Find­ing ‘real’ rap­pers in China will re­quire some cre­ativ­ity

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Sun Jing

Re­cently, The Rap of China, a rap con­test show aired on China’s stream­ing plat­form iqiyi.com, wit­nessed the thrilling mo­ment when the mys­te­ri­ous con­tes­tant “you-know-who” took off his golden mask and re­vealed his identity as Au-ye­ung Jin (also known as MC Jin), a leg­endary Amer­i­can-born Chi­nese rap­per with world­wide fame. The show broad­casts rap, a niche genre of sub­cul­ture, to Chi­nese au­di­ence.

Rap­ping, along with DJing, break danc­ing and graf­fiti have been re­garded as cru­cial el­e­ments of hip-hop, a mu­si­cal style orig­i­nated from AfricanAmer­i­can down­town cul­ture in the US in the 1970s. Long be­fore the hey­days of hip-hop, how­ever, rap can be traced back to the Gri­ots of West African cul­ture, a group of sto­ry­tellers and singers who not only mem­o­rized tra­di­tional lyrics to in­herit their lo­cal cul­tures, but also im­pro­vised new songs for so­cial events. Cen­turies later, rap­ping, en­coded into the street cul­ture by its mod­ern grass-root suc­ces­sors, has been trans­formed into rhyth­mic speech per­for­mance in var­i­ous ver­nac­u­lars, ex­press­ing reflections on the world.

It should be en­cour­aged to pro­vide the au­di­ence a chan­nel to get ac­quainted with rap. How­ever, The Rap of China has put Chi­nese rap cul­ture in a quag­mire. Firstly, the pro­duc­tion team has re­ceived se­vere crit­i­cism for pla­gia­riz­ing its Korean coun­ter­part Show Me The Money.

Be­sides, the rap­ping con­test is ori­ented by con­sump­tion logic. On the one hand, rap in­struc­tors are elected ac­cord­ing to com­mer­cial value in­stead of tal­ent. While celebri­ties such as Chang Csun-yuk, Kris Wu and Wil­ber Pan with fewer achieve­ments are nom­i­nated as judges, MC Jin is among the con­tes­tants. On the other hand, most con­tes­tants rap their bla­tant am­bi­tion for wealth and fame, which co­in­cides with the huge logo at­tached to each in­struc­tor’s mi­cro­phone that says “RICH.”

More im­por­tantly, both the con­tes­tants and judges are ea­ger to de­limit a Chi­nese hip-hop cul­ture, sac­ri­fic­ing the di­ver­sity of rap cul­ture.

Although the movie 8 Mile (2002) rep­re­sented how white rap­pers in the 1990s strug­gled to break African-Amer­i­can’s dom­i­nance in hip-hop, sim­i­lar sce­nar­ios are re­peated at The Rap of China. It is easy to fig­ure out the chain in rap cir­cles, which could be listed from top to bot­tom as star rap­pers who have achieved com­mer­cial suc­cess, un­der­ground rap­pers as lo­cal cul­tural lead­ers and fi­nally, idol trainees with a good-look­ing face but with­out the ca­pa­bil­ity to cre­ate their own lyrics. An on­line streamer who’s known for Han­mai, a fad of rhymed speech in­spired partly from West­ern rap cul­ture and partly from Chi­nese tra­di­tional art kuaiban, has not even earned a chance to be on the show, re­ceiv­ing straight­for­ward re­jec­tions since she could not be seen as a “gen­uine rap­per.” The Ghetto Mil­lion­aire, a rap song pro­duced by MC Hot­dog in 2012, proph­e­sied the dilemma of the pro­gram al­le­gor­i­cally. It dis­cusses the para­dox of rap­pers’ identity as both grass-root mi­nor­ity artists and com­mer­cial­ized pop­u­lar stars, echo­ing the plight of most con­tes­tants who rec­og­nize them­selves as the heir of West­ern rap tra­di­tion while gain­ing as much profit as pos­si­ble in China. Jay Chou, whose songs in­flu­ence gen­er­a­tions of Chi­nese youth, sug­gests that he prefers rap­ping in a way dif­fer­ent from Western­ers, lead­ing to his Chi­nese-style rap. Just for­get about the nar­row-minded def­i­ni­tion and the bu­reau­cratic sys­tem of rap, and en­cour­age more creative rap­ping sto­ry­tellers, and only in this way we can keep the vi­tal­ity of Chi­nese rap cul­ture. The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Luo Xuan/GT

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