As has been well documented here and everywhere, Rap of China was the cultural zeitgeist no one saw coming. Within hours of its debut, the show had racked up over a hundred million views, and that was just the beginning. It single-handedly launched a national fascination with hip hop, and gave birth to countless memes, marketing gimmicks, and newfound audiences.
With the sheer number of eyes watching the show, it’s also no surprise that several of the contestants have capitalized on their sudden mainstream recognition, linking up with managers and putting out A-tier solo debuts. We rounded up some of the dopest videos to come out of the freshman class, post-Rap of China glowup. Here’s our top four, plus a loosely translated notable lyric from each.
1. Kris Wu
Alright this is technically cheating because Kris Wu is a judge, not a contestant. But given that he’s kind of the face of Rap of China, and because this video is flames, we’re gonna start with his newest track 6. Wu picks bite-sized pieces off of a rap culture smorgasbord here, but he must have a sturdy team behind him because goddamn, is it fresh. Vaporwave aesthetic – check. Travis Scott adlibs – check. A$AP Mob Yamborghini High-style visual overload – check. But the whole thing comes together in a bizarrely cohesive way. Wu even shouts out Biggie in the middle of all of this and it still somehow works (even though we all know Kris Wu did not, in fact, “used to read Word Up magazine”). Props to Wu for holding it down as a new-gen pop culture king should.
Notable Bar: “Spit bars with rhymes that make you go 666*/ayo, I invented this flow 66/the world be the kitchen/I be the chef cookin the oven, Steph Curry them refs”
*666, pronounced lyoh-lyoh-lyoh is slang for that’s dope. Not a satanic thing.
VAVA is a veteran who came onto the show with a splash, making it clear in the first episode that she belonged there. Her new track Kan Wo De Xin Yi (basically check out my new clothes) keeps that vibe going, inviting the audience to peep her new digs, post-big break success. And she’s not lying, because the video is higher production value than anything we’ve seen from her before. VAVA is posted up on a color-blocked stage, rapping her verses in a number of crazy outfits, with a running theme of Peking opera throughout. The beat heavily incorporates traditional Chinese instruments, and there’s even an opera bridge floating around. VAVA is joined by rapper Ty, lending her some more diverse street cred with a Chengdu dialect verse (Chengdu is pretty much recognized as the “rap province”). Her vibe is kind of somewhere between a Rihanna and a Nicki, with a heaping spoonful of VAVA. If you’d asked us a few months ago if China were ready for this kind of pop icon, we would have probably said no, we’re still on the Colbie Caillat stage of development over here. But things are changing – VAVA wants us to peep the threads and know that she’s here to stay.
Notable Bar: “Look me up and down/every detail perfect, ready to blow/throw on my gold chain and step into my J’s”
3. PG One
The end of the first season came as a weirdly anti-climactic surprise, with the two finalists PG One and Gai being crowned co-champions. We covered a fun video of Gai’s recently, but PG One’s Pentakill is a straight-to-the-point lyrically dense track that proves the rapper isn’t planning to scrape by. Think Kendrick on Black Friday, but if like 80% of the bars were e-sports references. Actually, it wasn’t until after the fact that we realized the video is part of a series of branded content released in tandem with the show, with this one being sponsored by League of Legends (the whole thing made a whole lot more sense after that). The hook is nearly nonexistent, and the video is just the bare essentials. The track is about three things – beats, bars, and advertising video games. Will be interesting to see if PG One, a real “rapper’s rapper” so to speak, is able to stretch himself further now that he’s champ.
Notable Bar: “PG One is online/don’t ever let me run into you/I will just keep moving forward/the battlefield is up in flames”
Brant.B is from Red Flower Society, the same group as PG One, but was eliminated in an earlier round. In his new video though, he seems unfazed. And he should be – he’s been performing across the country as part of a major rap crew for a while now, so it’d take more than that to shake him. The video is a neon-lit new school bump, with Brant.B hitting flows and melodies over a stretched out vocal sample. It’s also worth noting that he sings some impressive electronic R&B vocal runs. The catch is, that it’s all an extended piece of branded content for Nivea Men skincare. Yikes. We thought League of Legends was a bit of a dry topic, but you really gotta give Brant.B credit for pulling such a catchy song out of the theme “Nivea Men.” In the outro he sings the word Nivea over and over, before the logo appears next to a slogan endorsing gendered hygiene products: Men just use the man one. If PG One’s music video/commercial sets him up as a rap king, Brant.B’s track shows off his capabilities as a hitmaker – and our ears thank him for it.
Notable Bar: “Don’t go back looking for the gaze of others/you should live out your own style…NIVEA…NIVEA…NIVEA”
It still remains to be seen if China’s starry-eyed affinity for hip hop will turn out to be a long-lasting pop culture shift or a passing fad.
Unlike the US, China didn’t get to enjoy a hip hop Golden Era before the slimy forces of consumerism began to – for lack of a better word – consume it. It went straight from being something nobody cared about to being something everybody cared about. But the show’s impact is definitely visible – not only did it provide a platform for people to come to terms with a genre that had never quite broken into the mainstream, but it also produced a first wave of nationally recognized artists in one fell swoop.
The freshman class is all grown up and getting signed, its students catapulted from hometown venues onto bonified A-list super stages. Now that the pressure’s on, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot from these guys. We’ll keep you updated.