A few weeks ago, a chapter in China’s pop culture history came to a close as the first season of reality TV phenomenon Rap of China reached its finale. The season ended in a draw, with rappers Gai and PG One being crowned co-champions, and ostensibly moving on to fruitful careers at the helm of China’s sudden fascination with hip hop music.
Gai hasn’t been wasting any time capitalizing on the attention, and put out a new music video before the season had even wrapped up. The song is called Huo Guo Di Liao 火鍋底料 – translating to “hot pot soup base” – and it’s a spicy one.
In the hook, Gai raps I’m having hot pot/all you’ve got is the soup packet. That’s a pretty sturdy flex on some of the little fish in the game, and he’s right. He just won the biggest event in hip hop culture to happen so far in China, and it shows. The video is crazy – Gai is posted up at a regular street corner dinner spot with a bunch of uncle-looking dudes in wife beaters. They’re all playing the suona, a traditional reed instrument, and looking like real honest-to-god gangsters. Aside from the suona, the instrumental is a pretty bumpin’, completely unique take on a trap beat, where a bright, modern synth comes in to balance out the old school instrumentation. The video makes great use of CGI, amplifying the weirdness of the simmering hot pot rap jam.
Gai here actually reminds me (in a weird way) of mainland rock legend Cui Jian. Cui Jian is kind of the father of Chinese rock and roll, shooting to stardom in 1986, and the first Chinese rock figure to reach his level of influence. One thing that helped him do it was incorporating traditional Chinese musical elements into his songs – one that springs to mind is the wailing suona solo on his hit song Nothing to My Name. By using the suona like an electric guitar, Cui was able to convince his audiences that rock music and Chinese culture did belong together, and bridge the gap between old and new.
Gai is doing something kind of similar. The suona in his track is unmistakably Chinese, and fits perfectly with the imagery of hot pot and street corners. He raps about his hometown of Chongqing (we’re the fog town, and that’s our catchphrase) and rejects the notion that China’s new rap generation has to look overseas for its example (as if all rap stars need a VPN account). In fact, his final performance on Rap of China also made use of traditional Chinese music.
He says it himself near the end of the track – this Chinese blood is running through my body. Gai seems pretty determined to make his mark on China’s hip hop scene, and to do it without copying what’s working in the states. All we can do it wait and see how it pans out.