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Chinese Rap Wrap: Higher Brothers’ Melo Drops First Single for New Album

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Chinese Rap Wrap is a bi-weekly RADII column that focuses on the Chinese hip hop scene, underground or in the mainstream.

New Chinese Rap Releases of Note

Higher Brothers member Melo returned with the first track from his upcoming album Old Master on April 7. The song is called “Born Like This,” while the rapper’s solo album is set to drop on 88rising on April 21. Channeling some of the visual style of a gritty Eminem video, the track’s accompanying music video sees the Chengdu rapper based in a bombed out warehouse and ends with Melo walking outside as tower buildings burn against an apocalyptic background.

The forthcoming album will be the third solo release in quick succession from the Bros, after KNOWKNOW and Masiwei’s efforts. Psy.P, the remaining member of the group, is also due to drop a solo LP in the coming months.

Related:

Higher Brothers’ KNOWKNOW Enlists Snoop Dogg for Ridiculous Solo Album Video

Guangzhou-based label CHEE has been one of the most influential Chinese rap crews since it was formed in the mid-’00s, transforming over time into the music production company it is now. On March 21, the founder of CHEE, legendary Cantonese rapper KidGod, dropped his first solo track “Niu Gui She Shen 牛鬼蛇神 (Bad Elements)” in nearly a decade. The drop drew a ton of attention in the scene as established rappers, like his crew mate AR and C-Block’s Kye.L, helped promote the song. Although the lyrics resemble an exorcism spell, it actually criticized quite a few issues revealed during the Covid-19 outbreak, touching on corruption and censorship.

P.O.E. (Peace Over Evil), who won a regional Iron Mic title in 2011, has been keeping a low profile while honing his lyrics and music in recent years. On his new album Chess, the rapper’s accent retains a northern twang (even though he comes from Hefei, in eastern China), showing off the huge influence that pioneering Beijing rap has had on him, both in terms of his boombap style and social criticism.

The album also samples classic movie lines from Beijing actor Ge You (star of Let the Bullets FlyIf You Are the One, and To Live), while each of its seven tracks has a chess-related title. “I use the seven different characteristics of chess pieces, to describe seven types of personalities in this society,” P.O.E. explains. “You and me are all in a chess game, but which person is which type, I’ll leave it to you to listen and to think.”

P.O.E freestyles on Xi’an local hip hop radio program Tuzi with Hip Hop

Rappers Against Racism

Chinese-American rapper Yang Xiaochuan (Andy Yang) wrote an anti-racism track “I Am Chinese, Not Virus” at the end of March, when President Trump began calling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” on Twitter as well as at White House press conferences. Yang moved to the US at the age of 13, left his foster family at 17 years old, and now owns a restaurant in California.

MC Jin, the well-known Chinese American rap star whom Yang shouts out in the track, also dropped his own freestyle clip on Instagram, speaking against the stigmatization of Chinese people.

Chinese Rap in the Mainstream

Nanjing pop rapper Jony J doesn’t have the easiest job in the world as a rap mentor on iQIYI’s variety show Youth With You. While one of the contestants, NINEONE, has snapped up hundreds of thousands of fans on TikTok and Weibo, the other would-be-rappers are not so good when it comes to laying down lines:

The line “Dan huang de chang qun, peng song de tou fa 蛋黄的长裙,蓬松的头发 (Yellow dress, fluffy hair)” even became a hot search topic on Weibo after the above episode aired. Quite a lot of rappers figured that it was time to show the program some proper hip hop expertise here — or they may just have been simply offended — so started covering the same verse from the show and working it into their own freestyles. Notable participants included female rappers such as Miko, Sena and VaVa.

In the meantime, iQIYI’s rap-centric competition Rap of China launched its online auditions on April 3 on Weibo and streaming platform HUPU, inviting all comers to upload their rap videos. Directors of the show will select their faves to move forward to the next stadium audition. At the time of the writing, a total of 3,889 people have registered via Weibo. Among the uploaded videos are some familiar faces, such as V.O.B from Tianjin, JarStick and Real from rap crew Walking Dead, GALI from Shanghai, plus JahLey and Shou Chen from Beijing, the latter of whom was the national champion of last year’s Iron Mic.

Hunan TV’s brand new rap talent show Shuochang Ting Wo De 说唱听我的 (Rap Star) also announced that it will start airing in the next month. More details on that have yet to be announced.

Poster for new hip hop talent show, Rap Star

Meanwhile former Rap of China contestant and one-time 88rising affiliate Lexie Liu has been featured in a new Sprite commercial. She joined rockers New Pants and singer songwriters Hua Chenyu and Mao Buyi. Each of the participants in the new ad campaign sang their own version of a track called “Ke Bu Ting 渴不停 (“Thirsty)” with Lexie putting a unique spin on the track, characteristic of her particular sultry style. Her production team for the song included Grammy-winning names who have worked with the likes of Alan Walker and Nicki Minaj. You can listen to those tracks over on QQ Music.

And Finally: FOX Beefs with… His Own Fans?!

A regular rule of thumb dictates that beefs occur between rappers or between crews. Lesser seen is a beef between a rapper and his fans. FOX, iQIYI’s favorite young rapper from last year’s Rap of China, recently found himself in exactly his situation however after he took aim at one of the leaders of one his fan clubs. The backlash was swift, as his fans publicly criticized the newly-minted rap star for not appreciating their support. After initially doubling down by calling the fan out, FOX eventually apologized in a special livestream, and announced that he will cease taking part in crew activities for rap collectives Walking Dead and Horse King from Xinjiang.

As hip hop benefits from the “fan economy” with a growing market and increasing investment, it’s also becoming a lot more challenging for young rappers to be public figures. The big question that FOX’s plight suggests is whether they are prepared to get along with fans in the same way that well-trained K-pop idols can.

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