Chinese Rap Wrap is a RADII column that focuses on the Chinese hip hop scene, underground or in the mainstream.
With Kris Wu confirmed to be returning as a mentor for the upcoming season of Rap of China, alongside controversial former winner of the show, GAI, Mandopop star Jane Zhang and rapper, singer and judge mainstay Will Pan, anticipation for the return of the music show that changed China’s hip hop scene forever is rising.
Rumors have been floating around that this year’s Rap of China will focus on the rivalries between regional crews based around the country, so we thought the time was ripe for us to give background on some of the more prominent rap crews in major cities around the Chinese mainland.
The following crews have played a huge role in building up and promoting hip hop culture in China’s major cities.
The Chinese capital was home to one of the first Chinese rap scenes to rise to prominence. The city is famed for its hardcore style, critical content and a tradition of boombap, featuring old school groups such as Yin Ts’ang, in3, Purple Soul, Deformed Boi, as well as being home to relatively young crew, Dungeon Beijing.
Formed in 2016, members of Dungeon Beijing — including N-Bomb, C-Jam, Saber and DJ Quaver — are influenced by the city’s first local hip hop party, Section 6. Their crew name and their classic cyphers make direct reference to where the crew originates from: the underground.
More recently known as the “rap capital” of China, Chengdu is the city where trap music took off in the country. After pioneering crew Big Zoo disbanded, some of their members, such as Mow, Lil White and Sleepy Cat teamed up to form a brand new rap crew called CDC “Shuo Chang Hui Guan (Rap House)” in 2010. Other young local rappers in the famed group include Fat Shady, Ansr J, Free T and Lil Shin.
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In the years since the formation of CDC, the four members that make up Higher Brothers today, as well as the likes of Ty. and Wang Yitai have joined. The crew has received considerable recognition not only within their hometown, but also outside of Sichuan province (of which Chengdu is the capital) and throughout China. The cyphers the group released in 2012 and 2016 (watch below) are seen as among their best tracks. And although they unexpectedly disbanded last year, they soon returned with a new cypher (click above) and a new name: Chengdu Corporation.
Not far from Chengdu resides another “trap capital” of China: Chongqing. Hip hop heads call the mountainous, foggy city “Chtlanta (Chongqing + Atlanta)” or “重特兰大” mostly because of the influence of the largest rap crew in town, GO$H.
Some of the crew’s members such as GAI, Bridge, WatchMe, L4WUDU and Turbo, have become national stars after appearing on Rap of China over the past few years, while Xi Jie, OG Rolly, Eye and REGI have also long been favorites among local hip hop fans. The cypher that the group dropped earlier this year, “Zang Bang Zi,” was produced by K11 and showcases each member of the crew’s style perfectly:
The neighboring crews of CDC and GO$H have been successful using similar dialects in their trap music. They’ve also been going back and forth in a long-time beef ever since 2015, when the two leading rappers, GAI and Higher Brothers’ Masiwei, started dropping diss tracks against each other. Some of the other members from each crew also did a face-to-face battle/collaboration track in 2016:
Changsha (or CSC as it is also known) is the capital of Hunan province, beside Chongqing along the Yangtze River, and the rappers from the two cities are bonded brothers. Sup Music is the dominant label in CSC, with the group’s established trio C-Block (Damnshine, Kungfu Pen, and Key.L) finding particular success.
The crew have garnered praise and love for regularly showcasing their local roots and for their lyrical style, which often revolves around underworld kungfu heroism. “以下范上 (Power To the People)” is the crew’s best known song:
CSC got behind neighboring crew GO$H and their famed rapper GAI, during a major beef in 2017. On the other side of that argument? MC Guang, the leader and manager of Nanjing-based crew Free-Out. Guang criticized GAI for “pretending to be a gangster,” but he was no stranger to attention-grabbing beefs. One of the original members of Nanjing’s first rap crew, D-Evil, Guang received national (underground) recognition and respect during a massive beef across the Taiwan Strait in 2007 .
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The sharp-tongued rapper went on to establish Free-Out in 2016, announcing that “no one in Free-Out is unreliable,” and has maintained a low profile while producing and promoting quality rap tracks in the scene. Free-Out dropped their first full-member cypher in 2019, which featured Trouble Z, Ice Paper, Kc, big Year, Lil Howcy, BustaZun and Round 2, a young duo who rose to fame last year.
Another major crew that took the side of CDC and Higher Brothers in 2017 was HHH from Xi’an. That crew, which was established in 2011, had been struggling somewhat after key member PG One was effectively scrubbed from the Chinese internet over his past lyrics and a sex scandal, but still no one was quite prepared for the sudden and shocking disbandment of HHH last year via a livestream in which another member cut off his own finger (no, really).
Away from the scandals, each member of the group, such as Danko/K9999, Ding Fei/F.Killa and AZ, has won over plenty of fans both inside and outside the city because of their smooth flows, trap style and rhyming skills. Their beatmaker Mai also happens to be one of the best hip hop producers in China today. The crew changed their name to “404 Rappers” and made a comeback cypher in 2018, called “HNBMC.”
NOUS UNDERGROUND (N/U) is another powerful crew based in the ancient capital city. The crew was established by two-time national Iron Mic freestyle battle champion PACT in 2011. Members include CreamD, Killa4nia, Utopia, Kigga, Simba, Bincinn and Dirty Twinz, as well as legendary dancer Dino. The group is famous for dropping new tracks slowly (in order to make the music as high-quality as possible). Here is their latest cypher, a tribute to the people serving and fighting against Covid-19 as well as criticism of the social issues that were exposed by this pandemic:
As one of the most developed cities in China, Shanghai was home to pioneering rap crews such as Hi-Bomb and Bamboo at the beginning of the 2000s, while crews like Walking Dead and Straight Fire Gang currently hold positions of prominence in the city.
Although a lot of their members are not actually based in Shanghai, Walking Dead is generally viewed as a Shanghai crew. Their leader MC Pharaoh is viewed as the most hardcore rapper in China, while other crew members KeyNG, Fox, Buzzy Sun, Long Qi, Real, JarStick and Pissy, along with producers Viito, XXLOKI and He Xian Wen Lu Xian have received recognition in the underground and in the mainstream, earning millions of fans as the most eye-catching young crew on social media.
Walking Dead may be super active on the internet with a huge fanbase, but they were challenged last year by a relatively obscure group out of southern China’s Yunnan province called PING X1 Music. The crew is not big, but the members cannot be ignored — the leader Kisos became the national champion of rap competition Listen Up in 2019. Other members of the crew Lan Xiaochen and Honza/Huang Zhao backed Kisos in the intense battle that ensued against Walking Dead, swapping diss tracks with their more famous challengers.
Guangzhou has a long history with hip hop music, although the Cantonese dialect has, to a certain degree, limited the spread of the region’s raps to the rest of China. With that being said, one of the earliest rap groups in the country, CHEE, has resided in the south since 2003 (the group was originally called DumDue). One of CHEE’s members, Soulhan, recently went to the Rap of China audition and was eliminated. In a Weibo post he talked about how one of the judges, Jane Zhang, asked if he had a Mandarin verse, fueling the idea that dialect rap, such as Cantonese rap, has been sidelined. Kidgod, RebelMan, Fatkit, DJ Edi, Bmd, Jian, D-Jam and AR, as well as talents from elsewhere in China, including RADII favorites JFever, ChaCha (Yehaiyahan) and Kafe Hu have loosely formed this long-running hip hop group.
When we talk about “Chinese hip hop,” there’s definitely more to the musical diversity in the country than just boombap and trap, with crews and artists working elements from their local lifestyles, cultures and histories. We will be watching expectantly as some of the musicians above bring their own brand of hip hop music to the mainstream in the coming weeks and months.
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