The name echoes through the annals of time and space. The masked figure first arrived on the scene in the debut episode of The Rap of China, causing commotion online when head celebrity judge Kris Wu proclaimed him to be “the contestant who can entirely replace [Wu] as a producer.”
Who is HipHopMan? Die-hard hip hop fans certainly have their theories, but the dark horse of China’s newest hit music competition won’t offer any clues, and refuses the judges’ requests to remove his mask. We tracked down Chinese hip hop’s newest and most elusive figure long enough to ask a few questions.
Who are you?
I am HipHopMan.
Our hero remains enigmatic. Why are you here?
Primarily, to experience firsthand Chinese hip hop culture, and to be a part of something that I believe will be a breakthrough for those who have interest in the development of hip hop in China.
That makes sense. But why is that so important to you – what is HipHopMan’s origin story?
I am an American-born Chinese who grew up equally connected to both aspects of my identity. Specifically, as they relate to my passion for hip hop and the craft of rhyming. MCing. It’s something I’ve dedicated pretty much two-thirds of my life to now, honing and developing. All along, it was primarily in English. Then later on, I started delving into creating music in Cantonese. Now it’s time to challenge myself in a new capacity; crafting and performing in Mandarin.
What do you think of the competition so far?
From the beginning of the journey, I had a pretty clear understanding in my own mind that, yes, I might be bringing a certain experience and credibility to the table. As far as truly dedicating myself to the art of MCing, understanding hip hop culture’s history and actually being on the frontline. However, I’m also aware that as far as Chinese hip hop and what it entails, I’m quite unversed. With that said, I look at every other contestant with the same respect and admiration, regardless of how I may have personally assessed their present skill level, experience, etc. Naturally there were standouts, and amongst the standouts, there were many that I was truly impressed by.
HipHopMan refuses to remove his mask, and unanimously passes to the next round with a fire verse spanning three languages (starts at 2:06 mark)
Depending on how plugged in you are to the Chinese hip hop diaspora, you might have your own guesses as to HipHopMan’s true identity. In episode three, HipHopMan explained to the judges that his decision to remain behind the mask stems from the way his son spoke about him.
“I heard my son talking to his friend,” HipHopMan recounts onstage in Mandarin, “I like Iron Man, I like Spiderman. But then I heard my son say, I like my dad – HipHopMan.”
HipHopMan explains that his character represents everyone who is connected with hip hop. And on this show, HipHopMan also represents the universal nature of the genre, once dismissed as a fad by the world at large. His own musical identity spans at least two continents and three languages.
“As far as I can remember, at home, my parents spoke nothing but Cantonese,” he said. “Then of course, once I stepped into the world beyond my front door, it was all English from that point on. All in all, participating in the show has absolutely challenged me to take a definitive step in the direction of mastering Mandarin. I suppose starting from zero in a Chinese rap competition is a little unorthodox, but then again taking the normal path has never really been my forte.”
If you’ve seen the show, you might feel that the narrative mystique that hangs around HipHopMan is a little different from the other competitors. They’re all portrayed as hungry up-and-comers, fighting for a chance in the spotlight. Meanwhile, HipHopMan is painted as an OG, someone who’s fighting to win something greater than fame. When asked about it though, HipHopMan dismisses the notion of a fundamental difference.
“I feel like my role is no different from any other competitors, minus the mask and what HipHopMan represents. I’m definitely the same as in, I’m approaching each challenge in the same fashion and prepared that at any given moment, the journey can come to an end.”