Entering the arena
Foreign rappers in China laud popular TV show ‘Rap of China’
Arapper himself, Samuel Conradie from South Africa was delighted when he came across the Internet show Rap of China after arriving in Beijing two months ago.
“It’s very good to see that China has
a television show about rap. Before this, I hadn’t heard Chinese hip-hop, and didn’t even know China had hip-hop,” said Conradie. He has recorded two rap songs, one is about breaking up with his girlfriend, and the other is about his little brother’s her’s drug problem. “People only knew that the US has hip-hop. China is bringing Chinese game to the table. Every country needs to bring something to the table. From there, we can share and grow,” he said. Rap of China, a hugely successful Internet-based reality show, has put Chinese hiphop music into the national spotlight for the first time. The show’s September 9 season finale raked in more than 2.7 billion views on the Chinese Internet, Time Weekly reported in early September. The 12-episode show was hugely successful, bringing underground Chinese rappers, such as HipHopMan, Tizzy T, PG One, Jony J and VAVA, to national attention.
China’s budding rap culture
Watching Rap of China on his computer with his friends, Conradie was excited to see his fellow Chinese rappers performing on stage. When the rapper After Journey shouted, “I am the best rapper around the world,” Conradie laughed. “I always say that too,” he said. Conradie enjoyed all the performances and especially liked rappers Gai and PG One who both tied for first place in the contest.
“The beat and music are good, and their stage presence is very good,” Conradie said. “They seemed very confident. Rappers need to believe that they are the best so that they can be confident.”
He also admired their lyrics after someone explained them to him.
“Rapping is about expressing yourself and telling your own stories, and they are doing that. It’s good,” he said.
To Conradie, China’s rap music is a mashup of global and local culture. It has its own local characteristics, drawing on elements of the local Chinese culture and history.
For example, the lyrics of one of the songs were about a classic Chinese novel called The Water
Margin. The novel is about folk heroes’ rebellion against the ruling government.
“I like the lyrics, black rappers also rap about their history of being oppressed and their defiance against that,” Conradie said. “It’s important for one to know about one’s own history. The past lays the foundation for the future, and we can learn from the past. It’s like how South Africans rap about stories of Mandela.”
Another way Chinese rap music draws from local culture is in its use of regional dialects. Gai often rapped in the dialect of his hometown of Chongqing.
“The language is a part of a place's culture and personality, and rapping in the local dialect shows the rappers are proud of their hometown and can promote their local culture,” Conradie said.
Aileen Lozada, a Columbian-American who has been living in China for six years, is a big fan of Chinese hip-hop herself.
“Rappers in China draw elements from Chinese culture. They revise from the old Chinese songs and history, so they are making something that says China,” Lozada said.
Yonka from South Korea, who opened a hip-hop dance studio in Beijing a year ago, said that although the format of Rap of China looks like Show
Me the Money, a South Korean hip-hop show, the music and content are different.
Korean hip-hop (K-pop) is in the form of a boy or girl group. They sing, dance and rap. It’s a mix, Yonka explained. K-pop is commercialized. It has nothing to do with history or expressing personal stories; it’s about cute boys and girls and cool clothes.
“Chinese hip-hop is different because most of the rappers were underground, and they are telling their own experience and feelings,” he said.
In an interview with BBC this month, MC Hotdog from Taiwan, one of the judges from Rap of China, said that Chinese rap is not highly commercialized like in the US where the hip-hop is just about money and sex.
“What China offers is our long history and deeply cultured literature,” he told the BBC.
Taking rap to the next level
According to a Beijing News article, rap emerged out a need for black people in the US to express their disappointment and indignation about racial discrimination, the wealth gap and other problems in the US.
Samuel Conradie, stage name Bboy Silent Sam, from South Africa participates in a Bboy contest on Reunion Island off the coast of the African continent.