Sichuan rapper Wang Yitai discovered his talent for hip hop by accident. A solid pianist in his early years having taken lessons for years, it wasn’t until he was in high school and at a karaoke bar with friends that the idea of making rap music became a possibility.
“I was trying to rap over Eminem’s songs and my friends said ‘woah, you did really good.’ I thought, ‘I can rap,’ so I started to try to write my own lyrics.”
Now one of China’s most popular rappers, and a regular collaborator with the likes of Chinese pop and hip hop luminaries Vava, Lexie Liu and Fat Shady, the 25-year-old rapper has established a huge following online, propelled to fame by his association with legendary Sichuan rap crew CDC (Chengdu Rap House), appearances on a variety of talent shows (naturally including The Rap of China) and the success of his debut album Yan, Shuo, Jia (演. 说. 家.).
Growing up, Wang (who also goes by the moniker 3Ho) was attracted to music by not just Eminem, but also Dr. Dre and 50 Cent. At around the same time as he was developing a taste for hip hop, CDC were beginning to make noise on the Chengdu music scene.
He first encountered the group — which has close ties with China’s most famous rap group Higher Brothers — when he was in middle school. At the time he had no ambitions to be a rapper, but he was blown away by the likes of Ty., he tells us, “I was like, wow, in my city there’s a bunch of people doing this as well. At that time I was still a young guy, so I wasn’t trying to be a rapper as my career.”
I was like, wow, in my city there’s a bunch of people doing [hip hop] as well.
Wang later moved to the US to attend university, first at James Madison University in Virginia and later at Foothill College in California. It was a formative time, as he learned more about his craft by skipping classes and going to the library to write raps and craft mixtapes. His biggest takeaway about the impact of his time in the US was his newfound knowledge about how to use the internet effectively: as a forum for finding beats, communicating with like-minded people and learning about new music.
After dropping out of college, Wang returned to Chengdu and started performing with artists on the local scene. For one of his first shows, he played alongside the Higher Brothers’ Masiwei, though they were part of different groups at the time. It wasn’t long, however, before Ty. asked him to join CDC. The performer he’d seen on stage before heading out to the States had in the interim become one of the most famous rappers in China.
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Speaking to that time and the gratitude he owes Ty., Wang says, “I didn’t have any income. Ty. was at that time at his highest point. He brought me with him as a back up singer to the big stages, to music festivals and on his own tours. When I was on the road, I met a lot of rappers who Ty. introduced me to, guys that I’m still working with now.”
As he continued to craft his own particular style, he was invited to join participants for the first season of Rap of China. The runaway hit TV show introduced new audiences to the likes of not just Chengdu veteran Ty., but also Nanjing legend Jony J and eventual winners Gai and PG One.
While he turned down the opportunity to appear on season 1 of the show, Wang was asked again to appear on the second season in 2018. He didn’t secure a place in the finals of the competition that year, but his appearance brought him into the public eye, a position he hasn’t relinquished since.
I learned more about being an artist in China, what kind of things you can say and should not say, what kind of lyrics are overboard
Wang’s sentiments about the talent show format are somewhat predictable. While these shows have provided artists with a solid platform to reach fans, as well training on how to be media savvy in China, there’s virtually no emphasis on learning or moulding musical technique or style.
“I learned more about being an artist in China, what kind of things you can say and should not say, what kind of lyrics are overboard,” he explains. “I learned what my boundaries are after taking part in the show, if I want to be a really mainstream artist.”
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Catapulted into the limelight by the success of Rap of China, Wang had a busy 2019, appearing on multiple talent shows and gaining huge audience numbers on his social media accounts, especially Weibo. Near the end of last year, he released his first full length album, Yan, Shuo, Jia, (a title which translates loosely to Perform, Speak, Family). It was one of the best hip hop releases of the year, impressing fans and critics alike with intelligent, conscious lyrics, and gorgeous production, while also establishing Wang’s particular brand of mellow hip hop.
“I thank God, all glory goes to him,” Wang says of the album and its success. “I’m just trying to express what I think is right. I’m a rapper, I’m just telling stories, I’m not telling you the right thing to do.”
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Another big occurrence for Wang and his Chengdu contemporaries in 2019 was the break-up of CDC. It’s still not clear quite why the group broke up, but Wang says that they needed to do it to stay safe, a cryptic message. “It was basically for our own good, there’s no beef, no money talk, it’s just for us. We’re protecting ourselves from certain situations.”
The majority of the group returned in 2020, surprising fans with a new name — Chengdu Corporation — and a new cypher that brought together some of the best Chinese rappers ever. Noticeably, however, the group’s controversial member Fat Shady was missing from the new-look line-up.
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While there were questions about the exclusion of Fat Shady from CDC’s return as Chengdu Corporation, Wang dismisses any questions. His debut album was released on Shady’s record label (No. 4 Music 第四音乐), and he says the two will definitely collaborate more in the future.
As for the latest incarnation of CDC, they’re staying loose to possibilities going forward, happy to have made an impact with their returning cypher. Wang himself is optimistic about the future for rap music in China meanwhile. “It’s gonna be big,” he says. “Hip hop belongs to human beings, it’s in your human nature. We have a lot of humans in China, so we also have a lot of hip hop in China.”
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