In China, the adjective “red” (hong红) often refers to a certain kind revolutionary spirit, in a connotation dating back to Mao. CD REV (成都事变), a Chengdu-based rap crew formed on October 1 (China’s National Day), 2015, might not the most popular or famous rap crew yet, but it’s definitely one of the most “revolutionary.”

In fact, the group’s stated goal is to start a revolution in rap: specifically, against shallow lyrical content that only covers money, women and cars. By contrast, the topics of their bilingual singles range from the South China Sea to South Korea (“NO THAAD”), to satires on American politics (“CARIEMA”), to criticizing Taiwan-related issues (“The Force of Red”). Their particularly “red” stance has made them a target of many Western media outlets (e.g. Time, BBC, GuardianNYT), who regard them as a propaganda tool, and point out that their music videos are produced by a Communist Youth League-backed music studio.

Although besieged by foreign press for their patriotic lyrics, none of the four post-’90s boys in CD REV are Party members. The leader of the group, Wang Zixin, is a big fan of Mao Zedong, though. In a recently published article on WeChat account Xiaoqiang Shuhu (link in Chinese), he lays out his adoration: “Chairman Mao is the person whom I will follow forever. I think he is just great. The more you know about him, the more you love him.” It should also be noted that three of CD REV’s four members come from military families.

“Gai and Higher Brothers have never done anything to promote the development of this society,” Wang tells Xiaoqiang Shushu, referencing the Rap of China co-champion Gai, who comes from nearby Chongqing, and fellow Chengdu rap crew Higher Brothers, who will appear at the SXSW music industry festival in Austin, TX next March.

 CD REV wants to build a healthier image of the Chinese rapper, so no one can violate the first principle of the group: no drugs or weed. “Do you do drugs?”, they frankly ask Angel Mo, a rapper from Shenzhen who guests on their song “Anti-Drugs”.

Despite their reverence for Chinese society, CD REV can also be critical of social issues. On “This is China,” one of their most re-posted songs, they rap (in English):

It’s really painful to point out the problems, as they are too much for us to even think about and mention

The food and drug security event

Melamine Milk has affected so many babies

And they all suffered from malnutrition

What’s more, there was the Vaccination issue

Illegal business operation has caused expiration and led to

The panic in domestic

What’s wrong with the businessmen 

And it’s reasonless to do business riding on them babies

The question is [if] there were still somebody who wanted the situation to be worse

And their name is

You know who

They will get US dollar perks

The Spy, the traitor, the liar and the money-making jerks

They are leading the public into another extreme, and it worked

The “positive power” that CD REV wants to bring to Chinese hip-hop has not elicited a positive response from their peers. MC法老FALAO, a veteran hardcore rapper, received harsh criticism after he contributed a guest verse on CD REV’s latest song, “This is My Generation.” A few rappers from CDC, a Chengdu-based hip-hop crew, dissed him in a track called “Fa Xiao (法小)”:

你(法老)和天府事变唱的红歌瓜得震撼

The red song you and CD REV sing is shockingly stupid

CDC even canceled a recent live show, just because they knew CD REV would be there.

CD REV’s latest music video, “Letter (信)“, was released just before the National Party Congress in October, and has been viewed nine million times to date. They currently have 236 thousand followers on Weibo, and were recently featured in a commercial for Xian Yu (闲鱼), an eBay-like platform operated by e-commerce giant Alibaba. Another song of theirs — “Awesome, My Country” — has been featured as the theme music of a documentary series produced by CCTV, China’s national television station.

Even though CD REV leader Wang Zixin has said that “all Chinese who work for foreign media are a waste of life,” I still believe that they keep it real as pure rappers who just want to express themselves. According to an article recently published on the WeChat account People 人物 (link in Chinese), it looks like they’ve finally found a way to deal with foreign media, who keep asking them whether the government is paying them to rap: CD REV recently asked a friend to say something bad about their work to satisfy reporters from a Tokyo television station.

In fact, even CD REV has brushed up the red line of censorship. “It’s not easy to love our country,” Wang Zixin says candidly in the People article, adding that though the Communist Youth League didn’t change any of the potentially not-red-enough lyrics on “This is China,” the group was recently asked to change lyrics to another song. Whether these naïve boys will rap on from the bottom of their hearts despite these obstacles — and whether they’ll work on improving their flows — remain open questions.