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Chinese hip hop (Chinese: 中国嘻哈; pinyin: Zhōngguó xīhā) is a relatively new phenomenon in Chinese music. Some of the earliest influences of hip-hop in came from films such as Beat Street (1984) which entered China on video tape via embassy workers or foreign businessmen and their families.
The first DJs in China to play rap music on a daily basis were residents at China's first nightclub 'Juliana's' in Beijing during 1984. At the time there were no other clubs in mainland China but Juliana's, which was already receiving monthly deliveries of records from London featuring labels such as Sugarhill, Tommy Boy, and StreetSounds.
In 1992 China got its first regular hip hop nights (Fridays/Saturdays) at Beijing's Kunlun Hotel Crystal Disco. 1994 saw the first nightly hip hop club open in China at Shanghai's 'Broadway' club in the port area.
Rap in China later became more mainstream in 2003 with the opening of Beijing's "Vic's" and "Mix" nightclubs.
The first Chinese language song to feature rap style content was by rock artist Cui Jian in the early 90s, though viewed as experimental. Early Taiwanese rap groups had limited success due to a market that was more ballad-focused. In the late 90s Hong Kong's Softhard and Lazy Mutha Fucka were influential though their Cantonese was foreign to Mandarin-speaking regions, while Taiwan's MC HotDog was more widely intelligible in mainland China.
Yin Ts'ang (隐藏) was the first group in mainland China to sign with an active record label - Scream Records, and release a full-length album, Serve The People (为人民服务)(2002). The group, which consisted of MC Webber, Sbazzo, 老郑XIV, and Dirty Heff, continued on to make appearances at The 2003 Pepsi Music Awards, where they were nominated for Best New Rock-Rap Group and the China National Radio Music Awards, where they won Best New Group of 2003. The album was co-produced and written by British DJ Mel “Herbie” Kent, while being entirely recorded in his home studio. In addition to full-length articles by the LA Times, the China Daily, Music Magazine (China) and the NY Times, the group also made special appearances on CCTV-1, PBS, CTV and Stir TV (cable).
Chinese DJ V-Nutz (Gary Wang) claimed, "[Chinese style is] young, local kids really enjoy Western things right now. Then maybe after 10 or 15 years, maybe they can have their own style."). Hip-hop is often performed in English and many[who?] believe Chinese is not suitable; “people said, straight up, you can’t rap in Chinese, Chinese does not work for rap… Chinese is not suitable for rap music because it’s tonal.”[who?] XIV of the rap group Yin Ts’ang put it clearly, “I can tell you about what we don’t rap about: gangbangin', pushin' drugs, or the government, that’s a good way to not continue your career (or your life).”
When Eminem’s movie, 8 Mile, came out in 2002 the art of freestyling was popularized in China. “In the wake of the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, interest in hip-hop waned as the government attempted to revitalize reverence for traditional Chinese culture and socialism” (Steele, 2006) and “the government still keeps a tight hold on radio licenses” (Trindle, 2007). However, there was considerable uptake of "Dakou CDs" - “surplus CDs created in the West that were supposed to be destroyed but were instead smuggled into China and sold on the black market” (Steele, 2006).
Dana Burton, an American, started the Iron Mic competition in 2001; an annual rap battle which encouraged more freestyling and less karaoke style performances (Foreign Policy, 2007). Burton recorded:
"The few rappers I met [initially] were rapping in English. I’d say, ‘Let me hear you rap’, and they’d just do a karaoke thing, repeating a few lines of Eminem or Naughty by Nature. As an American that was so odd for me; you can’t say anyone else’s rhymes, you just don’t do that. But it’s the culture here. They like karaoke and doing someone else’s songs." (Foreign Policy, 2007).
One underground Chinese artist, Hu Xuan, recorded all of the tracks on his album in Kunminghua, the local dialect spoken in the area of Kunming (Go Kunming, 2007). "One rapper spits out words in a distinctive Beijing accent, scolding the other for not speaking proper Mandarin. His opponent from Hong Kong snaps back to the beat in a trilingual torrent of Cantonese, English, and Mandarin, dissing the Beijing rapper for not representing the people.".
There is an official annual Chinese Hip-Hop Awards Show (中国嘻哈颁奖典礼).
However, the increased prominence of the genre also led to a government crackdown in 2018.
Pīlìwǔ 霹雳舞 (literally, thunder dance or breakdancing), is seen as a type of jiēwǔ (Simplified Chinese: 街舞) "street dance". Break dancing has been going on sporadically in China since the 1990s, but has never gained much attention. Again, Mel "Herbie" Kent was a leading proponent of Breakdancing while in the capacity of Resident DJ at Beijing's cavernous 3500 capacity "Oriental No.1 club" 1995-1997, where he would take to the stage and perform hand spins and crazy footwork, usually to tracks from "Ultimate Breaks" compilations. MC Dizzy and Herbie would also perform rap shows which were often televised by CCTV and BTV with Herbie performing turntablism duet-ting with composer Bian Liu Nian (Erhu) for a capacity 73,000 people at Beijing's Workers Stadium during the 2000 Student Olympiad closing ceremony/Beijing's Olympic bid. More recently, following the Korean Wave, Western-oriented Korean influence has played a role in Chinese pop culture development, particularly in Beijing. Each regional breakdancing (or Bboy) scene is slightly different. In Shanghai B-boying first became systematized with many local break dance schools (although often confusing uprocking and body popping with the actual act of breakdancing itself).
Rappers of Chinese heritage have achieved renown success in the United States, the most recent of whom is the Miami-born, NYs 106 and Park hall of famer Jin, who raps in both English and Cantonese. In 2017, Jin competed in the first season of The Rap of China as “HipHopMan”.