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China Nova: a Chinese rap playlist to get the Year of the Tiger off to a good start

“Fiery, dynamic, daring, impulsive, active, for you emotion prevails over reason […] Daily life does not fascinate you; you prefer to play the “three musketeers”, you are unreasonable and enthusiastic […] With you, we dream and we imagine. » (Daniele de Caumon – ABC of Chinese astrology).

If you recognize yourself in these few lines, it is surely that you were born in 2010, 1998, 1986 or 1974 and that your Chinese zodiac sign is the tiger. At a time when nearly one billion four people in China and their loved ones around the world are preparing to leave the year of the buffalo to enter the year of the tiger (it will be Tuesday 1er February), Radio Nova is associated with this festive and family moment and invites you to travel together to the other side of the Great Wall. And since here we are more music than zodiac, what better than a Chinese music playlist to start the year off right?

Coincidentally, a few days ago the European Hip-Hop Studies Network met for a two-day conference on access to the cultural legitimacy of rap around the world. As a researcher specializing in China, I was invited on this occasion to present a paper that I had written on the role of entertainment programs in the popular emergence and official recognition of Chinese rap. To illustrate my point and make it easier for listeners outside China to access this musical content, I took the opportunity to put together a playlist. Today, in order to celebrate the entry into the year of the tiger together, I take you on a tour of my personal archives and offer you ten unreleased rap tracks, all taken from Chinese telecrochets. Welcome to the year of the tiger, happy listening and happy new year!大家虎年快乐!

PG ONE, “破釜沉舟” (2017)

Give honour where honour is due. PG ONE is the first major star to come out of a show dedicated to rap, The Rap of China, but also a martyr rapper whose career has suffered the full wrath of the Chinese authorities. In 2018, six months after he was crowned the winner, the revelation of an extra-marital relationship and promotion of drug use in former lyrics ended his media existence. His songs are removed from streaming sites, his social networks are blocked. A few months earlier, during the final, the rapper from Xi’an performed “破釜沉舟”, a song in which he defended his unrequited commitment to rap and his determination to break through to finally be able to put his loved ones to safety. A dream come true, for a while only.

早安 & 龚琳娜, “不忐忑” (2021)

Everyone in China knows the song “忐忑” by Gong Linna. In a lunar performance on Hunan TV in 2011, the singer, dressed like a mad empress and over-made up, like a contemporary Klaus Nomi, left the audience dumbfounded who did not seem to understand what was happening before her eyes. In 2021, Gong Linna officiates this time as a judge on the set of rap star and accompanies Nanjing rapper 早安 to victory. In “不忐忑” the two artists take up the original hit by integrating rapped passages. The singer brings her whole universe drawn from Peking Opera as well as many traditional instruments (guzheng, sheng, suona) and reintegrates them with modern rap, which ultimately gives a very colorful piece.

魔动闪霸Smelly D, “对手” (2020)

So I see you coming right away with your big clogs: yes Chinese rap, between tradition and modernity, opera and trap, blabla“. Yes, it’s true, there are a lot of “Chinese characteristics” pieces and some very good ones. But it’s far from the only ones. For a bit of diversity right off the bat, let’s listen to Smelly D from duo 魔动闪霸. In 2020, the two futuristic-looking young people are creating a sensation on the set of rap star with their musical originality and their outfits worthy of the characters of Liu Cixin. In two tracks, they show that you can be cool, different, crazy, use a vocoder, sing, make incomprehensible gestures and body movements and be hip-hop. “New rap new star! »

魔动闪霸Azi, “晨曦” (2020)

Yes, you read that right, there are two in 魔动闪霸. Make way for the second lad, Azi, the other half of the most controversial group in television hip-hop. If you didn’t like the previous sound, go straight to number five without going through square one. “New rap new star! »

KAFE HU, “经济舱” (2020)

Let’s get back to being serious. Kafe Hu is one of my favorite rappers, one of the most respected on the Chinese scene. For a long time Kafe remained independent, working on texts with overflowing poetry, on jazz samples. Often, he showed up on stage with a bass and involved his audience in an intimate experience, creating a real exchange, which he pushed so far as to bring his entire audience up on stage to take a photo from the bleachers. In 2020 it is the second time that he has taken part in The Rap of China and the audience becomes more familiar with this atypical artist. In “经济舱”, which means “economy class”, Kafe draws up through the story of a plane trip a metaphor for his own journey in the musical world. Once in the air, facing the window, it reveals the doubts and uncertainty that inhabit those who choose the path of music. Through his story we glimpse a universal narrative, that of the reflection of a man who is assigned to the economy class of society but who would like to travel one day in a slightly more comfortable way. Kafe Hu is a sweet dreamer, which makes him a great artist: “ I travel in economy class / But my heart is in the sky“.

D LEY, “女流之辈” (2021)

The Chinese media environment is very controlled, but that does not mean that certain social issues cannot appear there. In 2021, Tencent Video is mounting the rap show girls like us where Chinese female rappers compete and demonstrate that young female artists also know how to spit fire. This show, although deserving its share of criticism, has made it possible to contradict the social, family and traditional assignments that weigh on young Chinese women. Like Supergirl in 2004, it also showed a diversity of female profiles, reminding us that being female in China is also written in the plural. Here, the rapper DLey adds her stone to the building by denouncing sexism through a very powerful text. The title, “女流之辈”, is an idiomatic expression that could be translated as “just a simple girl”. As DLey repeats at the end of the song: “Don’t call me 女流之辈”.

FOX福克斯, “庆功酒” (2019)

Back in the meeting between tradition and modernity, impossible not to mention FOX福克斯 and its essential 庆功酒. Let’s get into context. In 2019 in the third season of Rap of China, during a duel between rappers, a big guy chooses to face FOX, who bravely raises his chain in the air, hinting that he accepts this challenge. With a shrimp waist, a leopard shirt open on three buttons and a mullet cut, the rapper from Xinjiang does not seem to be leading the way and the average public imagines him already back home. This is without counting on the artistic genius of this young rapper. Drawing on Peking opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, of which his grandfather recites a few verses in the introduction, he integrates all the power of traditional music in a rap with a highly controlled scansion. At the antipodes of the cannons of rap, FOX knocks out the hound, surprises everyone and continues its adventure.

王以太 & friends, “R&B All Night” (2020)

Warning, highly addictive song. “R&B All Night” is a song by Nanjing rapper DZ Know, a member of the hit group Higher Brothers, and a textile entrepreneur under the name Mr Enjoy the Money. In 2019, Knowknow released his first solo album featuring this song and which very quickly joined the pantheon of Chinese rap originality. In 24 hours, the latter is streamed 3.9M times, thousands of covers flourish on Tiktok and Bilibilli, and all the youth of China only wants one thing: “R&B All night”. And no matter that it does not mean much, this love song is unique just for having opened the rapper to sentimental themes that bring him closer to American Mac Miller or Post Malone. And then the groove, the hook, the warmth that emanates from it, all that makes it a hit. Here 王以太, famous rapper from Chengdu, delivers a magnified cover, accompanied by a live band on the set of 我们的乐队.

MC光光 & 法老, “Hold my hand” (2020)

I’ve never met Eurasian mink / I’ve never met northern white rhino / I’ve never met white sturgeon / I’m getting taller / But there’s less and less fewer friends / So / I don’t want to grow up. This sad opening uttered by a little girl in a white dress is enough to introduce this very touching piece about the destruction of the planet. MC光光 and 法老, two well-known rappers, officiated as jurors during the first season of the show RapStar. No comment, hats off.

汽油队, “Wewe” (2020)

We end this selection with a track that should delight fans of the Hong Kong rock band Beyond. In Rap for Youth, six rappers – including the high-profile Step Jad – were brought together to create a group track. Taking up the track “Amani” which has become “Wewe” here, the young rappers revitalize a hymn to peace in the world released at the end of the Gulf War in 1991. The refrain, written in Swahili, is addressed to the populations of Africa and can be translated as: Peace (amani), we love you (nakupenda wewe), we need you (tunataka wewe)“. Despite a slight controversy linked to a phase that thanks the Chinese army for its action and protection, the themes remain the same as thirty years ago: peace, love of peoples and the end of racism. The intelligently brought up vocal power is responsible for giving the chills that go with the message.

A selection of Chinese rap commented on our airwaves by Grégoire Bienvenu. Listen in Neo Geo Nova.

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