Why we did a series on Chinese hip-hop

Dec 24, 2019

Hip-hop and street culture are influencing a whole generation of young Chinese people. Why not talk about it?

The Chinese of today are into raves, mixtapes, and baggy jeans.

Hip-hop and street culture are influencing the youth of China today. They grew up listening to Jay-Z, Eminem, and 50 Cent on smuggled cassette tapes and now, streaming websites.

When I was growing up in Hong Kong, I remember listening to Numb/Encore by Jay-Z and Linkin Park when I was 12. I didn’t know what hip-hop was then, but I was hooked.

They grew up more familiar with Jay-Z than Jet Li.

A lot of kids in China grew up like me, more familiar with Jay-Z than Jet Li, more familiar with hip-hop than traditional Chinese music. Their sense of style came from hypebeasts abroad.

So when I joined Goldthread, I wanted to do a series that explored China’s hip-hop and underground culture.

I decided to call it “East Coast” because after leaving Hong Kong, I spent my high school and college years on the East Coast of the United States, mainly in New York.

But having spent half my life in Asia, I realized that in a way, I had been living in the “East Coast” all my life. Plus, with the history of East Coast versus West Coast hip-hop, I liked the sound of the name.

The first episode is about Bohan Phoenix, a Chinese-American artist who raps in Chinese and English.

His music speaks to that feeling of not fitting in here and not fitting in there.

I started with him because I felt like a lot of people, especially immigrants and children of immigrants, could relate to his bicultural experience. His music speaks to that feeling of not fitting in here and not fitting in there.

Bohan Phoenix at a concert in Hong Kong in November 2018.
Bohan Phoenix at a concert in Hong Kong in November 2018. / Photo: Hanley Chu

As you continue watching the series, you get deeper into the local Chinese hip-hop scene.

The second episode is about a DJ collective called Yeti Out. They throw underground parties in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and London, and bring Asian artists to Europe.

The third is about a music video director named James Mao, who works for 88rising, the American record label signing big Asian artists like the Higher Brothers and Rich Brian.

The whole series is like a journey.

I wanted to start with these figures because they mainly work on bridging the gap between East and West. As you get deeper into the series, you really start getting into the local scene.

You’re introduced to artists like Dough-Boy, a rising star in Hong Kong’s rap scene; 22K, one of the earliest promoters of Chinese hip-hop; and DJ Wordy, one of the first turntablists in China, until you reach the homegrown hero, Jony J, who only raps in Chinese.

Jony J at a concert in Tianjin, China, in July.
Jony J at a concert in Tianjin, China, in July. / Photo: Hanley Chu

The whole series is like a journey. My hope is that it can gradually build up viewers’ interest in Chinese hip-hop and help them really understand hip-hop’s reach around the world. It’s affecting so many young Chinese people, so why not talk about it? I want to break the stereotype that Chinese culture is just the traditional stuff.

If you want to get into East Coast, start here.

Hip hop in ChinaStreet cultureMusicYear in Review 2019

Credit

Producer: Hanley Chu

Mastering: Victor Peña