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Idol Rapper and Former Boyband Member Zhang Yanqi Signs with 88rising

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Chinese hip hop idol group R1SE disbanded on June 14th, after two years of making music together. For former member Zhang Yanqi, known as Qiqi among his fans, it took only one week to find a new home. This time, he becomes part of a much bigger platform, across the pond.

On June 21st, Zhang signed with 88rising, with the company announcing the signing via its official Weibo account.

Aside from the signing, Zhang will debut SEVENATION, which will take the form of a music label, in collaboration with 88rising. Although the company has not released an official explanation, it is speculated that the name “SEVENATION” comes from the “qi” in Zhang’s given name. The Chinese word for “seven” (qi) has the same pronunciation.

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Fans reacted to 88rising’s announcement with excitement and surprise. In the opinion of Xiaoqiang Shushu, a rap critic with over 41,000 followers on Zhihu, Zhang was not China’s most talented unsigned idol-rapper. Additionally, according to multiple online forums, rumors have been circulating that Zhang intended to leave the entertainment circle, citing personal reasons. The newest announcement not only debunks the rumors, but also signals Zhang’s shifting focus, from reality shows to music production.

Born and raised in Chongqing, Zhang first gained mainstream popularity in 2019, when he participated in Tencent’s Produce Camp 2019, a male idol group reality show. Zhang did not showcase the best vocal or dancing skillset, but impressed the audience with his humor and personality. Starting at Level F (the lowest among Levels A, B, C, and F) among 101 trainees, Zhang managed to ascend to the seventh-ranked trainee by the end of the show.

The top eleven trainees were selected to form the idol group R1SE. With R1SE, Zhang participated in live shows, recorded theme songs for movies, and took part in more reality shows.

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His new membership with 88rising will allot most of his time from idol entertainment to music production. But hip hop performance has always been his niche. Before joining R1SE, Zhang was an accomplished underground rapper in Chongqing. Known as YoRoll within Chongqing’s hip hop circle, he had won multiple rap battles, including 8 Mile Underground 2017 and 三寸不烂之舌 (San Cun Bulan Zhi She) Freestyle Battle 2017 and 2018.

As he wrote in his song “Dei Ba” (得吧, which roughly translates as “Gotta”), “Just to remind you, maybe you’ve forgotten / But please don’t forget where I used to come from / Underground.

88rising has been increasing its footstep in China over the past year. While the entertainment company brought Chengdu hip hop group Higher Brothers to the world back in 2016, it collaborated with Chinese streaming site Bilibili to put out hit variety show, Rap for Youth in 2020.

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That show starred the label’s Rich Brian, Masiwei and KnowKnow as mentors, and resulted in the formation of W8VES, a music label also backed by 88rising and Bilibili.

Cover image: Screengrab from Bilibili

Tony Hao
Tony was born and raised in Beijing, but moved to Connecticut at age 15. An English major at Yale, he is interested in the societal issues, sports circles, and literary scenes of contemporary China.