New Music, formerly Yin (音, “music”), is a monthly RADII column that looks at Chinese songs spanning hip hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between.
Here’s a rundown of the songs that have soundtracked the month of September in the RADII offices, featuring plenty of Mandopop and EDM crossovers, the return of a controversial rapper, and one of the stars of Shanghai’s cutting-edge electronic music scene.
On the back of the launch of his new clothing brand Team Wang, and an impressive combination with the Monet Impression Sunrise exhibition in Shanghai, Jackson Wang is back with another interesting collaboration, this time with Swedish EDM duo Galantis.
In the three weeks since the song dropped on YouTube, it’s already racked up 12 million views, testament to both Wang’s huge international fanbase and his epic dance moves in the video.
The music is pretty good too, with Galantis providing a nice taut backdrop over which Wang sings in his usual gruff, low-register vocal style. He acts as director, producer and writer for the video as well.
It’s also worth noting that the video begins with Wang in a restaurant surrounded by a group of friends talking in Cantonese, though he sings in English throughout the song.
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The producer and singer’s first single on London-based label Houndstooth (also home to the likes of Berlin-based artist Lotic and Swiss producer Aisha Devi), “Times New Roman” is another excellent showing of the musical and visual qualities that make Stella Chung, aka Scintii, one of the most interesting musicians working in China today.
For fans of Scintii’s spectral, haunting style of trip hop music, it seems like this track has been long in the making, with her last release, Aerial/Paperbags, coming at the end of 2018.
Excellently produced, “Times New Roman” stays true to her penchant for inserting majestic, classical music-inspired phrases in amongst higher-paced drums, mixing up temporal reference points for listeners, as the Taiwanese producer sings enigmatic phrases.
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The track will officially release on October 2 with remixes from the likes of Osheyack and Mechatok, plus this excellent reworking by Palmistry:
Soulhan, a prominent proponent for Cantonese language rap music, returns with a new album, just weeks after his controversial appearance on The Rap of China, in which one of the judges on the show, Jane Zhang, asked the Guangdong rapper if he had a song in Mandarin.
He teams with fellow Guangdong rapper AR for the lead single on the album, “向左向右” (“Turn Left Turn Right”), an all Cantonese affair backed with thick, understated keyboard beats.
The album is currently exclusively available on Chinese streaming site Netease Music, but for more from Soulhan, check out this collab with Zhejiang rapper Pharaoh from 2017 album 季前赛 (Ji Qiansai):
Lexie Liu delivers chills as she melds some spooky Raise the Red Lantern vibes with her penchant for lushly-produced visuals. The Rap of China grad-turned-pop diva in waiting is joined by a cast of characters who look like they’ve just wandered off stage from a Zuriaake concert as she rolls out lyrics about cutting off qipaos and how Chinese ladies should “boss it up.”
The Club Media-produced video was originally shot two years ago and is dropping now as part of the latest brand campaign for Kappa, but this is more than just a glorified ad spot.
This new video is the latest in a string of sleek productions accompanying Liu’s music. The main tracks from last year’s Meta Ego album were all given impressive visual treatments, with “Manta” — which has racked up almost 3.5 million views on YouTube — being especially eye-catching.
Bohan Phoenix, originally from Hubei province but who has identified with rap scenes in New York and Chengdu, straddles the borders of Asian and American hip hop communities. He’s also been outspoken on the need for greater connectivity between both communities during 2020, something he puts to music on this new track.
“Unconditional” is part of a compilation album for Voices for Change via indie label Empire. With proceeds from the compilation going towards non-profit organization ACLU, the song is a heartfelt story about Phoenix’s love and appreciation for hip hop music.
Speaking about the project, Phoenix says, “As an Asian American Hip-Hop artist it is important to me to be supporting and fighting with the African American community against oppression and racism. Not only has the African American community been there for the Asian communities in the past, fighting for bills like Immigration Act of 1965 so that Asians could move to the country, but also because the hatred of racism doesn’t just affect black people. It has and will continue to affect us all in one way or another.”
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Lay Zhang, the indefatigable Mandopop star and member of K-pop group EXO, gets a makeover here courtesy of Moroccan Dutch EDM producer R3HAB. On the back of fellow Street Dance of China judge and mentor Jackson Wang’s collaboration with Swedish production pair Galantis, the remix of “Boom” is another interesting blend of big beat EDM and Mandopop.
The original is a softer RnB track, but this remix sees Lay’s vocals pitched higher and the tempo sped up considerably, giving listeners an insight into the Mandopop star’s potential as an EDM vocalist.
Mice, aka Hans Lee, returns with a new release on Hangzhou weird electronic label FunctionLab. It’s his first album release, following EPs on avant garde electronica label PlayRec as well as prior drops on FunctionLab.
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The conceptual album is broken into four parts, supposedly dealing with the idea of death and metempsychosis, the migration of the soul from one body to another at the end of a life. The opening tracks are jagged and nervous, with the intensity growing to create a wall of sound in the second quarter.
The concept around this album, as well as Mice’s ability to produce tracks reflecting very clear emotional palettes, makes for an incredible listen.
Sichuan rapper Vava has been busy this year. After releasing an EP with Chace — a young electronic music producer and member of electronica group Mandarin — earlier this year, the “Queen of Chinese Rap” is back with a brand new track, this time with none other than Orlando Magic power forward Aaron Gordon.
In an interview with RADII earlier this year, Vava revealed that she was working with an NBA player on something new, but she wouldn’t reveal who exactly it was. She had been conspicuously liking a lot of posts coming from Gordon’s Weibo page, however.
The track itself is named “Ganbei,” which literally means “dry cup” and is used in Chinese like “cheers” is used in English. It sees Gordon sing cringeworthy lines such as “Old master like I’m Lao Tzu” and “You’re clueless to Confucius man.”
Vava on the other hand, chips in with lines like, “So fresh like the Chinese Kendall,” presumably a reference to the Jenner sister.
The first single off Hyph11E’s debut album Aperture, which is set to drop in October, sees the Shanghai-based producer playing around with a bunch of samples over dark, insidious electronics. It’s a tantalizing teaser for the rest of the album, which will arrive on SVBKVLT on October 16.
Hyph11E has risen to become on of the most popular producers and DJs emerging from Shanghai’s exciting electronic scene through her work with labels such as Genome 6.66mbp and SVBKVLT. She’s also gone international, playing at the likes of Berghain pre-lockdown and linking up with Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes and Kenyan producer Slikback for collaborative release Slip B in 2019.
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Kunming musician Dizkar links up with Shanghai rapper CEE for an extremely vibey track. Previous collaborations with the likes of jazz rapper Lu1 plus a comeback solo album have seen CEE, who was a member of formative Chinese hip hop crew Bamboo, push back into the limelight in recent months.
At the same time, Dizkar’s star has been rising, following a string of sumptuously downtempo boombap releases. The video for this one takes us on a car ride through a Chinese city by night, offering a companion of sorts to Dizkar’s video for “Not Yet,” which was released earlier this month and is also vehicular-minded, featuring the Yunnanese producer riding around on a mini scooter.
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Another new one from Shanghai-based DJ-turned-producer Gigi Lee. “Don’t Let Go” is an emotional downtempo RnB track featuring horns, keys and Lee’s vulnerable vocals.
The track clocks in at a cool two minutes and deals with that ever-so-important topic, love.
The co-winner of The Rap of China season 1 (alongside current TROC judge GAI) continues to make a concerted push to stay relevant even as he remains largely banned from China’s mainstream music platforms. Following an ill-fated performance at a Xi’an club in August, the rapper has put out a new track via his preferred / only allowed medium, a private pseudonymous WeChat account.
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“Kill the One” is a sumptuously-produced effort and has already clocked up close to 500k views on Zhong TV’s YouTube channel. Using pared back instrumentals, with piano featuring prominently, it’s a delightful song that shows off the skills that helped PG One capture the nation’s attention for the right reasons back in 2017.
Cover photo: Scintii by Hailun Ma
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