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“I’m a Hustler”: After Being Banned, Beijing Hip Hop OG Jahjah Way is Building a New Community

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I missed the pioneering early 2000s era of Chinese rap, when Yin T’sang was holding the famous Section 6 hip hop party in Beijing. That party cultivated China’s first generation of legendary rappers, including the phenomenal Beijing rap trio in3, featuring members ijapa, Jahjah Way, and krazyman. Even back when I was at college in Chengdu thousands of miles away, in3 was a hard crew to miss. in3’s thick Beijing accents, lyrics about inner-city hutong life, and social commentary from the perspective of lower-class kids made them uniquely bold.

in3

After in3 became underground kings of the Beijing hip hop scene in the late 2000s, the trio expanded into a larger performance group of local rappers called in3 Family. One of in3’s founding members, Jahjah Way, along with FAC-D12 and SouthSideSamurai from in3 Family, later formed another trio, Purple Soul, in the early 2010s, taking its Chinese name, Long Dan Zi, from the name of an herb used to make a purple traditional medicinal liquid.

“The process of being defeated in the city / Being proud, being unique, but who knows the pain / This attitude is protected by Purple Soul / DJ, MC, and your dance moves / Natural purple cure heals your pain / Unless your wound is already festering […] Purple Soul is from nature, living in the city / Rooted in the underground, at home in the ghetto, hustling on the street / I ain’t got other choices but to raise my fists since I was a kid / but now I raise my fist for the cause of freedom” – “Purple Soul”

Given the group’s outspoken nature, it was not exactly surprising that in3 was criticized by the Department of Culture in an abrupt, official announcement in 2015, but the actions taken were severe: the first 17 tracks of a 120-song government blacklist were by in3, and their discography was swiftly wiped from the Chinese internet.

 

Around a decade earlier, Jahjah Way had dropped out of middle school, and before joining in3 was drummer of Beijing rock band The Molds. in3 formed in 2007 and first made a splash with underground-popular albums Unknown Artist (2008) and Born To Be (2013). Way has released two albums — W.T.F. (2013) and F.T.W. (2018). — with Purple Soul, which were recorded at the same time but released separately since one of the crew’s members “did a few years.” And more recently, he’s been DJing — the last time he took the stage publicly was as a guest DJ on Howie Lee‘s 2019 China tour.

Over the course of a nearly three-hour interview with RADII, Jahjah Way talks about why he left Beijing for Shanghai, how he defines himself artistically, and how he views the current state of hip hop in China. He also shares some of his stories as a lower-class teenager, some tough experiences as an influential underground musician, and the plans that Purple Soul and his music label Undaloop have in store for 2020.

Life in Beijing & Shanghai

RADII: What was your childhood life like?

Jahjah Way: Like a line of [Dr. Dre] lyrics: “Lil ghetto boy playing in the ghetto street.” I didn’t really go to school. Kids [in China] born after 1990 may have never seen people who dropped out of middle school, and probably have never been beaten or robbed. They should thank this “harmonious society.” I was surrounded by adults when I was 15 years old, being asked, “Do you still want to go to school?” I had to think about the future, and whether or not I could take responsibility for a choice I made as a teenager, as well as all the consequences in the rest of my life.

I just believed that what I learned at school was not useful for my future, so it was pointless to waste the time. But I also lost a chance to go to high school or college, and I took the responsibility for that, too. I did the thing I liked, and it pays off for me now, so who can say I made a wrong choice back then?

What bands did you like when you were young?

I liked punk in the first place, starting from China’s Wuliao Contingent, then The Clash. But they disbanded over 30 years ago. The only one I’ve been listening to that is still active is Primal Scream. They have been making good music over the past 30 years, which is amazing. I also got to know reggae through ska punk, and I still like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Jamaican culture. The music I listened to when I was a kid had a big influence on me.

Related:

Keep Screaming: A Brief Account of Early Beijing Punk

Where did you hang out as a teenager?

It was a spot where a lot of skaters in Beijing would go, downstairs from my home. Sometimes my friends gave me a ride to the “dirty streets” in Beijing. We also went to some fun parties, and if we didn’t have money in our pockets, we just hung out at friends’ houses.

So was it parties like early Chinese hip hop gathering Section 6 where you first got to know hip hop?

Yes. If we look back, events like Section 6 were cultural gatherings. It took place on the last Saturday of every month. I was greatly influenced by Yin Ts’ang on the rap side, especially Webber, because he was the only Chinese guy in the crew, and he is also from Beijing. He was a big influence on me when I was young, especially in terms of consciousness. He first got involved with hip hop at the level of the consciousness. They did everything back then — Webber danced first, then he rapped and DJ’d, as well as graffiti.

They all knew this was street culture, and a lot of skaters hung out with us, too. And only we people from the street hung out together, because only we knew what we were doing together. Like why they made graffiti and what message was delivered in it, or what the dance moves meant.

Related:

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

How did the previous generation influence you early on?

All the influence from the previous generation made me the person I am. What I care about more is what useful messages they left to us. Because their experience may not be so reliable, nor can it help you solve your current problems, but the messages they want to deliver matter. How to survive is the most important and the most basic message. If you ask what message our rap is delivering, it’s survival — not entertainment. The previous generation taught us how to survive when you have nothing with you. Big cities are no less cruel than wild nature.

If you ask what message our rap is delivering, it’s survival — not entertainment… Big cities are no less cruel than wild nature


“A poor kid living in a rich city / He tried to fight materialism with spirit / But the reality is the reality / You don’t have work, then no money, no food / My mom told me life is a struggle / I know this is my unavoidable destiny / I hate this gap between poor and rich / I gotta survive for my family and the ones I love / My kids shouldn’t experience it again /  But the world seems impossible to change / No one can survive without money / Without money there’s only evil in my mind” – “Poor Kid”

That sounds like a really big topic.

This is the problem we encountered. Your home is different, the culture and the environment is gone, and you don’t even want to stay in your home — what bigger problems could there be? None of us live in Beijing any more, although everyone thought we’d never leave Beijing. We didn’t want to, but is the city the same one as before? Shanghai is not my home, Beijing isn’t my home any more either — then where is my home? If you’re a local Beijinger, you’ll clearly know what has changed, and it matters even more to a hustler, let alone a musician.

Why did you decide to move to Shanghai?

There is more to see and experience here. I still don’t like communicating online, I like going out. There are just a few events in Beijing now, and more foreign concerts are coming to Shanghai. I don’t want to keep running back and forth to come down here for good events, so I guess it’s kind of better to just live here. To me, these good concerts are really important.

It feels like you keep a low profile on social media.

I use it more or less, because it does have something to do with work sometimes, and sometimes it’s just a waste of time. But if I don’t use it, there is one less channel to communicate with friends from the rest of the world, which is important. Usually I go out only when there’s an event — most of the time I just stay at home. So I also see what’s going on outside when I browse the internet.

Hip Hop Inside and Outside China

Who has had the biggest influence on your music?

There are so many foreign artists that I respect, and the ones that influenced my music were not even musicians, but people who had lots of thoughts and ideas. If we talk about rap, it would be 2pac. Within China, it was Yin Ts’ang, and music from Scream Records. Now young people may not know these names, or they don’t really understand these songs from the past, because they just weren’t in that environment. I didn’t understand them when I was a kid, and I started feeling it when I experienced it myself. There’s a saying that people who rap can understand our lyrics better.

It’s [about] consciousness. You need to learn the skill, but it’s not a gimmick. Making a song from a person who cannot sing sound better, showing off your skills or how fast you can speak, or how many rhymes you use — none of these matter to me. The only thing that matters is the meaning. What message you are delivering, no matter how fancy the editing. There is a line [from Gang Starr] saying: “Because I don’t need gimmicks, gimme a fly beat and I’m all in it.”

When we found an [English] song where we loved what it was delivering, and we felt that it’s badass, we would look it up and translate the lyrics. We were rarely disappointed. Fancy post-production and dress-up is not needed. We make our music, and we put everything in it. Our songs are our kids — would you hold back anything from your kids? No one ever taught me how to rap, but after I heard so much, and because I had something to express, this is just an instinct. It just comes out of my mouth.

When we found an [English] song where we loved what it was delivering, and we felt that it’s badass, we would look it up and translate the lyrics. We were rarely disappointed.

Do you still make music this way now?

Now I’m thinking about how to communicate words like in a conversation through music, which is kind of hard, and I need to sort it out. I just shut up and work on it, to make it clear what opinion I’m going to express. Then we know that what we need is an environment for ourselves. I made money, I’m living a good life now, so I can’t force myself to live the street life again. That is fake. Meanwhile I have to keep in mind that the money that makes my life so much better today was given to me by my audience. What can I give them in return? If I write some songs to make them happy, but it’s actually just to fool them in exchange for money, I don’t deserve it.

So your life has improved a lot now?

Yes, you can say that. The house that I used to live in for ten years was as big as my kitchen now. Of course I grew older, got married, and have been trying to get a better life. Another reason for this change is the fact that there are more gigs, that we’re paid more, and there are more investors. Although I didn’t do things like what they did — rappers going on variety shows or selling themselves to capitalism — I still benefit from it. But I think I deserve it, and I earned it with dignity.

Hip hop is originally from the US. Since it’s traveled all the way to China, do you think it has also become a subculture with Chinese characteristics?

I think the world has developed so fast that it’s hard to define a modern culture by nationality. But hip hop is acknowledged as a culture in some places, instead of playing around on the street, whereas it’s not acknowledged here, and this is where we fall behind.

I can feel that a lot of people are starting to discover it now, but how to see it right? In China it’s just viewed as a market. All they see is how many young people are consuming it, and that’s the only reason why they’re doing it. They view hip hop as an investment market, and besides money, dignity can also be the cost. But when there was nothing like this, we were already doing it. We don’t want to see young people say they love street culture because of profit. Most of us would admit that this culture has saved us, otherwise we may have been some really bad people. We hope young people can see the powerful side of this culture, and that’s all we can do. If we can do it well, then it’s meaningful.

Related:

The History of Rap in China, Part 2: Hip Hop Goes Mainstream (2010-2019)

You go to Japan a lot. How would you say Japanese hip hop differs from Chinese hip hop?

I think they’ve already turned it into a part of their own culture. Young people meet and know it as a culture, just like other cultures and histories. And their development is not simply following the West — some people are delving into Japanese local rap style, and they’re doing a great job. And they do it professionally from all aspects, which is their national advantage.

How their music moves me is the same as how Western music does. I didn’t know much English when I was a kid, but I was still moved by the emotion, the vibe being expressed, and the music matched with it. Wanting to know what the music means is the reason why I always want to listen to new music.

We hope young people can see the powerful side of this culture, and that’s all we can do. If we can do it well, then it’s meaningful.

Do you think hip hop in 2020 has a different definition than before?

I think hip hop is evolving. All kinds of arts are evolving.

By “evolving,” do you mean improving?

I would love to see the changes in a positive light, like it’s being accepted and recognized by global youth, and it’s creating opportunities.

But wouldn’t you also say it’s getting corrupted now?

If there’s nothing to pass on, everything gets corrupted, including hip hop. If you wanna see the corrupted side, it has that side, but everything else has its dark side as well. It depends on which side you want to see. I can see the bad side even when I don’t want to see it, but this makes me want to see the good side even more. It connects people from different corners of the world.

Related:

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From in3 To Purple Soul

Where did the name “Yin San’r”/in3 come from?

It was from a close friend that we used to hang out with a lot. His name is “San’r,” [三儿, or “3” in Beijing dialect] and we called him “Big Brother 3.” I got to meet Webber through him. There were lots of locals living in the hutong neighborhoods who were called “San’r,” and they were usually people like us. It’s hard to explain [the meaning of in3] — I can only tell you that it came from Beijing local slang, something like playing around in the hutong.

Is in3 still around?

We three are all here, but no one knows what’s gonna happen next. The environment is too complicated for us, and what we went though was far beyond being rappers. Would anyone else worry about losing freedom because of your music? Or worry about your future, your career, because of your music? Is that normal? We realized it was serious when we lost our freedom.

What happened, exactly?

To put it briefly, we were arrested for other reasons.

When was this?

The same year when our music was banned [2015]. All of us were arrested, so the environment became really complicated.

We realized it was serious when we lost our freedom.

How long were you detained?

The longest [sentence] was supposed to be a few years, but we spent a lot of money to bail him out. We still need to check in and cooperate with the police at least five times a year now, with no set end date.

Were you arrested at the same time?

Yes, it was in August. Although it was on the charge of using weed, the way they arrested us was extreme.They couldn’t explain it if they arrested us on the grounds of our music. But it turned out that not only fierce punishment [but also an unpredictable arrest and charge] could intimidate us.

What happened in 2015, after in3’s music was officially banned?

It was reported in the national news on CCTV, our music was wiped from the internet, and we were not allowed to do any performances. The Department of Culture published a file, which made it a State action. Our gigs started getting canceled before it happened, and we were wondering if they had already been watching us. Literally last minute, like one day before the gig, and it happened more than once. We thought maybe this was the simplest way to limit us, just starve us. When the news went public in the media and was known by more people, some people came to us and said [the media coverage] was doing great free advertising for us. But I don’t see it that way — when we were banned, it meant we couldn’t do anything anymore.

Was in3 performing regularly before the ban?

Yeah, we were on tour when the ban was published. After we got out, we only had two gigs in Atlanta in the US, and no one would do our gigs in China. We were not young kids in our 20s by then, and one of us already had kids. How did our family feel about things like this, either elders or our children? Many thought, ok, now we’ve gotten famous, and our albums are getting resold at a price of over 1,000RMB [about 150USD]. But none of that had anything to do with me. We were confronted with the same problem that we had as teenagers: how to survive.


Why did this ban happen out of the blue?

Soon after it happened, I saw some stats on a music platform, showing pop music was dying. When we started doing music, pop was dominating the market, and other genres were niche. But around the year 2015, the niche genres were surpassing pop music, and now rap or hip hop was among the main genres on the streaming platforms. I realized afterwards that the authorities were cleaning up the parts that they didn’t like, before they started developing something that would help keep this in the shape that they want.

I never thought about it from this perspective.

Skateboard, rock ‘n’ roll, bands, basketball, rap, street fashion, etc, all are parts of the mainstream entertainment market now. But do you see anyone who went to the mainstream that is really good at it? No.

There were Chinese doing it 20 years ago when it was not acknowledged. They didn’t know, and no one was consuming it. Now the next generation sees it as a fashion, like games and ACG [anime, comics, games] culture, which was impossible in the past. You gotta know how much value it outputs. Chinese people can feed themselves now, so why don’t they do some shopping, watch some shows, go out and enjoy more entertainment, right?

So you were doing in3 and Purple Soul in parallel, from 2011 on?

Yeah pretty much. FAC-D12 and SouthSideSamurai had already been performing with in3 as in3 Family members. SouthSideSamurai and I then lived together, hung out a lot, and we came up with the idea of Purple Soul.

Purple Soul: Jahjah Way, SouthSideSamurai, FAC-D12

Was there any specific reason that triggered you to start the project? You’ve said before that Purple Soul was formed to “cure youth’s pain” — did you find any particular problems that young people were struggling with?

I just felt the audience misunderstood us in the first place when we were doing in3. We didn’t mean to ask them to curse along with us, but we saw many people just liked listening to us and cursing. And this is why we changed. Cursing was not our original intention, we never wanted to see those bad things happening. We were victims back then, and we couldn’t change the environment, so we started questioning it. When our kids — the next generation — became victims, we changed.

What is the difference between in3 and Purple Soul musically?

It’s very different. in3 simply reflects problems, whereas Purple Soul is trying to solve them. You gotta think about where those problems came from, and why we have those problems. Then you can do something step by step. Our songs talk about how we deal with it as a process, and where the roots of some of these problems are.

The first two albums of Purple Soul are W.T.F. and F.T.W. — is the forthcoming third album another variation of these letters?

Those two albums should have been released as one album, they were actually created around the same time. But we were in trouble when we were publishing it. One of the members did three years in prison due to the same charge that we had, so he couldn’t record the album. We waited for him and recorded it in Japan after he came back. We are planning to release vinyl editions of the first two albums this year, but they can only be released in Europe, not in China.

Why is that?

Because of our lyrics, it’s still impossible to publish in China. Chinese friends still can buy it by some means, we’ll be working on it. They just cannot buy it in stores.

Purple Soul’s two albums are both on Spotify, yeah? I saw there’s one on NetEase as well.

All the Chinese streaming platforms that you can see are never licensed to use our music. They are pirating our music, and they have never paid us a cent. They even asked us to sign a contract when we required them to stop using our music.

Related:

“We Need a Generational Effort”: Music Lawyer Eric Zhao Crusades Against Piracy

But it says you are “registered artists” on their platform?

That’s fake, you know what I’m saying?

Did you ever consider suing them?

We sent a lawyer letter, and it was completely ignored. We have a European agent to help us publish and release on every overseas platform — those are licensed, and the profit is always transparent. But this is hard in China, because we are independent musicians and labels, and they just never give us anything.

I’m shocked.

You may see our music being listened to millions of times on NetEase, Xiami, QQ Music etc, but we get nothing, not even a cent. Our lawyer has notarized all the evidence of their infringement. But when we prepared to sue them, our lawyer also advised that they may counter-charge, given that our music is still sensitive here, and our music will be at risk of being banned again. They are the real gangsters. They used to put our photos on their homepage, and when we asked them, they just said it was a promotion for us. But if I asked them to promote us more, like put us on the homepage the next day, they said we need to pay them a huge amount of money.

Could you introduce your independent label, Undaloop?

Undaloop is a label of producers and beatmakers. Purple Soul is on the label, but we’re not the main artist — it’s just because our rap needs beats. The label was established in 2011, and was already shouted out in Purple Soul’s first self-titled track. Last year, FAC-D12 reprinted his mixtape from 10 years ago, back when it was not distributed to many people. A lot of people still love it, and more and more want it, so we reprinted it. FAC-D12’s solo album and JIUWEI’s solo album will drop this year as well.

Undaloop

Purple Soul has collaborated with other brands, right?

There are only two actually, and we have already postponed it for a long time. We didn’t want to do this kind of collaboration on products, because we are a music group — doing this kind of stuff feels like taking advantage of fans, so we have been cautious about this. The two brands that we have collabed with are owned by our brothers and friends, so it’s like supporting each other. Plus, our audience always asked for products from our band, so we just made something limited.

A lot of skaters like us, and they are on the street for real, so we collaborated with skateboard brand BFH. Soul Goods is a hip hop fashion brand, whose design and product quality are super good, and we collaborated on some live performances before, so we made a crossover with their French designer. It was also a tribute to a French movie that’s had a big influence on us, La Haine. It tells the story of young people’s lives, their state, and the social environment that they live in.

On Interacting With, and Uniting, Audiences

Have you felt any changes in your audience over the years?

When we started doing in3, the audience was mostly people at our age or younger, but when we do Purple Soul, there are people older than us in the audience. This was a change for us. We still see young kids, like people who were born after 2000, but they may have a different reason to come to our performance, like just coming to have fun in the pit.

Has Purple Soul had a chance to communicate with the audience or get any feedback? Like is there a moment that you can feel the message in your music has been delivered?

I think there is influence, although we don’t really get to communicate with the audience so much. But we can understand what they have shown to us. We may get to know some of them, and talk a bit more. If someone just comes to say “you’re badass” and ask for an autograph or a photo, we will also give a standard answer like “thank you for liking us, have a good one,” and that’s it. No more communication.

What about the live performance?

I can feel that their emotion is in the same channel as us. That being said, people from different cities give different feedback. Some are more excited than others. And we also give feedback to them on the stage. If they are more passionate, so are we. If they are calm, so are we. Audiences in the north and in the south [of China] are quite different.

You go to Japan a lot, yeah?

Yes since we had a gig in Japan a few years ago, which was mind-blowing. So I went there a lot more in recent years.

What blew your mind there?

The live performance, coordination, the musical equipment, all are at the most professional level that I’ve ever seen. When we first went there, it was not surprising that there were more Chinese in the audience, but later more Japanese people came over. We didn’t expect that Japanese people would like our music, but they kept coming back when we went to perform again.

How did they find Purple Soul’s music?

Basically it’s from Chinese friends’ recommendations, or the internet. Some Japanese magazines and books had actually introduced us before we went, which was truly unexpected. And some more magazines and television networks interviewed us when we were there.

What is the style of your Japanese audience?

It’s hard to say what style, but they know how to listen to music, and they react to you. Sometimes we have very simple communication, and we still can feel that they like our music, or feel like they know what we are saying, which is not just to make people happy or entertained. Although we don’t communicate through language, they can feel the message.

Purple Soul

You played in Urumqi, Xinjiang last year — I heard the atmosphere was super good there.

I love it there. We felt the best when we were in Tibet and Xinjiang. It’s completely different from cities in the north.

What is the difference?

I think they understand us better. We have the same feeling, so we understand each other better.

Feelings like struggling and resistance?

I think that’s the most important reason, you know what I’m saying? Because these two places are really sensitive, and we had this special feeling that we helped to unite ethnic groups. Our tour started in Lhasa, and wrapped up in Urumqi. After we communicated with our friends from minority groups and were on our way back, like you said, we strongly felt the influence and power in our music.

On Growing as an Artist

Conversely, does any of that feedback or experience have an influence on your own music?

Yes, it does. We negated ourselves when we started making music, because we just thought it was playing around, not serious or professional. Actually most of the time we negate ourselves. All three of us in Purple Soul never thought of ourselves as “somebody.” I guess that also means we have expectations for ourselves, hoping we can do better. We’re still looking for ways to do music like professional musicians. The only thing I know is that there’s no shortcut, just keep listening to music, and keep making it, like always.

Purple Soul in the studio

Any hip hop that you’re listening to now?

Freddy Gibbs & Madlib, my favorite in years. Their album from last year was really good.

Do you analyze how it was made when listening?

I look into its background, read their lyrics, listen to their samples, and try to learn as many aspects as possible. As a person who raps, I can’t really say that I’m a musician, because, to be honest, I can’t really make music. All I can do is listen to the music I like, then speak it out in lyrics, which to me is far behind the professional musicians around me. I can only use my own method, relying on my gut.

You don’t even define yourself as a rapper?

I can rap, but I don’t define myself by it. Rather than “rapper,” I prefer being a “hustler.” If that could be considered a profession, then that’s what I do. I’m just a person like this, and my dream is playing music. But I do what I’m able to do, that’s all. I’ve seen how professional rappers and musicians work, and I’m so behind. I can’t sing, I don’t play an instrument, but if you give me a beat, I can rap. I hope to be an artist. Real artists have a sense of responsibility to society.



You don’t see yourself as a professional rapper?

I can rap, but I don’t want to only be a rapper, especially in China. I’ve never labeled myself as a rapper. How people see a rapper nowadays is definitely in a different way than how people used to see a vocal artist.

I guess it depends on which rapper we’re talking about…

Yes, that’s what I mean. If I’m abroad, and I’m introduced as a rapper, I may nod and accept it. But if people in China introduce me as a rapper, I would say why do you scold me like that.

If I’m abroad, and I’m introduced as a rapper, I may nod and accept it. But if people in China introduce me as a rapper, I would say why do you scold me like that.

Why? Isn’t there any complimentary sense of the word at all?

In my mind, it’s already a derogatory word related to surface, superficiality and exaggeration. But I don’t need to explain more. If you know hip hop, I can talk with you. If you don’t, I don’t need to say anything. It doesn’t matter how I am viewed.

Do you think young people today can understand what hip hop is?

I think at least some of them can, and some may understand it better than me. Because the resources and conditions they have now allow them to get the information and the equipment quickly. On the other hand, they may get it too easily, so may not learn from it or treasure it so much.

Now that happens to me as well. It used to be so hard to find a song, and now you can find anything you want, as long as you can use a VPN. Struggle is everywhere, the difficulties you would encounter are everywhere, but I started feeling it more now. I can say it’s a game, a concept, everyone is a player, and we all follow this rule. Anyway, we love terms like this, to describe ourselves as players or gangsters. I grew up with these people, they taught me a lot.


“Time never took my pain away / The wound never healed as time passed by / Until rhythm and flow light up the darkness / And wake up the selfish me sinking into greed” – “Underpass”

What’s Next: “It’s Bigger than Hip Hop”

When will we hear the next Purple Soul album?

Before we dropped our second album, we already had the idea for the third one, and we were certain of the album’s name, as well as what we want to do with it. So we’re going to spend this whole year working on it. We are not going straight to making music, but doing something else instead, then seeing if we can make music out of the process of doing it.

To put it simply: it’s a movement for us creating an ideal environment. It’s not only a party or a performance. We need more communication, and jamming together, to create an environment. This is what I can say for now. It’s an event that welcomes everyone, but we gotta clearly know who will be here, to gather people who have a consensus of hip hop culture and arts. So our third album, and the movement around it, will be called It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop — the name is a reference to Dead Prez’s ” “Revolution But Gangsta”.

Will this “movement” be something similar to Section 6?

Section 6 couldn’t continue, because the cultural environment in Beijing was disappearing. We were deeply influenced by Section 6, and this is what the previous generation passed on to us. In my generation, we don’t have Section 6 anymore, and if we just stand aside and let the next generation be, we are going to lose our people. There are young people with this kind of consciousness, but they’re as affected by the environment as we are, so we hope that we will create a place that belongs to people like us.

There are young people with this kind of consciousness, but they’re as affected by the environment as we are, so we hope that we will create a place that belongs to people like us.

Is it going to be a specific place? Or more like a community?

It’s a consciousness. This is the era of the internet — how can we use it better? It could be a virtual community. We gather people online, share people’s knowledge, learn from each other and collab. Then put up offline events for face-to-face communications, and enjoy whatever we do.

Do you want to start a movement through this album? Or is there already a movement like this?

Hip hop itself is a movement, a movement of consciousness — this is how we understand it. We didn’t start it, we were inspired by the movement. It’s been ongoing, as well as evolving, all over the world. There was not so much virtual stuff 20 or 30 years ago, but a lot of things can be virtualized or digitized now. We want to let people know how real it can be, let people know about its history, through things that are happening in reality.

It has to be a connection between people, and we have to create and experience it ourselves. It happens because we are all here at the same place. We want to give it this meaning, that hip hop culture is about society, and it’s supposed to be about politics, and city building. I think these are more important.

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What is the origin of this movement? Is it still the “hip hop” that originated in the US?

From my understanding, hip hop is about struggle. Because we are being restricted and oppressed, the result of our work is stolen. We used to be on the street, but now street culture is not on the street, it’s only on the screens. This is a problem. How do we develop a culture like this? Social media is controlling people’s minds, and the information output is for coordinating with capitalism and maintaining social stability. It shouldn’t be like this.

We used to be on the street, but now street culture is not on the street, it’s only on the screens. This is a problem.

Is there a core to the movement you have in mind?

I think “struggle” is the core. The reason why we want to get people together, is we hope that we won’t be organized by others. Because most of the time, we are slaves to capitalism. Everyone is struggling against something of their own. But when we get together, facing the same problem, we fight against it together. We don’t have the cultural environment anymore, so we have a reason to fight. A lot of people are just being obedient, because the restriction is fierce, direct and violent. But if you just obey it, you are losing the cultural environment. We therefore must struggle against it, and the first step is not to obey. But how can we fight against something so strong — we need to do it together, which is nothing that one person or a single group can deal with.


“This list to curse in no particular order / Facing them will turn into a power / Kill the corrupt officials and the bullying troops / Dumbass stars and the police who break the law / Stupid leaders leading stupid people / “Expressly stipulated” and incurable disease / The house I can’t afford and the polluted water / Deforestation and discrimination” – “Magic”

So fight together through the live face-to-face connection?

Connection matters more. People don’t come together here for work or a show. We hope we can create an environment like this, then see how it plays out and what we can make. This is for our small circle as well. We gotta know where our ability is, and hope people who will come understand our intention.

Have you started planning it? Like where is it happening?

We’re reaching out to skaters, B-boys, street basketball players, graffiti artists, DJs, and us rappers. It’s not only rappers who need a cultural and creative environment — these people need it too. No one will speak for us, because no one has acknowledged us. But people who really understand hip hop culture know who is doing it for real.

Can we say this movement is about “real” hip hop?

I can’t say that, but if people say it is, I’d be happy. We will do it anyway. If we don’t do it, no one else will. We can’t just say that it’d be good if we had a place or an event like this. If we want it, we make it. This is our method, rather than asking others for anything. This is the difference in consciousness. And what we do is not beneficial to any specific person, but to the whole circle.

If we don’t do it, no one else will. We can’t just say that it’d be good if we had a place or an event like this. If we want it, we make it.

So you want to present the hip hop that you know to more people.

Right. Express it, and hope more people will join us, including the more influential ones.

Any rappers in particular that you want to connect with?

Yes, I want to connect with the rappers who reap but haven’t sown so much. We need them to connect, and I’m also curious whether they misunderstood it, or they did it on purpose. Why is it we’re doing the same thing, but we do it so differently? Although our methods are so different, they are not the enemy. If we share the same consciousness, we are open, we can do it together. They are more influential.

Do you feel it’s unfair that some rappers without the “consciousness” you describe have been so commercially successful?

It’s never fair, nothing is fair. If you want fairness, you fight for it.

What obstacles or difficulties do you foresee?

That’s exactly why we’re doing it. We meet difficulty everyday, but we don’t want to leave it to tomorrow forever, right? If you have the ability [to overcome it], you also have the responsibility.

When you were doing in3, you were presenting problems; then Purple Soul was trying to discuss the deeper reasons behind the problems, and to solve them through music. This year, you’re going beyond music and bringing more people together. Is that an accurate summary?

Yes, just like the movement, we’re evolving as well. The audience may think we’re just rappers, but we’re doing hip hop, which is more than rapping and beats. This is a movement regarding society, city building, politics, and youth education.

If you go to a city without seeing any graffiti, it feels like there is no young soul there. We want to find the young people with the same consciousness as ours, communicate and collaborate with them. What we need most is this mutual influence. We were influenced by previous generations, and we’re exerting influence on the next generation now. We need to know how we’re influencing them, so that we know better how to do it.

This is a time where all platforms and media long for content. When you have good content, you don’t need to worry about not being seen. Our purpose is not making it for sale. We are not forced to do it for profit — we’re doing it ourselves for the struggle, for development and evolution. I acknowledge that this culture came from the US, but it doesn’t matter which country or which government is there now. We want to emphasize which social class it came from.

Which is?

Lower-class, no one can deny it. Why has hip hop developed til today from its very beginning in the lower class? It’s not a coincidence that it’s always a story of going from being oppressed to becoming independent. Black people from the lower class [in the US] needed to struggle, then developed when there was progress, and influenced their next generation. We saw all of it. We can see the power of hip hop throughout all areas and races, it didn’t succeed by chance. The more you know its history, the more you see its evolution. It has its process. Times have changed, but oppression still exists. It doesn’t change, and we’re still people from the lower class. Although we’re “yellow,” there’s obviously still discrimination, and cultural awareness is still lagging behind where it should be.

So you think the hip hop you want to do in the year 2020 still comes from the lower class, and represents the needs of most people?

Right, because we’re still in the lower class, and we see that we’re still influencing people from the lower class. They were brought together by us, which proves that we’re still one of them. We don’t represent most people, we’re a small circle, but our castle is huge.

What do you personally hope to get out of It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop?

We need the mutual influence within our small circle. If we cannot influence each other, how could we expect to influence others? We treat our songs like our kids, hoping these kids will grow with us and withstand the test of time. The lyrics are the summary of our thoughts, the message that we think is worthy of delivery. Our conscience is clear, which is the only thing that matters, despite the effect of the delivery. Others may not understand what we three bros in Purple Soul are talking about, but we know it clearly from the bottom of our hearts, and this is the mutual influence.

So when is it happening? The first half of this year?

We want to do it in a few major cities. Cities are the mainstays of the culture, they each have their own specialty, and the aspect that they’re better at. But the offline events may be postponed a bit considering the current coronavirus outbreak. This catastrophe reflects so many social issues, which makes what we will do matter even more.

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Are you optimistic about the future?

Our music has been bought by someone from a police office. I’d love to believe that people in a police office didn’t buy it to arrest me, but rather that they are there listening to our music. This kind of thing could become the butterfly effect. When people born in the ’70s and ’80s, who know the culture, have the consciousness and have received good education — when they become the decision-makers in China, that’s the time when change will happen.

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