Entering the arena

By Zhang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/28 18:53:39

Foreign rappers in China laud popular TV show ‘Rap of China’

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. Photo: Courtesy of Samuel Conradie

A rapper 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 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 hip-hop 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.

Samuel Conradie and his crew perform at a club in South Africa. Photo: Courtesy of Samuel Conradie

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.

In the BBC interview, MC Hotdog also said, "Real hip-hop, is for those underdogs to have a voice of peace, love, independence and unity."

So when Rap of China was launched, and the contestants wore expensive brand-name clothes worth more than 100,000 yuan ($14,997), it took away from what "real" rap is supposed to signify for some people.

Many famous rappers like Tupac and Jay-Z all came from poor families, according to Conradie. But that doesn't mean that rap can only belong to poor people and tell sad stories.

"Rap is an art that belongs to everyone, no matter of skin color, nationality or how much money you have," he said. "Everyone comes from a different background. They should tell their own stories and be true to themselves."

As rap develops, more people from different backgrounds are joining in, and many of them are not poor at all. For example, Canadian rapper Drake was never poor and American rapper Lil Dicky got a university education and worked at big companies before he turned to rap as a career, Yonka said.

Seeming to agree with Yonka, Conradie said that like life, music evolves.

"Everything evolves," Conradie said. "Although rap music originated in the black community, it doesn't have to stay in the black community or the US. It has to evolve, and it needs diversity so that the world can be a smaller place.

Conradie said while the show went viral, some rappers, including himself, are a little concerned about Chinese hip-hop.

He said that many rappers believe that real rap was born in the underground world. There were no limitations and it was totally free, which is the core spirit of rap.

"When it's on TV, it's commercialized, then the rappers need to think about how to entertain the audience, instead of being true to themselves," Conradie said.

According to Conradie, hip-hop has four elements: rap, street dance, graffiti painting and deejaying. Although Rap of China only presents rap, it can be viewed as "the beginning of hip-hop culture in China."

"Hopefully the show can lead the hip-hop culture to go further," he said.



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