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Yin: Kris Wu Turns Humiliating Noodle Freestyle Into Studio Masterpiece

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Yin (音, “music”) is a weekly RADII feature 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.

Guys, it’s been like, at least a couple months since we’ve written about pop-idol-turned-rapper Kris Wu. And for us, that’s an eternity.

So you can imagine the feeling of pure delight we experienced, upon learning that the self-proclaimed king of Chinese hip hop has dropped a new single — and it’s a studio version of his infamous noodle freestyle.

Let’s dial it back, and run through the context behind this masterpiece, so you can fully soak in the rich broth of its excellence.

Kris Wu was always famous as a member of K-pop group EXO. But it wasn’t until he went solo as a “rapper” that he truly blew up — the turning point was his placement as the lead judge on runaway hit reality show Rap of China. And in this age of memes, the buzzy, viral phrase that became Wu’s signature was 有freestyle吗, which basically translates to can you freestyle?

The ability to freestyle, Wu explained, is what separates the chaff from the wheat when it comes to rappers; if you’re unsure of a rapper’s skill, check their freestyle chops.

Naturally for Kris, fresh out of a boyband and trying to position himself as the definitive hip hop expert, this blew up in his face. Immediately, the internet began to spill over with humiliating, old Kris Wu freestyles. Chief among Wu’s bad freestyles, though, was the notorious and viral noodle freestyle.

During a segment for Hunan TV at the Shaanxi Noodle Pavilion, Kris casually suggested he do a freestyle to entertain some diners. Little did he realize, this would be a defining moment in his life. As we wrote in our roundup of Kris Wu’s worst freestyles:

What starts as a playful suggestion to entertain noodle-eaters and daytime television watchers with some good ol’ fashioned hip hop freestyling, quickly escalates to a situation of genuine distress.

Watch the transition from fun to wide-eyed fear when the grinning woman at the table starts clapping along, locking Kris into a spiral of panic with no escape in sight. These bars are immortally bad, and we’ve rewatched the footage at least a hundred times in our efforts to fully soak them in.

The bars: Are you ready or not? / look at these noodles / they’re long and broad / just like this bowl / big and round / you came here to eat food / think the food’s tasty / I think it’s great / you came here to eat food / you’re as happy as me when I pull these noodles for you / hey hey hey

Okay. So now that you know the history, hopefully you can fully appreciate Kris Wu’s newest track: he literally hit the studio in order to reclaim his most embarrassing moment.

Kris has always had a reputation as a poser, positioning himself as this all-knowing hip hop king — meanwhile, the world has very recently been watching him dance in a blue tuxedo as part of a Korean boy band. But this is Wu’s most self-aware moment, and we love it.

There are some serious Jay Chou vibes at work here. Over a pop/trap instrumental full of plucky Chinese strings, Kris repurposes his noodle lyrics into a catchy bop that’s impossible not to smile at.

Related:

Tone-deaf Kris Wu Vocal Track Ravages Chinese Social Media

We get sentimental Chinese karaoke vibes, as Wu croons through autotune:

Big bowl / wide and shadowless / Long noodle / disappears / like the memories of my childhood

We get introspective, China-centric rap bars:

Why you guys all gotta diss me? / You see this bowl is big and wide / Let’s all raise a glass / You see this noodle is long and thin / Martial arts novels may bring you to tears / But I never believed in ghosts / Sometimes life can get exhausting / Don’t hunger for my big bowl, and don’t shed tears

And we get straight-up Chinese poetry in the breakdowns:

In this life I’ve wandered the four seas, now I can’t be shaken / The moon hangs high and spotless in the sky / In life, the opportunities to be with close friends are few / Don’t let go of those friendships

Related:

Kris Wu Drops Patriotic Single “Chinese Soul” Ahead of “Rap of China” Return

If you don’t speak Mandarin, it’s difficult to understand exactly how poetic some of these lyrics are, and it’s hard to believe that Kris Wu is very involved in the writing process. But then again, neither is Drake.

How is this song so catchy? One answer might come in the form of Peter Lee Shih Shiong, a Singaporean composer and producer whose decades of collaborations with legends like Jacky Cheung and Stefanie Sun have earned him a spot near the top of the Mandarin-language pop pantheon, and who is credited on Kris Wu’s noodle track.

This is the kind of industry strength Kris needs to be channelling. Rather than relying on big brand placements and empty posturing as something he’s not, he should be drawing on the massive strength and resources of his team to create music that is genuinely catchy, appealing to his audience, and authentic to his character.

Related:

Kris Wu Has a New Song with Rich the Kid and it’s Actually Fire

The music video is low-effort, but cute, and is designed to resonate with Wu’s young, female fanbase. But the commitment to the song’s concept and the expertise with which it’s executed make it difficult for anyone not to like the track. Cartoon veggies, eggs, and noodles fight and dance together, riding on a boat of broth with an anime-chibi-style Kris Wu dressed in traditional Chinese clothing (another skillfully-selected, trending subject) — it’s a big leap away from the “hey everybody, I’m Travis Scott” Kris Wu who we usually see.

At the end of the video, an unedited sample of the original freestyle plays, and the laughs of the restaurant-goers lead you out of the track. It’s an impressive display of vulnerability from Kris, who has always seemed a little uncertain and out of his element while playing the hastily-assembled role of an OG rap legend.

Suffice to say, Kris is growing. We enjoy this song.

Update: want some bonus Wu-ness? Why would you not? Here’s Kris dropping a single sentence (“we love Earth” in Mandarin) into the celebrity singer melee that is Lil Dicky’s Earth Day-marking track… “Earth”:

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip-hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers.

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