Shanghai-based, internationally-minded rapper Al Rocco is doubling down on efforts to claim his Chinese identity, having just released a new Bruce Lee-themed music video, assisted by Jackson Wang.
The video features Al Rocco rapping in English and Mandarin, plus also saving a kid from bullies and teaching him kung fu. Featured is Jackson Wang, the Chinese fencing champion-turned K-pop boy band member-turned solo rapper. Together they beat up the bullies, and teach the kid to fend for himself. A lot of Jaden Smith Karate Kid vibes here. A quick look at some of Rocco’s Chinese bars:
The whole world follows my kung fu flow / if you’re with me you’re my bro / she said I’m like Tupac plus Bruce Lee / mixed together to change China’s HOV
It’s worth noting the context around this track. Last year, Al Rocco failed to make it past the prelims in Rap of China’s first season. He was dismissed by Zhang Zhenyue for performing a rap entirely in English. At the time, that caused a lot of controversy. Al Rocco was one of the biggest rappers to audition, and a different contestant passed prelims by performing a word-for-word rendition of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” (entirely in English, of course). The decision caused the judges to lose a lot of credibility, and Al Rocco didn’t shy away from expressing his opinion, going as far as releasing a diss track directed at the program.
Now, Rap of China’s second season has just launched, and Al Rocco is back for a second go. Fans were eager to see how he would fare (so eager, that the first episode ended on a cliffhanger: will Al Rocco rap in Chinese??).
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At the beginning of the second episode, we got our answer: yes, Al Rocco will rap in Chinese. In fact, his bilingual performance was among the best of the first round — judge Kris Wu even suggested they collaborate together on a Metro Boomin beat:
Kris: I hear your lyrics. I have a dream to bring Chinese culture to the world. Your dream is the same as mine. So seeing this beat and your style… I think we could work together on a song with my good friend Metro Boomin.Al Rocco: Yo, that would be G, homie.Kris: Yeah, you down?Al Rocco: Let’s get it.Kris: Ok, then let’s really make this happen, and show the world our overseas Chinese style.
Kris: I hear your lyrics. I have a dream to bring Chinese culture to the world. Your dream is the same as mine. So seeing this beat and your style… I think we could work together on a song with my good friend Metro Boomin.
Al Rocco: Yo, that would be G, homie.
Kris: Yeah, you down?
Al Rocco: Let’s get it.
Kris: Ok, then let’s really make this happen, and show the world our overseas Chinese style.
The music video for Bruce Lee — with Al Rocco rapping side by side with Chinese pop rapper Jackson Wang, in English and Mandarin over an unmistakably southern-style trap beat, and drawing on Bruce’s enduring crossover legacy — seems to fall in line with that statement. After all the spite and diss tracks following his unceremonious first season dismissal, Al Rocco returned respectfully, thanking judge Zhang Zhenyue for the opportunity to push his Mandarin bars to the next level.
Rap of China this season has pushed the importance of positive energy and Chinese identity, so Rocco has to play his cards right if he wants to stick around.
How will Al Rocco fare in this season’s competition? How far will his non-native skill set carry him? Will we ever see that dank collab with Al Rocco, Kris Wu, and Kris Wu’s good friend Metro Boomin? Next episode airs on the 28th.
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