Yin (, “music”) is a weekly Radii feature that looks at Chinese songs spanning classical to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.

In honor of this week’s running theme, the ’90s in China, we’re throwing it back with the originating group of hip hop in China. Before Higher Brothers, before The Rap of China…there was Yin Ts’ang.

So it’s not technically from the ’90s (the group just missed the title, having been formed in 2000), but this is pretty straightforward, boom bap-style beat selection, just a drum loop over an erhu sample. And considering that China didn’t really have much hip hop going in the ’90s, this one’s gonna get the pass.

The group consists of four members: local Beijing b-boy MC Webber (who now makes dancehall and reggae under the name Raddam Ras), Chinese-Canadian rapper and producer Sbazzo, and two white American dudes, Jeremy Michael Johnston (who goes by 老郑XIV) and Dirty Heff. The latter two being white is worth mentioning, because at the time, China still perceived foreigners, especially those who could speak Mandarin, with an immense sense of shock and awe.

That might help to explain the group’s success. I’ll let their Wikipedia resume do the talking:

Over the years Yin Ts’ang has done commercial collaborations with Nike, Adidas, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), Myspace, Casio and Philips. They have toured China, performing in 100 person performance houses in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region and 30,000 person capacity stadiums at the base of Wu-Tang Mountain. They have not only had the pleasure of working with Chinese artists like Supergirl Chris Lee (李宇春) and rock legend Cui Jian (崔健), but have also graced the stage with foreign legends like DJ Q-Bert, Kid Koala, Onyx and Mobb Deep. Yin Ts’ang has won back to back achievement awards at the 1st and 2nd Annual Chinese Hip-Hop Awards for Best Group and Most Dedicated to the Art and was awarded Best Rap Group in China at the 2009 Kappa-YoHo Pop Music awards.

That’s right, Yin Ts’ang has performed with Cui Jian and Mobb Deep. They’ve won numerous awards and all of it is shocking, because — let’s cut to the chase — this group is trash. Here are the complete English lyrics to the music video you just watched. Please feel free to skip them and scroll through when you get the picture.

In Beijing/We walk on Chang’an Street
In Beijing/There are many beautiful girls
In Beijing/We worship Buddha in the Yonghe Temple
In Beijing/We visit your Hutong
In Beijing/We learn history in the Palace Museum
In Beijing/We bought a T-shirt in Xidan Mall
In Beijing/Tian’anmen Square is very large
In Beijing/There are many things you don’t know

I live in Dongzhimen/They live on Xueyuan Rd.
We have been to all those places/Thus Yin Ts’ang is very familiar with Beijing
There are many colleges and computer shops in Haidian District
There are many foreigners and CD shops in Wudaokou
At night we can go to Houhai and Sanlitun for a few drinks
KTV is everywhere seen/There are some disco-bars around Beijing Workers’ Gymnasium
There are other things to do besides dancing, drinking and gossiping
You will surely still be flying high waking up the next morning

The taxi is charged at 1.2 yuan or 1.6 yuan per kilometer
The traffic is okay despite occasional congestion
It’s needless to mention those restaurants, the roast duck and the fried noodle with soy bean paste
Oh my God there are so many hot-pot restaurants along Gui Street
In the morning we can go to the Fragrance Hill to get in touch with nature
Don’t forget to drop by the Summer Palace when you return from there
I have a friend who is studying at Beijing University and a girlfriend at Tsinghua
On Chengfu Rd. there is an LRT running towards downtown

In Beijing/The Olympics Games will be held in 2008
In Beijing/The city is becoming more and more beautiful
In Beijing/There are lakes and rivers
In Beijing/Most people ride on bicycles
In Beijing/There is the Chinese Great Wall
In Beijing/It’s really cold in winter
In Beijing/There is the Chinese War Heros’ Memorial
In Beijing/Now you know You buy mobile phones in Xizhimen and clothes near the Zoo

You can easily lose your way in the West Railway Station
From Jishuitan to Gulou and eastward from Andingmen
You buy second-hand electric appliances/The Fifth Ring Road will be open to traffic soon
It reaches out many limbs eastward and westward which always confuse my mind
Embassies gather in Chaoyang District/Trees line up the streets there
The business center is east to Jianguomen
We live close to each other in Chinese courtyard houses
Trains pull in and out at the Beijing Railway Station/Visitors to the city stay in hotel rooms near the station for the night

Buses go on the highway from the Long-distance Bus Station
Wangfujing is very clean/The Malls at Oriental Plaza are there
The Art Museum is very quiet/In Beihai Park there is the Nine-Dragon Wall
There are many poor in the Southern City/But the district is developing fast If you’d like to learn then go to the History Museum
You go all the way eastward from Qianmen to Zhongnanhai
On behalf of Beijing, Yin Ts’ang hopes that all of you will visit the city often
In Beijing/We walk on Chang’an Street
In Beijing/There are many beautiful girls

In Beijing/We worship Buddha in the Yonghe Temple
In Beijing/We visit your Hutong
In Beijing/We learn history in the Palace Museum
In Beijing/We bought a T-shirt in Xidan Mall
In Beijing/Tian’anmen Square is very large
In Beijing/There are many things you don’t know
In Beijing/The Olympic Games will be held in 2008
In Beijing/The city is becoming more and more beautiful

In Beijing/There are lakes and rivers
In Beijing/Most people ride on bicycles
In Beijing/There is the Chinese Great Wall
In Beijing/It’s really cold in winter
In Beijing/There is the Chinese War Heroes’ Memorial
In Beijing/Now you know

Wow. If you made it through all that, our hats off to you. The whole song reads like an extended tourist pamphlet. Why so many references to the specifics of Beijing’s public transportation? We may never know.

4 Fire Solo Debuts From the Rap of China Freshman Class

But the song was a smash hit. Chinese listeners were apparently thoroughly amused to hear the multinational crew doing that newfangled rap music, and talking endlessly about their capital. Oh my goodness, we imagine them saying, I also bought a T-shirt in Xidan Mall!

The song reached the #11 spot nationally, and won Yin Ts’ang the award for Best New Group at 2003’s China National Radio Music Awards. The China National Radio Awards, if you couldn’t tell, is heavily influenced by the federal government’s selection criteria, which might help explain why such near-propaganda work performed so well.

In the end, we still have to give Yin Ts’ang some credit. The song was completely 100% original, something that hardly any artists today manage, and it struck a chord with their audience. It’s even a little catchy, if you don’t understand Chinese or if you’re willing to overlook the lyrical content. Audiences who heard it long ago still praise it for its uniqueness, and online posts of the video tend to have commenters saying I’ve been looking for this song forever!  Maybe it was even motivated by a savvy willingness to appeal to government bodies who had the power to make the song a blow-up success. Maybe it was all part of the plan.

So today, we salute Yin Ts’ang, China’s original hip hop group. A multinational force, whose talent may be negligible, but whose influence on the country’s introduction to hip hop culture was not. We’ll leave you with this cool-down.