Finding ‘real’ rappers in China will require some creativity
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.