The American Rise of 饶舌音乐(Ráoshé yīnyuè)

2.7 billion views. One online reality TV show: The Rap of China. Running from late June to early September, this atypical online show managed to rake in billions of views from all over the globe, launching Chinese rap from an underground swell to a dominating force in the global music scene. Managing to even diffuse through the famed Chinese firewall to suburban New Jersey, this newfounded “Chinese rap” type music found an international audience enthralled by its exotic nature and quirky rhythms.

Example of rap of china performance^

Hip-hop and rap music had always been considered out of the mainstream in China. Many older conservative Chinese citizens believe the fast paced, lyrically free music is not indicative of China’s culture but instead only for “gangsters.” It had an especially hard start, as new rap artists had to find a way to circumvent the political censorship China is notorious for, while also staying true to the freedom rap brings.  But these obstacles haven’t stopped many of the younger generation from overcoming them and becoming famous artists or their millions of avid listeners.

Hip-Hop in China first began in the early 2000’s from the direct influence of Jay-Z and Eminem as Western Artists. For almost an entire decade the genre was confined to clubs and music festivals, with very little permeation into China’s mainstream music industry. Most artists viewed rapping as a hobby and the profession was seen as a waste of time and career. Now the rap scene is rapidly changing. Due to the internet and the innate sense of globalization that it embodies, American rap gained a huge foothold and its “free spirited” nature began to influence the Chinese music industry. Chinese artists began to emulate this and openly began to discuss politically sensitive material. Although heavily influenced by American styles, most artists have found ways to incorporate traces of their roots into their music. For example, some will rap in local dialects rather than in Mandarin and others will use famous local monuments as subject matter. These techniques all work to improve the authenticity of these Chinese rap artists. Eventually after nearly two decades, these authentic underground artists were given the opportunity to jump from small local performances to major world-class venues.

A great example of this is Zhou Yan, who goes by stage name GAI, whose rap career comprised mostly of bar performances, being payed $75 a night. Now, after being featured on the Rap of China, Zhou has made enough money to ensure a comfortable life for his entire family. Zhou is not alone in his catapult to fame; almost all of the artists on The Rap of China have found huge and previously thought unattainable success in China. This Chinese hip-hop explosion that owes its roots to American influence hasn’t only been contained to itself,  it has even managed to pervade back into America, drawing fans and listens from across the county.

Example of one of Gai’s performances

The quirky rhythms and unique beat of this new Chinese rap is huge deviation of traditional rap songs, one readily welcomed by American listeners. Of our very own Bergen County Academies, AAST Junior Matt Shinkar says, “Chinese rap means the emergence of a new culture. It is the cultural epitome of a cultural blending of American Rap, Hip-Hop and localized Chinese dimensions that has brought long awaited evolution to the rap scene.”

Varun Kumar, another Junior in AAST chimed in, “Like K-pop, Chinese rap has the potential to be a huge hit in the US.”

Chinese rap has managed to evolve from an small underground culture heavily influenced by western rap styles into one of the foremost parts of the Chinese music industry. The Rap of China only served to show how truly popular Chinese rap has become not only in China but internationally,  and that it can continue to grow into an even more dominating force.  Matt Shinkar says, “Cultures are joining together, each contributing a parts in order to make a whole that is better. I’m not sure what music the future will bring, but I know for sure I’ll be listening.”