We’ve had a fair amount of fun with Kris Wu over here. The pretty faced K-Pop-idol-turned-rapper has never failed to provide content for us to discuss, analyze, and — not infrequently — ridicule. When Kris announced he was dropping a new pro-China single called “Chinese Soul” in the run up to the second season of Rap of China, we readied ourselves to pounce upon it with great judgment, sarcasm, and glee.
We are both surprised and a little disappointed to inform you that it’s actually pretty decent.
Kris brings his now signature laid-back, trap vocal approach to an EDM-influenced track by producer Liu Zhou. While it’s not necessarily our favorite style, it’s admittedly well put together. Kris tackles a range of different flows and effects, while delivering some reasonably solid vocal content. His lyrics go between the standard canned copy of a pro-China pop track:
You know that I’m a Chinese person / you know I have a Chinese soul / you don’t know much about heaven and earth / you should know that I’m the descendent of the dragon
To some more meaningful commentary on his role in China’s hip hop scene today:
Helping others cross over / this young rap movement / I want to help it expand / step by step I make it happen / feeling no fatigue / and even fewer regrets / I lead the front lines
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The track’s dance music influence makes itself known through gigantic electronic kick drums and that classic clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap rise into the hook, both of which we could’ve done without. But Kris actually brings a refreshingly diverse vocal presence to the track that is neither overwhelming or underperforming.
Considering that this track is intended to target a lowest common denominator of listeners across China, and also serve as the new Rap of China theme song, we were impressed.
“Chinese Soul” comes on the heels of another recent nationalist, Rap of China-adjacent track by season one champion GAI, which we were quick to eviscerate as an empty, forgettable, and disappointing offering from a rapper who we’re rooting for. “Chinese Soul”, surprisingly, offers more substance.
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GAI and Kris do share one thing in common here though, which is that both tracks serve as a kind of direct offering to please the State at large. Shortly after Rap of China took off in unexpected, magnificent proportions, censors announced the now infamous “hip hop ban”. GAI’s co-champion PG One took the hardest hit, suffering blows to his career from which he is still trying to recover. GAI himself was unable to avoid the axe, and was abruptly cut from a reality singing competition for his association with hip hop.
Rap of China itself was put in a difficult position, being the root cause of the “hip hop ban” while also trying to return for its second season. Even in the last few days there have been (swiftly debunked) rumors that the show’s return will be postponed or canceled. The pro-China songs and overall government-friendly position of the new season, which promises to promote “positive energy and sunshine”, are direct results of that recent tension.
Kris Wu’s music has been likened to that of Travis Scott (to be fair, Kris’ reinvention is a very obvious bite of Scott’s sound, a point driven home by their collaborative number one single “Deserve“). But in a lot of ways Kris is probably more like a Chinese Drake. He skirts (skrrts?) the line between radio pop and rap culture, he’s simultaneously adored and clowned on by millions, and he’s more the result of a team of writers, producers, and brand specialists than he is an individual artist.
“Chinese Soul” is a solid product from that team, one that listens surprisingly well, and holds Kris down with rap fans, pop fans, and China’s government, while solidifying his current place in Chinese hip hop culture.
You might also like:
“Rap of China” Primer: All You Need to Know As the Hit Hip-Hop Show Returns
“I’m Not an Idol, Call me a Rapper”: PG One Re-Emerges on WeChat
Kris Wu Snags Number 1 Spot on US iTunes in Collab with Travis Scott
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