Hip-hop style and beats lure Chinese to the dance floor

In the eyes of her parents and peers, Zhang Chunyu has a typical good girl image: quiet, a professional pianist, and a huge fan of classical music. But she has developed a crush on something different.

These days, Zhang, 19, is sporting a different look by wearing Missy Elliot-style clothes and hats and is trying to look like a rap singer. In addition, live house and hip-hop music festivals have become the favourite party venues for her and her friends.

"I love all these hip-hop style clothes and music," Zhang says. "They are so different!"

The fervour for hip-hop, which features break dancing, graffiti and rapping, is burning across the country, thanks to a talent show, The Rap of China, that premiered this summer on online video website iQiyi.

Within just four hours of its debut, the show had been streamed more than 100 million times. The following episodes were viewed about 200 million times each.

Through the show's success, previously little known rappers like Gai, PG ONE and After Journey are now trending on microblog Sina Weibo.

The show has been good for business of online stores, as teenagers buy similar clothes, shoes or hats to those worn by their idols on the show.

"We will not stop with the show. We plan to organise concert tours and make people rich through hip-hop. It's a big market," says Chen Wei, senior vice president of iQiyi and general producer of The Rap of China.

The company has created its own brand "R!CH" (Rising! Chinese Hip-Hop) with clothes, accessories, digital products, food and alcohol.

Hip-hop is a culture and art movement developed in New York City during the late 1970s. In the United States, rap is mainstream, while in the Republic of Korea (ROK), rapping has merged with local styles to create a unique style.

Hip-hop first appeared in China in the early 1990s, but as a foreign culture completely different from anything Chinese, the acceptance process was long.

Social media gives rappers more exposure and, for young people searching for individuality and independence, hip-hop has an obvious appeal.

"Chinese millennials care more about self-expression and independence. Rapping can give them that," says Che Che, chief director of The Rap of China.

Chen Wei attributed the rise of rapping in China to the close relationship between hip-hop with fashion and the influence of foreign rap.

Chinese rapping, perhaps unsurprisingly, has Chinese characteristics. For example, rap often features traditional musical instruments such as pipa and flute, or is delivered in regional dialects.

While critics argue that Chinese rapping is not real hip-hop, contestant and rapper Huang Xu disagrees.

"I wrote songs to present my life and my own feelings, not to imitate others. Rapping can transmit positive energy too," Huang says.

Another contestant PG ONE says: "Hip-hop is like an infant who did not get much attention in China. This summer, it finally learned to walk and will grow up."

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