Hater in the House, Part 2

My problem with the New York Times article on the hip hop scene in China (discussed here), is that there's no reason for that article now. There is no sudden love of the music (despite site views) or anything in 2009 that's popping off that wasn't before. More top acts are coming to China, but the audience is almost exclusively expat (just look at the Roots, Kanye, and Talib shows). There hasn't been a sudden large number of hip hop clubs that have opened up, or live local shows going down, there aren't that many underground ciphers or battles that are going on either. Yes, the clothing has been appropriated and the dancing is very popular, but the music is still just a tiny niche.

Let's first get some things straightened out, hip hop contains four elements: graffiti, break dancing, MCing, and DJing. This is something often forgotten or overlooked by those outside the community, all of them are equally important and there's a big difference between that and rap music.

To be honest, all 4 elements have not even come close to entry in China and its going to be a long time before that changes. Dancing came in first and is unbelievably popular here, with tons of crews even in far flung 3rd tier cities and mainstream classes at gyms and even on tv. In Korea, the dancing came with the music, and while the dancing popped off a lot faster, the music slowly caught up to where there are serious hip hop acts, but in China, we're still a long way from that. You do see some graffiti around town, but because of the strict nature of the police, almost all of it is sanctioned or more pop art than the raw tagging that goes on elsewhere (even in Hong Kong).

DJing is another problem, mainly caused by the difficulty of getting top records. Real DJ's use records and the only way to get them is by having them shipped from back home, making HK or Tokyo runs, or bringing them in whenever the DJ (or friends) return home. Most clubs don't even bother with real DJs, they just use computerized mixes or loops, though some "hip hop" clubs will put somebody who fits the "image" of a hip hop head behind a platform with 2 turntables and tell them to pretend to spin for an hour or two, good money if you can get it.

And finally to MCing, well...We're not there yet, we're nowhere near there. The problem, it seems, especially from reading some of the comments to another blogger, is that there is more a desire to make money than stay true to any art form. Groups that have made it "big" (you could mention Gongfu, but they even make Yin Sanr look gangster) do so with feel good, sometimes even pop, lyrics. There are some decent underground acts who've yet to sell out, but the difficulty is in keeping them together because there isn't a lot of money to be had. There are a lot of expats running around who are sometimes involved in the scene back home and trying to promote it here, some of them are highly skilled and doing a great service, others, well...not so much. There's also too much lack of confidence (perhaps that's the right way to say it?) in some artists to perform straight up hip hop music, all too often you get something more akin to Fred Durst-ian rock rap (but in part, that goes to the lack of influences and the difficulty of getting all kinds of hip hop in China).

Then there are the guys who come from government housing, poor families where both parents were laid off, where the father beat them and their mother, who come from failing schools and instead of rapping about this experience, they talk about "gats" and "ho's", although they've never held a gun and are probably still with their high school sweetheart. I'm not making this a call for conscious rappers or saying that they need to be political, not at all, but talk about your own experiences, you are ghetto, you don't need to pretend to be from the (US) "ghetto."

There is not enough diversity in influences, not enough DJ's who know how to scratch and mix, and far too many hangers on and its made the movement stagnant. The minor glimmers of hope you see from year to year quickly dry up and the scene just feels like its slowly lurching nowhere. The dancing has taken off, but it is already completely disconnected from the music. The clothing style is often more about pissing off one's parents than anything else and is so out of tune with current American hip hop style.

However, it's not all negative, there is some decent, pure hip hop if you dig for it. There are people who are serious about trying to make the scene grow and there are people who truly love the music and aren't just in it for the money. 2009's a tough year economically, but do what you can to support the real hip hop acts when they play live, drop some money on a real CD instead of downloads, hit up websites like which are often doing a great service. The scene is paused, its in its infancy, but that doesn't mean it can't grow.