The new Rap of China began shooting yesterday. If you’re not sure what that is or why it’s a big deal, then we suggest you start here and click your way through RADII’s reporting of the hit TV show and the subsequent controversies that ultimately led to China’s “hip-hop ban”.
Ahead of the filming of episode one for The Rap of China‘s new era, the entire production team, including the producer for the show Chen Wei, the director Che Che, the music director Liu Zhou, and all five judges attended a press conference to answer the media’s questions. Naturally, we were there.
RADII’s Fan Shuhong (black T-shirt) pops up in an official RoC photo
Here are some of the key takeaways from the event:
WHY THE NEW NAME?
As we’ve reported previously, the Chinese name for the show has changed to 中国新说唱 “China’s New Rap” from last year’s 中国有嘻哈 “China Has Hip-Hop”. The English name however, has remained the same.
Is “The Rap of China” Set to Return Under a New Name?
Chen Wei put this down to the two shows having different missions: “When we were making Rap of China last year, none of us thought it’d be so huge. All we expected was that it would let people know that ‘there is hip-hop music in China.’ We’ve now seen that there’s not only hip-hop music, but actually there are a lot of different forms, like rap in Chinese dialects. 中国有嘻哈’s mission is complete, since hip-hop music has been popularized now. ”
Che Che explained the new Rap of China’s mission: “We want to justify rap music among young people — it can be young, uplifting and full of positive energy. In addition, we want the young musicians’ talents and vitality to be seen through one of the most popular music genres in the world.”
Rap of China’s production team (l-r) Liu Zhou, Kris Wu, Chen Wei, Che Che, and Wang Tiantian
SO WHAT’S NEW?
The theme of the new show is “我年轻，我说唱 (I’m Young, I Rap).” As a “completely new show,” Che Che mentioned there are quite a few new elements: “New atmosphere, new contestants, new format, and new presentation of the culture. We will combine more Chinese factors with hip-hop music. In last year’s Rap of China and Hot Blood Dance Crew, we used ‘reality-drama’ style to make the shows, because back then the culture and the art had not been accepted widely, so we tried to guide the audience through stories and plots.
“But now we’ve seen student rappers are like super stars in their colleges, and rap is already the most popular music genre in China, so we can get back to the lyrics and focus on the music itself this year.”
The 60-second knock-out stage
As for the new contestants, naturally there’s been a massive increase in interest this year. Chen Wei gave us some specific numbers: “778 people signed up for auditions last year, and 70 of them made it to the first 60-second knock-out round; this year globally there were 10,725 people who signed up for the auditions, but less than 1% of them will come here for the first round – 68 qualified contestants will perform in the 60-second knock-out except for the three from the North American section who will skip that part and go straight to next round.”
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WHAT WERE THE JUDGES LOOKING FOR IN CONTESTANTS?
“We will consider several aspects,” explained Chen Wei regarding the selection process. “Firstly, of course, how professional their music is; then their values, like what they think of the world and themselves; we also investigate their social media and their experiences in the music circle; what kind offeelings and temperament they present; and we give them a medical examination – the show will be stressful, we need our contestants to be healthy and strong.”
Meet The Rap of China’s New Hip-Hop Hopefuls
As for the rappers who have “bad histories,” Chen said: “The diversity of a culture can be seen in different channels. We have a lot of viewers who are under 14 years-old, so we have to be socially responsible. Mass media has its features and values. If you want to see a more intensive rap battle, you can watch the underground battles. Being positive will not negatively affect young people’s nature nor their creativity.”
Kris Wu (center) and the other judges at the press conference
WHAT’S G.E.M. DOING ON THE SHOW?
A new fifth judge for the show this year is G.E.M., a Hong Kong-based pop singer and writer with no immediately apparent link to the genre. Yet Che Che stated the team were convinced by “her attitude, her unique viewpoints and her understanding of music.”
Wang Tiantian, the show’s artistic director, also pointed out that “a woman’s perspective is very much needed.”
The show will apparently feature more female rappers this time out
Of course, the fact that G.E.M. is massively popular with a large swathe of the audience also helped, as Chen Wei explained: “We all know that iQIYI is an innovation-driven tech company, and we want to be a greater entertainment company. An app that is currently widely used by content-generating teams like us at iQIYI can match fans’ characters with appropriate artists using an AI algorithm. It turns out that the overlap rate for fans of G.E.M and Will Pan [an existing judge on the show] is over 90%, which is really high.”
More on iQIYI’s algorithm-informed content here:
“We are Netflix Plus”: An Interview with iQIYI VP Leon Chen
For her part, G.E.M. is thrilled to be on the show, which has her feeling diggy “like a primary school student.” In her eyes, “Lyrics matter the most in hip-hop music. And rap is a deep level of expression with diverse forms.”
YES YES, BUT WHAT DOES KRIS WU THINK?
Kris “freestyle” Wu is credited as a “music consultant” on the new Rap of China. Here’s what he had to say: “I hope I can bring the new style and skills from overseas into China to take Chinese hip-hop to the next level. It is still growing, and needs guidance.”
Wu has also written a theme song for the show entitled “天地“ (“Tian Di”, or Heaven and Earth), which dropped just minutes ago. He also directed the music video for it. Update: watch said video below:
SO WHEN DOES THE SHOW AIR?
Err, we still don’t know. Despite all the fanfare (or maybe by way of contributing to it), iQIYI still haven’t released an official date for when the first episode will be available. Our best bet right now? Give them a couple of weeks — we expect the first episode to drop before the end of June.
Update: We were a couple of weeks out. The show starts on July 14.
More Rap of China reading:
4 Fire Solo Debuts From the Rap of China Freshman Class
Watch: Rap of China Co-Champions PG One & Gai Face Off in Season 1 Finale
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