Hip-hop gains new fans in China

Hip-hop is emerging from its niche market in China to draw more fans.
PHOTO: Pixabay

When the first season of The Rap of China opened on streaming site iQiyi in June, the country's first reality TV show focused on the genre ushered in an unprecedented wave of interest in hip-hop music.

The groups of Chinese rappers showcasing their talent, together with the four judges- Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu, Taiwan musicians Wilber Pan, Chang Chen-yue and MC Hotdog (the stage name of Yao Chung-jen)-lending their weight to show, have fueled the rising popularity of a largely underground culture among Chinese youth.

Beijing-based company Modernsky, one of the largest indie record labels and outdoor music festival organizers on the Chinese mainland, has been quick to spot the trend-it is rolling out a two-day hip-hop music festival in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, over Sept 2-3.

In 2016, Shen Lihui, the founder and CEO of Modernsky, set up a branch hip-hop record company, MDSK, with the aim of supporting local hip-hop talent.

The outdoor music festival, also named MDSK, will feature 22 bands and singers. PG One is part of the lineup.

He had participated in the reality show, a singing competition focusing on hip-hop music, and became an instant star.

The popular performer is a member of the Triple H (honghuahui in Chinese) hiphop label from Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.

"Each rapper of Triple H has distinctive hip-hop persona. They started from performing at local live-house venues and gathered a stable fan base with their clever rhymes. They were already stars in the hip-hop scene before the reality show," says Shen.

"The reality show helped them to reach out to more audiences."

Triple H, founded in 2011 by rapper Liu Jiayu, better known by his stage name Dan Ke, signed on to Modernsky in 2016.

Other highlights of the festival include Theophilus London from New York's Brooklyn, and Japan's Hideyuki Yokoi, who is better known by his stage name Zeebra.

Shen, who started planning for the MDSK festival at the end of 2016, says he wants it to become an iconic outdoor hip-hop event, similar to the company's Strawberry Music Festival and other established brands.

To that effect, Modernsky plans to turn MDSK into a hip-hop festival touring across the country in 2018.

Chengdu, as a city boasting many local hip-hop groups and devoted supporters, is certainly suitable as the first host of the music festival, says Shen.

"Most of the groups rap in the Sichuan dialect, which is very creative and original," says Shen, adding that about 20,000 people are expected to attend the festival.

"Young people enjoy hip-hop because it allows them to speak for themselves."

Female rappers are also featured in the festival, including 22-year-old Chinese rapper Vinida, who rose to fame after performing at Sing! China, a popular variety show aired by Zhejiang Satellite TV in 2016, and signed with Modernsky after that.

Chinese-American rapper Christine Ko, better known by her stage name Miss Ko, will also perform during the festival.

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Ko started rhyming words in high school to memorize her test materials and rapping soon came naturally to her.

So far, she has released three studio albums and won the best new artist for her debut album, Knock Out, at the 24th annual Golden Melody Awards in 2013, which is considered the Grammy Awards in Mandarin music.

"Growing up, I was really pushed to focus on my studies, which was stressful and tough because I wasn't a good student at all. But music became my outlet to escape all that and express the different emotions I experienced: anger, pain, joy, injustice and so on," says Ko, who moved to Taiwan to learn Chinese after college and was later discovered by local rapper Soft Lipa and record label owner Dela Chang.

"Anything and everything can inspire me. Sometimes it's the beat. Sometimes it's an experience. Sometimes it's just what I feel and want to communicate at that moment," says Ko. "I once had some horrible pizza and turned that experience into a song.

"Hip-hop is all about attitude and believing in yourself, even when no one else does. I encourage anyone with an interest in hip-hop to explore the culture and become a part of it."

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