The Rise and Rise of Hip Hop in China

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Five Things that are Testimony to China’s Love of Hip Hop Culture

Rap music has long been on the youth culture radar in China; much to the surprise of folks that have never visited the Middle Kingdom and think that people here still wear Qing dynasty costumes and sport bald-head/rat tail haircuts, or they rock standard issue grey ‘同志们’comrade suits similar to those preferred by a certain Chairman. Although rap and ‘urban culture’ is firmly enmeshed in China’s pop culture- as you’ll find out shortly if you hadn’t already- its presence is still somewhat of a contentious issue.

Regardless of rap’s questionable capacity to promote harmonious societal values, it seems to be here to stay. Let’s have a look at the most notable five of the many manifestations of the China rap phenomenon:

Hip hop in Officialdom

Recently Taipei’s mayor, Ke Wenzhe, became the first official (as far as we know) to release a trap song and video . The song, which pitches political awareness to the capital’s youth, is possibly one of the most unusual trap tracks to come out of Asia… ever. Ke’s chanted hook “do the right thing” likely also makes him a pioneer in the ‘conscious trap’ genre; trap rap not being a milieu known for its uplifting lyrics. In a public statement about his burgeoning musical career Ke admiringly noted:

“From understanding hip-hop culture, to learning the different elements of rap songs and the beats behind them, actually getting into the studio to record, and finally recording a music video — it’s a lengthy process, and I realized that the music industry is not as simple as singing karaoke. Each step is really professional.”

Props to Ke Xiansheng!

Rap of China TV show

Probably one of the biggest TV shows in the history of the universe, this talent show is the thing that has cemented rap music in China’s cultural landscape. A season finale of 360m viewers made it an historical TV highlight. The show, for many self proclaimed hip hop heads, has its fair share of less-than-real moments, eg contestants all wear plastic looking oversized name-plate chains in lieu of their real bling. Former Ruff Ryders rapper and battle ace Jin (the Yaoming of rap) also moonlights as mystery Hip Hop Man with a commix related backstory and metal mask suspiciously reminiscent of underground rap star MF Doom.

Borrowing of style and gigantic costume jewelry aside, the incredible influence of rap in China is that far reaching that it has even impacted Chinese tech history. In its most recent white paper microvideo streaming app Douyin, now a tech giant and social media leader, correlates one of its early spikes in active users with the screening of the second season of China. Which leads onto one of the other cultural phenomena marking hip-hop’s runaway success

                                                  Mandarin Rap Related Memes

                                                       “A brain is a great thing. Too bad you don’t have one”

Rap of China’s resident hip-hop darling Kris Wu is an influencer of epic proportions. During the first season of the show, social network platforms Wechat and Weibo were abuzz with one of his numerous catch phrases “有freestyle吗?”. “Do you freestyle?” — a rhetorical request Wu would often make of auditioning contestants — went viral and was even named one of the top online slang terms of 2017 by a language research center under the Ministry of Education The excitement and spectacle of battle rap became the subject of many a social media post and was the source of much amusement to even the most unlikely of rap fans.

In the second season of the show Wu ploughed on with his coining of rap sound bites, one of which utterances gaining the highest in street cred statements was the word “SKR”. Originally used by rappers as an onomatopoeia of the sound of car tyres screeching on tarmac the word took on all kinds of new uses thanks to Wu’s popularity, giving birth to a multitude of meme’s, social media braggadocio and even a series of dis raps aimed at the presenter’s rap credentials.

Street fashion


Although in Asia streetwear was undoubtedly initially the preserve of Japanese and South Korean kids, China’s market for all apparel hip hop related is huge. A cursory browse of clothes (and everything from cell phone cases to toothpick holders) on China’s biggest ecommerce site Taobao will show that all things Supreme or Bape are in ridiculous demand. The fact that several brands of streetwear don’t have flagship stores in mainland China has given rise to a huge market in imported clothes as well as locally produced knock-offs. The costliness of such items has also led to a burgeoning market in homegrown labels aiming to replicate the ethos of more familiar brands and to create something especially for domestic consumers.

China’s Night Life and Social Scene

Most people with even a passing knowledge of Asian pop culture will be aware that Karaoke is a big deal on the continent, even several decades after the advent of the pastime (abbreviated as KTV) in China the hobby is still a social institution. What many don’t know is that as much as Chinese people enjoy crooning to their favorite ballads here, they equally enjoy dancing. Taking a walk along any downtown street in a first tier Chinese city, one is likely to pass by a dance studio. With a glance into such an establishment, one is also liable to see people pop locking, back spinning, windmilling or people of all shapes and sizes engaged in some manner of street dance. These clubs are a huge industry and they’re powered by the cachet and perceived mystique of hip hop culture.

Last but not least on this tour of Hip Hop’s monster influence is China’s club scene. Both of Beijing’s two well known superclubs situated beside the capital’s Worker’s Stadium are known for being venues that predominantly play hip-hop music. The conspicuous consumption and bling celebrated in these mega clubs is completely in keeping with the hedonism and excess that’s part of contemporary rap culture.