Frequently cited as “the best TV show that you’re not watching,” the first two seasons of Warrior, based on stories developed by Bruce Lee, are now showing on HBO Max.
Executive produced by Lee’s daughter Shannon, along with Taiwanese-American director Justin Lin (best known for his work on the Fast & Furious franchise), the show is based around the Tong Wars in 1870s-era San Francisco, and has been praised for flipping the script on narratives around the model minority, often associated with Asian Americans. As of publication time, the first and second seasons of the show have 93% and 92% audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes.
Notably, the show’s soundtrack has been getting a lot of love online, but details are scarce about the artists and track names of some of Warrior‘s standout musical moments. One group that we know for sure are involved is Iron Mic Family, the collective founded by Detroit-born, Shanghai-based organizer Dana “Showtyme” Burton.
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Burton organized rap battle competition Iron Mic in China all the way back in 2002 when hip hop was still very much a fringe interest in the country. Before he set up Iron Mic, Burton said: “Hip hop will be popular in China, because there are so many incredibly talented kids in such a big country.”
That prediction has certainly been borne out in the intervening period. But while a sanitized version of hip hop has exploded into mainstream China, Burton and Iron Mic have stayed true to their roots and focused on supporting what they feel are “real” artists in China, as well as providing them with international exposure.
After taking part in the 2019 Detroit China Festival, showcasing Chinese and American rappers alongside one another, Iron Mic continues to make inroads stateside, by introducing noted alumni of the battle rap competition as well as current stalwarts of the competition via Warrior. The folks from Iron Mic got introduced to producers at the show through Chops, aka Scott Jung, a hip hop producer, rapper, and former member of the Mountain Brothers, the first Asian American group signed to a major label.
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The two tracks from Iron Mic Family (with NiuNiu and GNS Yao Yao) on Warrior will come out on the group’s new deal with US record label EMPIRE later this month.
Here are some names of the Iron Mic Family featured on Warrior that you should know:
Born in Guizhou province in the Miao ethnicity town of Kaili — the same city that noted film director Bi Gan is from — NiuNiu also goes by the name “Rapper in School Uniform” (穿校服的饶舌歌手) because of her early uses of it during her performances. That alias also owes something to her youthful roots in rap music, given she’s been on the mic since her early teens.
She came to the attention of battle rap fans when she took part in the Guiyang stage of an Iron Mic battle rap competition, making her mark and showing the increased acceptance of female rappers as well as younger contestants on the battle stage. She got her big break in 2016 when she was just 18 years old, releasing a pair of well-received singles.
Her collaboration with Iron Mic Family titled “Rush” appears in the second season of Warrior (listen above) and will be released through Iron Mic and EMPIRE in January.
Also releasing on Iron Mic and EMPIRE this month is GNS Yao Yao’s track “Never Ashamed of a Brother,” which also appears on the second season of Warrior. For the song’s music video — premiering on RADII’s YouTube channel in the next few weeks — GNS Yao Yao linked up with local Wuhan motorcycle crew Liberator Block, who take inspiration from Chicano biker lifestyle. Be sure to keep an eye out for that.
The Qinghai native got involved with Iron Mic back in 2014 when he took part in the rap battle competition in Nanchang, in eastern China’s Jiangxi province, where he was attending university at the time. Since then he’s honed his skills at feted rap battles such as 8 Mile Underground and more Iron Mic competitions, becoming a battle rap king in the process.
GNS Yao Yao has also been on stage at one of China’s biggest touring festivals, Strawberry Festival. At the end of 2020, he dropped a new three track EP, Tiger On the Beat.
Inner Mongolia-born Kigga teamed with Pact (a two-time Iron Mic champ himself) for “China Town” back in 2019. Given the series’ setting in San Francisco’s Chinatown, that track was something of a natural choice for the Warrior soundtrack, and makes an appearance in the second season.
Kigga teamed up with Pact once more, as well as Wang Yitai, for a track called “Jianshan” (见山) late last year, and has been an established member of the Xi’an-based Nous Underground crew since 2013. Having started to make rap music in 2010 — after forays into rock music beforehand — Kigga has been involved with battle rap, and Iron Mic, for years.
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