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Chinese Rap Wrap: Key NG Wins “Rap of China” S03 as Kris Wu Launches Hip Hop Label

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Chinese Rap Wrap is a bi-weekly RADII column that focuses on the Chinese hip hop scene, featuring the freshest talents, hottest new tracks, and biggest beefs from the world of Chinese rap.

Chinese Rappers to Watch

This year’s Rap of China officially ended on August 30. After all of the beefs on and off the stage, with a lot fancy stage design and under the banner of Kris Wu’s team, KeyNG was declared the victor of Season 3. The young hardcore rapper graduated from UCLA and is a member of Shanghai-based rap crew Walking Dead (more on them here). Since his first album, Jia Mian (Coronation), dropped in March, KeyNG has never hidden his ambition to shake up the hip hop scene. As he raps in the album’s title track: “Bow bow bow bow to the new king.”

Although the two have different styles, KeyNG’s road to the championship looks similar to last year’s winner, Uyghur young-blood Air. Both rappers first appeared on underground competition Listen Up as city champions before pulling out of the show to hit the bigger, more mainstream stage of Rap of China. And both were eliminated on the show before being voted back by the online audience, going on to win the contest. This year’s runner-up was BooM, who lost in the final round by just one vote after the initial 101 rappers and the four groups of mentors/producers/judges had cast their judgments.

While there were fewer hit songs to emerge from the show compared to last year, there were more young talents with more diverse styles that made it into the final 20, and even the final 5. Yunnan battle MC Xin Xiu, Beijing melodic rapper Sean T, and 21-year-old dark horse Last King LX all received public recognition as finalists, along with established rappers who had already been well-known in the underground scene. These include runner-up BooM, who just signed to with the label MDSK, GO$H‘s L4WUDU (“the first Chinese trap rapper”), Damnshine and Key.L from Changsha crew C-Block, and more.

On the final episode of the season, Kris Wu announced that he’s launching his own hip hop label soon, and will be recruiting new blood. Seems the “Young OG” is aiming contribute more to Chinese hip hop, after receiving respect from Season 3 contestants such as Damnshine and Fox, who admitted in their exit speeches that they were originally skeptical or even critical of Kris, but now consider him a bro.

“After persisting in producing the show over the past three years, today hip hop music and rappers have become a lot less strange or weird to the public, which means big progress on the music and the culture’s popularization,” Rap of China producer Chen Wei told RADII in an interview in June. “Meanwhile, we take the responsibility that we should take.” Given that Netflix is about to release an original hip-hop talent show called Rhythm + Flow — featuring Cardi B, T.I., and Chance the Rapper — it seems that iQIYI is ahead of the game, despite the drama and controversies.

But shows like Rap of China also come to an end, and while many rappers will wait until next year for their chance to become an overnight star, there is much to be improved in the industry as a whole to nurture talents off-camera. We will continue watching how these young rappers develop, now that the curtain has fallen.

Chinese Rap in the Mainstream

In the meantime, a more underground rap competition has just begun. On August 27, freestyle-battle-turned-game 8 Mile Rap Music Game announced a list of 20 beatmakers, who were selected from among 500 by a team of five professional producers in a blind audition.

With beats by these 20, more than 1,500 rappers who have uploaded their work to the 8 Mile platform will strive for the eight positions in each division, before winners from 17 city divisions will face off in a final competition. The final contest will take place in Xi’an, where 8 Mile Started.

Other than the online and offline music competitions, 8 Mile also offers free legal aid for rappers and producers, who usually lack proper knowledge to protect their copyrights.

Related:

Chinese Rap Wrap: Jay Chou Wins Epic Beef Without Saying a Word

Quite a few 8 Mile contestants have expressed the feeling that hip hop and freestyle rap started growing on them since they went to 8 Mile’s offline competitions years ago. As a hip hop brand rooted in the underground scene that has cultivated tons of established rappers and earned musicians’ and listeners’ trust, 8 Mile may be paving a new way to connect musicians with people who are thirsty for quality music.

New Chinese Rap Releases of Note

Chino Yang/Yang Xiaochuan, a Chinese rapper based in San Francisco who moved to the US in his teens, dropped his first EP on his 30th birthday, in dedication to his forthcoming baby. A chef with his own restaurant in San Francisco, and a “1.5-generation” immigrant, Chino shares his life stories and his thoughts on China’s hip hop scene through the record.

On August 30, an all-star group of rappers and producers dropped “Si Mian Chu Ge” (a Chinese idiom meaning “surrounded by enemies”), a track produced by Chengdu beakmaker/DJ Anti-General. “Si Mian Chu Ge” features Rap of China Season 2 champ Air from Kashgar, Wang Yitai from Chengdu, Dough Boy from Hong Kong, and Pharaoh from Shanghai, who together “represent regional rap powers from the four corners of China.” Combined, their tough lyrics in different flows and dialects meld into a hardcore track.

Walking Dead just dropped their full-crew cypher “Woken Day,” which is the last track of the crew’s studio album. With Fox’s hook, all of the crew’s rappers (as well as producer XXLOKI) shout out to each other, showing a united front.

As a crew that is good at promoting itself on social media, some Walking Dead members also had a special celebration for member Key NG after he won Rap of China: doing drag and wearing a “JK” (joshi kōsei, high school girl) uniform to deliver on a promise made previously to online fans. Check out hardcore rapper Pharaoh rapping in the JK uniform at the 9:46 mark:

Chinese Rap Overseas

No.4/Diss Music is bringing Xi’an OG Pact and popular Chengdu rapper Wang Yitai back to the US on tour next month. Chongqing trap master L4 WUDU and Peter Chen Castles — who just dropped a collab with A$AP TyY under the name Lil Ca$ — will join the “Hip Hop Commune” tour across New York City, Boston and Los Angeles from October 11 to 15. Although we haven’t heard anything about No.4 Music founder Boss X (formerly Fat Shady) after he was abruptly banned from social media in May, apparently the rest of the label is doing well.

More Chinese Rap Wrap:

Chinese Rap Wrap: “Love the Police,” Say Rapping Cops in Response to Hong Kong Unrest

Chinese Rap Wrap: The HHH Era Ends with a Shocking, Livestreamed Scandal

Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van