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“Rap of China” Champion GAI’s New Music Video is a Desperate Attempt to Make Censors Happy

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Oh boy. I don’t know where to start with this one. Yikes. Here’s the video for the song, which is called “Great Wall”:

If you’ve been following RADII, you’ll know that GAI was the co-champion of breakout reality TV hit Rap of China, along with Xi’an rapper PG One. To sum up the events that followed, China’s Ministry of Culture had a frantic but ultimately inconsequential freak out where they made a big show of banning “hip hop culture” from TV, which received widespread international media coverage.

Some of PG One’s old lyrics came to light, referencing sex and cocaine use, and he was thrust from his winner’s podium into a position of pariah-ship from which he has not yet recovered.

GAI, presumably having nothing to do with sex or cocaine, was nonetheless still booted from a follow-up reality TV competition he was participating in. Having had a taste of the fate that befell his co-champion, GAI is shaking in his boots.

Rapper GAI Abruptly Removed from Reality Show Following Reported New Hip Hop Ban

Now that you’re caught up on context, we can unpack some of this video.

This isn’t the first time GAI’s done patriotic raps. Check out his hotpot-themed banger, or this music video with Changsha’s C-BLOCK that finds GAI on a fishing raft, rapping about the Jianghu River.

The difference is that this song just sucks. In “Hot Pot Soup Base” and “Jianghu Flows”, GAI tastefully weaves Chinese identity into catchy production and outside-the-box bars:

I’m eating hot pot / all you’ve got is the instant soup packet

They copy my style, my hat and my clothes / not all rappers need a VPN account

Mixing betelnut with cigarettes / yields a supernatural power

Yin: Rap of China Champion Gai Spits Bars Over His Hometown Hotpot

In “Great Wall”, none of that artistry is on display. Instead, GAI just raps a bunch of things that are Chinese. It’s more in keeping with his infamous “long live the motherland” freestyle. Here are the opening lyrics:

The moonlit fort of Qin-Han Empire / and the foreboding frontier mountains / have witnessed the heroic blood / spilled in defense of our great civilization

The entire track sounds like it was ghostwritten by a 65-year-old cadre from Hubei. Here are some more cringeworthy bars:

The dragon rears its head in the East / beneath the brilliant heavenly vault / the tiger roars across the mighty streams / to secure our inviolable borderland

Riding the blasts of valiant wind / we carry the indomitable spirit of China / time and tide wait for no man / our presence commands the world’s respect

And this goddamn hook:

In the shadow of the Great Wall / the Yellow River rolls eastward / such a land of beauty and grandeur / defies the infection of any blight

The track is devoid of the authentic feeling that once made GAI’s music cool, and just comes off as obsequious pandering. GAI trades in lyrics that express anything real for a bunch of faux-poetic China spiel. It’s reminiscent of a classic iconic “bad Chinese rap song” by Yin Ts’ang, “Zai Beijing”, which we’ve gone into before in considerable depth:

Yin: ’90s Throwback with Yin Ts’ang, China’s Original Rap Group

The video itself has high-production quality, but is cringeworthy in its own right, with GAI doing calligraphy and walking around the Great Wall with backup dancers. Look, here they are doing the shoot dance:

And here’s this guy doing some Naruto-ass shit:

The video is sponsored by Li-Ning, and probably rightfully so, since it’s in line with their current dive into high-end Chinese fashion identity. To be fair, GAI’s outfit is fire.

We’re big fans of GAI as a rapper, and that’s why we hold him to a higher standard than this. GAI is a talented artist, whose lyrics and musical sense brought him to the national stage on Rap of China. He’s earned everything he’s received, and even if the “hip hop ban” wasn’t as real as international media made it out to be, it’s clearly shaken him.

Seeing PG One go down in flames to some extent, and experiencing it for himself when he was ejected from his follow-up TV music competition, GAI understandably doesn’t want his run to end early. We just hope he does a better job of achieving that balance in the future.

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Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip-hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers.