In a genre that, perhaps more than any other in music, is driven by overt egos and self-worship, when a record opens with the words “Chinese hip-hop — a long way to go”, you have to worry a bit about what will follow. This bluntly honest statement from Shanghai rapper BlaKK Bubble at the start of Hip-Hop.cn‘s new downloadable mix-tape is at times proven to be painfully accurate on this free release, but there are also some highlights.
China’s hip-hop scene is certainly still in its infancy, but Hip-Hop Journey Volume 1(or 嘻游记 in Chinese, a clever play on Journey to the West’s Chinese title, 西游记) showcases some of the names that are at its forefront. As on last year’s mix-tape from Beijing based hip-hop collective thePark, Young Kin shows that he is one of China’s hottest rap properties with two tracks — the better of which, 庆祝 (Celebrate) with regular collaborator DJ Wordy, in particular demonstrates his impressive delivery. The aforementioned BlaKK Bubble provides two tracks which, despite some excruciating English moments, are toward the top of the pile in terms of quality and other bright spots come courtesy of Kloudz’s Hey Now and the Xi’an Elite Rappers‘ 受够 (Enough).
Unfortunately, there are also some reminders of why China isn’t exactly seen as a hip-hop powerhouse. A brief freestyle from Kirby Lee, whose group Dragon Tongue Squad were largely derided for their gig in London last month, is pretty lacklustre, while the hoarse shouting of 醉人 (Zui Ren), far from being intoxicating, is hardly listenable.
Overall, the record is solid rather than ground-breaking and is generally pretty short on innovation — if it’s a Kanye West of the East that you’re after, you won’t find them here. Nevertheless, it does provide a good window onto China’s fledgling hip-hop scene and shows that the country could have some genuine talent in the genre. If groups like The Notorious MSG have made the idea of a Chinese rapper something of a joke, then the artists on this mix-tape go some way toward redressing the balance. If Chinese hip-hop is to really evolve properly however, it needs to bring something more original to the table, rather than attempting to mimic American performers. To this end, artists like Kunming rapper 唐人踢 (Tang Ren Ti) are ahead of the game, taking a more innovative approach, with some great results.
Listening to Hip-Hop Journey Volume 1 meanwhile, it seems that there really is a long way to go for Chinese hip-hop.
More information (in Chinese) and download available here.