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Interview: 19-Year-Old “Rap of China” Finalist Lexie Liu

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When I had a chance to sit down with Rap of China contestant Lexie Liu during the show’s filming back in June, I had a sense that 19-year-old was poised to do bigger things, but wasn’t certain that she’d make it to the final — as she now has. After all, she’s only been in the game for three years, and the first half of that was spent in the far glossier, less gritty world of K-pop singing shows.

But Lexie’s proved her grit and held her own on the show. She’s been the only female contestant since the fifth episode of this season, and will now battle it out for the championship, with the show’s finale taking place October 6th. Regardless of how she fares there, it’s safe to say that Lexie Liu’s career is bracing for a steep upswing (Rap of China season one semi-finalist VaVa, the only woman in the final four, is arguably doing a lot better than co-champions PG One and GAI one year later), and that she’ll prove to be a hot commodity for New York-based hype slingers 88rising, who signed her over the summer.

As we prepare for the conclusion of season two, here’s a peek at the mind of Lexie, whose young age belies a driven determination to carve a hole in the boys’ club of China’s hip hop industry. (Note: this interview was conducted in June, during the taping of Rap of China‘s second season.)

Lexie Liu on The Rap of China (image courtesy of iQIYI)

RADII: First of all, congratulations on signing to 88rising…

Lexie Liu: Oh, thank you.

How did you get connected to them?

Actually we got connected last summer, they were talking about signing me last year but I wasn’t really pleased with the whole… how that goes, because it was going through some bumps and everything. So we wanted to wait for when I got more music released, and when I got more bargaining chips, when we could actually get to work in a more effective way.

What do you hope to accomplish with their support as a label?

They must be a really great platform for me to develop my international market, and I hope with their help, my videos and my music content can be known by more audiences from outside China.

Speaking of the international market, how have you reached different markets so far? You were on a Korean variety show, right? What other markets have you been looking at so far?

Yeah, yeah. It’s only the Chinese market, and of course, that’s the main thing for me because that’s where I’m from. I really need to grab this land, and I really want my music to influence people here. Then, I was involved in the Korean market, but I wasn’t really looking to develop it later. Because I don’t really speak Korean, and I was there just by pure accident. But it went well, and I felt really lucky, but then that Korean market wasn’t really the best place for me I feel. [Now] I’m really looking forward to developing the North American and international market, English-speaking countries especially.

Your English is quite good… did you study abroad?

I studied in New York for like three months [laughs]. For college, for a semester. Then I dropped out because I wanted to focus on music.

What were you studying?

Global business.

And now you want to just kind of make the product…

[laughs] Yeah, yeah.

How long have you been making music? How did you get started?

I’ve been making music for almost three years. I got started because I was in another talent show, and it actually pissed me off a little bit. And then I wrote something like a diss track [laughs], but it’s not quite, that… it’s not that sharp, but for me it was like an outlet for my emotions. So after that, I put it on a Rihanna beat, the “Bitch Better Have My Money” instrumental, because I didn’t really know any producers, I don’t know how to get a free beat or I don’t know how to get beats online, so that’s how I started.

Was it always hip hop? Or were you doing more pop singing?

Rap is not my main thing to do. I’m more focused on the R&B side. And I’m trying to connect these two genres and mix them up a little bit. Put some hip hop elements into my singing style.

What artists would you call out as references for your style? Obviously Rihanna…

Of course, Rihanna, obviously. And Michael Jackson for sure. Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga. Those are the artists that I grew up listening to, starting from elementary school.

How would you compare Rap of China with the Korean reality show you were on, or the Chinese show you wrote a diss track about?

This one, the people in here are more, I don’t know… they have more attitude, that’s for sure. Because those shows that I went on before, they were shows for pop stars, for people who want to be artists. Rappers are artists too, but rappers are [also] identities and characters. The whole recording process, the filming process of this show is very intense, and it actually made me crazy [laughs]. No sleep every day, you know.

Can you talk about one or two of the craziest experiences you’ve had on Rap of China so far?

I must say, the 24-hour challenge. We had to make a brand new song in 24 hours, and we had to remember the lyrics that we wrote, and perform it without mistakes. Those people who had tiny little mistakes went home, so this is a very hard challenge for us. And we have to overcome… we’re very exhausted, every one of us. But we gotta make it right.

It’s a job, right?

Yeah.

For that 24-hour challenge, you were part of a group with three other contestants. What did you get out of working with them, or what did you learn from them?

We got along pretty well, because, actually, except for me, all of the people on the show [at this stage] are guys only. So they were looking out for me, they were treating me really nicely, and we worked on a song smoothly. Because the beat we got wasn’t even a really tough one, it wasn’t complicated. We just came up with the hook together, and we did everything in a couple of hours. And the time left, we used it for memorizing everything.

Related:

Meet the Women of “Rap of China” Season 2

Hip hop culture in general, and the industry in particular, is very male dominated. What do you think are the positive aspects of being a woman on this show and in this industry, and what are the negatives that you’ve experienced?

Well, the positive is that I’m still here, and representing the whole female community, the female musician community in China. And I hope I can stick on for a little longer so they don’t lose hope, you know? [laughs] If I’m gone… I want to give them some strength, and give them some hope. And yeah, of course they’re gonna look out for me, those guys in here, they’re not gonna talk shit on me, they’re not gonna be mean to me. Especially in front of my face [laughs].

And about the negative side, you know, as a female artist, we always have to take more, you know, attacks, verbal abuse. We have more pressure than male artists. Like how we behave, how we sit, how we do our makeup, how we dress, how we walk, how we talk, everything. We have to act more carefully every single second in front of the camera. So, it’s a lot of pressure. And people are definitely gonna [think] that female rappers are weaker than male rappers. I don’t know about that, but all I’m trying to say is that I’m just gonna do my best in here, and try to prove that females can do the same thing.

What are your plans for after the show? Do you have a new release, a tour, or anything else lined up?

Yeah, I have a release planned of my debut album, which I’ve been working on for over a year. And I’m just waiting for the time to come so I can release my music. After people know me from the show, I’m sure they’ll be more interested in my music than before. So that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. I might hop on tours outside of China too.

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Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a Shanghai-based writer and musician, and RADII's Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, Artsy, LEAP, Tiny Mix Tapes, and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.

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