Yin (音, “music”) is a weekly RADII column that looks at Chinese songs spanning hip hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.
After “Friends & Foes,” the theme song of new Netflix original series Wu Assassins, was released on August 5, it finally gave us an answer to what Higher Brothers Masiwei, DZ Know, and West Coast legend Snoop Dogg were doing together in that Instagram post from June. More importantly, on this new track, the Chengdu-based quartet sounds more like the “Higher Brothers” that we used to know and love.
On top of New York producer josh pan’s beat, Snoop Dogg kicks off the first verse, providing a martial arts montage and a shoutout to Higher Brothers. Then comes DZ Know and Masiwei’s hook, which echoes the story of the show’s main character, Kai Jin, a chef-turned-assassin who is imbued with ancient powers in modern-day San Francisco’s Chinatown.
“Chinatown, doing my business / Mic check kung fu chef roaming everywhere / Red blood flowing under yellow skin / Hold on, no time for you to surrender” — DZ Know“Swords, spears, cudgels and clubs / Woks, bowls, gourd ladles and basins / I walk from my martial arts dojo to the kitchen / Teach the enemy a lesson / make them do what I want them to / Protect the ones I love / I don‘t need fake friends” — Masiwei
“Chinatown, doing my business / Mic check kung fu chef roaming everywhere / Red blood flowing under yellow skin / Hold on, no time for you to surrender” — DZ Know
“Swords, spears, cudgels and clubs / Woks, bowls, gourd ladles and basins / I walk from my martial arts dojo to the kitchen / Teach the enemy a lesson / make them do what I want them to / Protect the ones I love / I don‘t need fake friends” — Masiwei
On the second verse, DZ Know shouts out his hometown of Nanjing and raps about Chinese food, while Masiwei raps more about kung fu, including classic Chinese martial arts scenes and Guangzhou hero Wong Fei-hung. They also play with mixing rhymes in Chinese and English, dropping lines like: “You want some free beef” and “I’m gonna kick your pi gu (butt),” “I see you don’t get it, still having mei meng (sweet dream)” and “I alone can challenge your whole label.”
Higher Brothers’ other two members, Melo and Psy.P, jump in on the third verse, where the theme of “Chinese food meets kung fu action” continues:
“A familiar smell from the hometown travels across the sea / I turn every place into my kitchen” — Psy.P“The alley behind the bar / The base of the gang / Mask on my head / Running into the woods” — Melo
“A familiar smell from the hometown travels across the sea / I turn every place into my kitchen” — Psy.P
“The alley behind the bar / The base of the gang / Mask on my head / Running into the woods” — Melo
Higher Brothers Drop New Video, Announce February Release of 2nd Album “Five Stars”
Maybe because there is a certain story and imagery based on Wu Assassins, a show featuring many elements that resonate with Chinese culture, Higher Brothers’ lyrics feel especially vivid and meaningful on “Friends & Foes.” Getting to rap in Mandarin and Sichuan dialect rather than fragmented English might be a plus, too, especially when compared against their latest album, Five Stars.
The album was released in February to much hype and hope, following up the group’s much-loved 2017 debut Black Cab, but it turned out to be kind of a disappointment. Too much English might actually have weakened the Brothers’ wordplay skill, power of expression, and flows, and featured guests like Soulja Boy didn’t help. Moreover, the album’s only boom bap track, “Open It Up,” was taken down from all streaming platforms in China soon after the album was released. (The track does feature in an episode of Wu Assassins, however.)
The most-liked comment about Five Stars on NetEase, China’s most active music streaming platform, reads:
“I’m a super loyal fan of Higher Brothers, but to be honest, do you guys find that there’s not much creativity in their lyrics? Much of it is just flexing, although the flow is still awesome. There is a lot more English, but it doesn’t feel like the vibe in Black Cab. But they went worldwide as a result of their own ability. I just hope they stay creative, and hope they will be rap stars as big as Migos.”
“A Pivotal Moment in Asian Music History”: 88rising Founder Talks Higher Brothers and Worldwide Flex
There are also comments on NetEase defending them, such as one that reads, “They’ve become rich now, so the lyrics reflect their real life,” or another accusing critics of Higher Brothers of being too politically correct.
No matter how much people love or hate their last album, however, we hope this collab with Snoop — an OG “higher brother,” as one YouTube user joked — will lead the Chengdu rappers back to their roots and to what used to make them different.
Cover photo: Joseph Lee/Hypebeast
More on Wu Assassins:
Actor Byron Mann on “Wu Assassins” and Expanding Roles for Asian Professionals in Hollywood
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