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Chinese Rap Wrap: Beijing OG Sbazzo Returns, AR & VaVa Tease New Albums

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Chinese Rap Wrap is a bi-weekly RADII column that focuses on the Chinese hip hop scene, featuring the freshest talents, hottest new tracks, and biggest beefs from the world of Chinese rap.

Chinese Rappers to Watch

While it’s becoming difficult to decide who qualifies as an “OG” Chinese rapper — especially with a new generation calling themselves “young OGs” — some pioneers will always receive everyone’s respect for paving the way for Chinese hip hop. Sbazzo is definitely one of the few.

Moving to Canada with his family at the age of 6, Sbazzo was exposed to hip hop earlier than most Chinese people. He teamed up with rap crews like Yin Ts’ang (隐藏) and Bad Blood in the early 2000s, and his exquisite lyrics and rhyme skills have subsequently influenced generations of Chinese rappers. Sbazzo has just announced a new solo album, Contrast, following up on 2018’s The Light 2.0 and 2011’s The Light. In contrast to the hopeful and bright tone of Sbazzo’s earlier albums, the 19 tracks on Contrast depict a dark and depressed version of the veteran rapper. The album will drop in December, and will only be released as a physical CD.

Related:

The History of Rap in China, Part 1: Early Roots and Iron Mics (1993-2009)

While one legendary rapper is preparing a comeback, a newly-formed female rap quartet, S.O/S (Sistas Of Synergy) dropped their first EP Die Young last month. The four talented rappers — JiNX, XiGGA, GiA and LiM — rap about how they understand “youth” across the EP’s six tracks. The release was produced by Manchuker, who built one of the first Chinese hip hop brands, Asian Power, in New York in 1998. Although the young rappers in S.O/S missed an opportunity to perform at the Rolling Loud festival in Hong Kong due to a last minute cancellation, it looks like their music journey is just beginning.

New Chinese Rap Releases of Note

If Kanye West’s latest, Jesus Is King, is the most discussed and longest-awaited American hip hop album to come out recently, AR’s upcoming album, Pop Rap (流行说), could be the Chinese equivalent. Tons of music lovers are looking forward to the release from the up-and-coming young rapper, who’s been dropping killer singles all year. Before it comes out at the end of this month, we can take a glimpse at an intro that dropped a couple of days ago. The flow is smooth, the wordplay is delicate as always, and the instrument arrangement also sounds more diverse this time.

VaVa recently dropped her second full-length album, Mao Yanqi (her real name), two years after her debut. Each of its 10 tracks were written and composed by VaVa herself, and two of them feature popular rappers from Modern Sky: Benzo and Young Jack. While VaVa’s linkup with Warner Music has led to an increase in production quality and a diversification of the style of her music, we can still hear the tough girl who has earned love from millions of fans over the last few years.

8 Mile Rap Music Game 2019-2020 has begun its series of offline events, kicking off with a contest among the top 8 rappers from Xi’an, and then moving on to 16 other major cities. The founder of 8 Mile, Hyuk aka HERMAN/Ye Nan and “rust belt rapper” Gem created a dream team along with Dough-Boy from Hong Kong, GALI and KOZAY from Shanghai, Gem’s crew mate Ganana, SuperDeep from Quinpal Squad Culture in northeastern China, Xi’an OG and original HHH member Mercy, Mercy’s homie and Beijing melodic rapper Sean T, and Boc from Shandong — this crew dropped their first “Y.M.C Cypher” a couple of days ago. Billing themselves as rappers “who don’t sell our lives to anyone,” Y.M.C will collaborate more in the future to “promote healthy development of Chinese hip hop” by communicating and sharing among various crews and organizations.

Chinese Rap in the Mainstream

In the previous edition of Chinese Rap Wrap, I wrote that Hip Hop Award China, the hip hop-centric award that had been running since 2008, announced that it would cease operations. Many scene insiders expressed their sadness at the news.

Now there’s an update: a new award named Starter Hip Hop Award, organized by the same company, Hip Hop Fusion, will take place on November 23 in Shenzhen, sponsored and supported by local foundations.

Related:

With OG Judges and a Focus on the Music, “Listen Up” Showcases the Real Rap of China

An even more surprising bit of news concerns the company’s underground rap competition, Listen Up. Entertainment giant Hunan TV’s streaming platform Mango TV and Beijing hip hop label Seven Gurus will stand behind a brand-new version of Listen Up with platform and production support. Hunan TV is known for creating the first Chinese talent show, Super Girl, in the early 2000s, and has become famous for its subsequent music variety shows like Singer — if they help Listen Up to build another hit rap show as big as iQIYI’s Rap of China, we’ll definitely be following that closely.

Chinese Rap Overseas

No.4/Diss Music is sending their rappers on another overseas tour. On November 7 and 8, Chengdu rapper 3Ho/Wang Yitai, Peter Chen Castles, Xi’an OG Pact, and Cream D will perform in Vancouver and Edmonton. BO$$ X (fka Fat Shady) is supposedly showing up as well.

Although 8 Mile‘s new online+offline contest is taking place within China, the national champion is expected to be sent to Los Angeles for collabs with international artists and industry insiders. Hyuk recently posted a video in which Def Jam’s DOK2GONZO and AE announced that they were waiting for the hottest Chinese rapper go visit LA and make music together with them.

Beef

While 2019 is almost done, and some rappers are concentrating on their soon-to-be-released albums, others have been busy making diss tracks.

At the end of October, the semi-disppeared PG One made it onto Weibo’s trending search topic list yet again. Regular readers will recall that the so-called “hip hop ban” of early 2018 came after rumors of an affair between PG One and actress Li Xiaolu — a married, household-name celebrity — spread on social media. Now private videos of the two kissing have surfaced, confirming the rumor and stirring up the controversy again. The negative backlash from the allegations last year virtually crushed the Chinese hip hop scene overnight, so it’s understandable that some underground rappers are furious about seeing the scandal back in the center of public attention.

Related:

Fans and Netizens React to Rapper PG One’s Recent Scandals

Young Beijing rapper Huizi — who was on Rap of China in 2017, the year that PG One took first place alongside GAI — dropped a diss track against PG One called “Ungratefulness” on November 1, while in the middle of a national tour. PG One — who’d previously claimed innocence and played the victim during the first round of accusations of the affair — responded quickly with a diss track in return, and a war commenced. As of November 6, Huizi has dropped three tracks, and PG One has fought back with two of his own, as well as two more from his bros kim23 and Killer.

There’s also been beef recently between Mercy and Higher Brothers. After Mercy and GALI dropped a collab called “A Bit Faster” criticizing hardcore and “quick-mouth” rappers, Higher Brothers’ Chengdu bros ICEEProud and BabyBo started dropping diss tracks to return fire. Higher Brothers’ Melo, Masiwei and Psy.P all eventually became involved in the diss round with tracks of their own. Sean T joined the war as well, on Mercy’s side.

Diss tracks are definitely one way for rappers to show off wordplay skill and productivity, and to create some hype, if not a great way to leave behind a well-created work that will withstand the test of time. Hopefully some of these rappers will drop more dedicated music as well — otherwise, jumping into a beef might become a new shortcut for young blood trying to enter the game.

Cover photo (left to right): AR / Allthat Records

More Chinese Rap Wrap:

Chinese Rap Wrap: (Fat) Shady’s Back

Chinese Rap Wrap: Meet the “Indigo Children” Weirding Up China’s Cloud Rap Scene

Chinese Rap Wrap: The Remarkable Story of a Retro-Feeling Rust Belt Rapper’s Break-Out Success

Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van