturally there are also a number of things that manage to divide the Chinese Hip Hop community. With China being such a huge country, geography might be the most tangible factor in these divisions. Language is closely related to geography. In addition to Mandarin and Cantonese, there are over one hundred other Chinese dialects. Basically each place has its own language; Shanghai has Shanghainese, Kunming has Kunminghua, Fujian has Fujianhua, etc. (Language is a huge issue, and there will be much more to come in later posts!). Another huge division is the somewhat hazy line that has been drawn between “underground” and “commercial” Chinese Hip Hop.

The fact that a lot of artists either didn’t know about the awards or weren’t invited highlights some of these divisions. Many artists who identify themselves with “underground” Chinese Hip Hop, for whatever reason, were neither present nor nominated at the awards. And the majority of the artists who attended the awards were from Guangdong province, as were the audience members. But we must remember that this was the first Chinese Hip Hop Awards. It would be very idealistic to assume that, in its inaugural year, such an event would be able to bring together the entire Chinese Hip Hop Community.

The organizers told us that they hope to continue holding the Hip Hop Awards every year. Their ultimate goal is to have an annual Awards Show celebrating Chinese Hip Hop, and they want each year’s show to get bigger and better. From seeing how much they could accomplish in their first year, I have faith they will do just that. Take a closer look at the Awards Show.


April 22, 2008

Longjing’s Beijing performance (…four months later!)

MC Xiao and MC Lil' Panda of Longjing at Beijing's Man Max Club

As we travel from city to city (…to city to city) our bag of tapes gets heavier and heavier. Arriving in Kunming we set aside a full week just for watching and transcribing the more than forty hours of interview and performance footage that we have accumulated. While the clips from the following profile on the Beijing-based Longjing come from one of the first shows that we taped in late January, we found that the topics discussed in their interview are still extremely relevant to many of the issues which we continue to explore in our research.

Longjing is made up of three local Beijing MC’s - MC Xiao, MC Ghost, and MC Lil’ Panda – and they are a relatively new group within the Beijing Hip Hop scene. Full of energy and earnest excitement, Longjing explains their personal journey from first hearing Hip Hop music to identifying themselves with the Chinese Hip Hop scene to making their own Hip Hop music. Their stories have a lot in common with many of the other Hip Hop fans and artists that we have met across the country. These common themes include listening to US Hip Hop over the internet, struggling to understand English lyrics, regarding Hip Hop music and culture as a means of individual expression, starting out with imitation of Black American Hip Hop, and eventually, searching for ways to add personal style and culture to the music in order to create Chinese Hip Hop.

Next week we will get another opportunity to see Longjing perform. We will travel back to Beijing for the MIDI Music Festival, an annual four-day music festival held in Chaoyang park with stages set up for different music genres, including Rock, Punk, Folk, and Hip Hop. I’m excited to see how these past four months have treated the boys! But for now, take a look at Longjing this past January.


Maya Azucena Performs in Kunming

Last Friday we had the opportunity to experience an unbelievable day of live music. American soul singer Maya Azucena and her band conducted a workshop and performed at the Yunnan Arts University in Kunming. They are currently on the Rhythm Road Tour, which is organized by Jazz at Lincoln Center and sponsored by the U.S. State Department, and will travel to four countries in just five short weeks. Kunming was the band’s fourth stop in China alone. Despite the dizzying schedule, both the workshop and the performance were flawless.

The workshop was fun, engaging, and, though the auditorium was full of music students, it was accessible to people from all backgrounds. Each band member showcased their unique talent by demonstrating different genres of music from reggae to blues to drum & bass. Audience participation was the centerpiece of the workshop. Keyboardist Bruce Mack took everyone through a vocal a warm-up, drummer Ivan Katz showed how to play along with a sampler and then the band rocked with a student drummer; they even had the entire audience singing, clapping and stomping out a groove. Maya and the band were elated and the students were thrilled. I couldn’t help overhearing the whispers behind me of, “This is so much fun!” and “The band is so good!” Check out highlights from the workshop.

Following the afternoon workshop Maya and the band returned to the university in the evening to give a full concert. After attending the workshop and listening to their latest album Junkyard Jewel continuously for several days, I was really excited for the performance. Needless to say, I was blown away. Maya’s voice is divine and all of the band members are truly gifted. When Maya sang “Still Searchin” I honestly got chills and guitarist Christian Ver Halen’s strumming out “Hallelujah” was just beautiful. The best part was that all of the energy that the band was putting out, the audience was giving right back. They were clapping and cheering, making up their own lyrics and singing along, and rushing to the stage to give Maya flowers. The show was a huge success; the fact that the band gave two encores says it all. Check out highlights from the performance.

Performances and cultural exchanges like the Rhythm Road Tour are very meaningful to Chinese musicians. Outside of Beijing and Shanghai, there are few venues that support live music (specifically pop, punk, metal, Hip Hop and soul). Going to a performance usually means attending a music festival or a large concert in a giant stadium. Tours by foreign musicians also often hit the big three cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Consequently, musicians and audiences in second and third-tier cities do not get the same exposure to foreign musicians. So having the opportunity to attend a performance, learn about music production and jam with the band is invaluable. Interaction with other musicians is vital for honing skills, expanding knowledge, and staying motivated. Maya's workshop and performance certainly helped students progress towards these goals. If you doubt the affect of these exchanges, check out the end of the workshop video and look at the huge smile on student Wang Jie Chao’s face as he talks about singing in the cipher. Once he found his groove, there was nothing else, only the music. I think that’s pretty powerful.

~ Angela

April 19, 2008

DòngTīng Song of the Week

This week’s song comes from Shantou’s AFinger Crew. Language is the defining element of their style, and the 10-member crew raps in both Mandarin and their local Chaozhou dialect. Their self-produced tracks mix elements of Hip Hop, pop and reggae. This mixtape track is an introduction to their album, the first ever Chaozhou dialect Hip Hop album.

AFinger Crew - 專輯Mixtape試聽版

己的音乐也结合Hip Hop,流行音乐和雷鬼。这mixtape歌给大家
介绍他们的专辑,中国第一个潮州话Hip Hop专辑。

April 7, 2008

DòngTīng Song of the Week

Dumdue‘s MC Kidgod at his Guangzhou pet store

This week’s song comes from Dumdue, Guangzhou’s underground kings of Chinese Jazz-Rap. Rapping in Cantonese over their own self-produced, sample-heavy beats, Dumdue has created a unique sound that has managed to attract fans from all over the country. The distinct voices of MC Kidgod, MC Along, and a well-sampled horn all come together on this track, “老后.”

本周的歌是来自广州噔哚,中国爵士说唱的地下国王. 由于用广东话
MC Kidgod和MC Along 的鲜明声音跟一个采样喇叭的声音都结合起来,
创造 “老后”这首歌。

"老后” − 噔哚

April 1, 2008

Chinese Underground Hip Hop rocks out in Guangzhou

Last weekend we got the chance to see an awesome show in Guangzhou that showcased three of China’s premier underground Hip Hop groups: Co op Sol from Kunming, In3 from Beijing, and Dumdue from Guangzhou. Lasting just under two hours, and with over two hundred people in attendance the live performances from each group were electric. The energy from the music mixed with the excitement from the crowd to create a great night of Hip Hop. Check it out.