As I continue to learn about contemporary Chinese society, the stories get easier to relate to. My last China-related article was about transgender megastar talk show host Jin Xing challenging her nation’s understanding of gender and family while dominating television ratings. Today, it’s a young Chinese hip-hop group making waves in the States.
The universe wanted me to geek out today, merging one of my greatest passions with one of my greatest fascinations. I never thought rap would help me learn about China, but here we are, a dream come true.
Hip-hop isn’t about being tough anymore. It’s simply being the most confident, authentic version of you possible. And if an Indonesian teenager is getting millions of plays on his very American rap music, there’s no reason why other non-American subscribers to the culture (i.e. the Chinese) can’t catch on.
The Higher Brothers, 88Rising’s Chinese rap duo, are nice. But don’t listen to me. Take it from some America’s hottest hip-hop artists:
My favorite track from this group so far is “Franklin,” heavily inspired by the GTA character of the same name. Their flows are refined and the subtitles reveal the bars are surprisingly hard as fuck:
You might not know shit about China. But it’s the latest source of your gear, the greatest source of visitors to the USA, and home to the largest foreign fan base of the NBA.
Much like their deep infatuation with basketball, young Chinese adults are enamored with and study the shit out of hip-hop. I think I love it.
I love it because they are young people of another culture trying to tell the world who they are in a way that makes the most sense to the most people. The best part? They think hip-hop is the way for them to announce themselves to the world. If the Chinese youth, the youth of the most populous country in the world—the youth of the most powerful nation in the Eastern hemisphere—think hip-hop is the way for them to stake their claim to global culture, it means hip-hop is THE shit.
They’re not singing like Taylor Swift.
They’re not making dubstep remixes or techno-pop joints.
These Chinese niggas? They’re RAPPING.
Say what you want about Famous Dex collabing with them, or cultural appropriation, or globalization, but when it came time for these emerging young adults in an emerging superpower nation to make a name for themselves through music, they rapped.
I don’t know if hip-hop culture is under attack, or undergoing some growing pains. But I’m happy to see people from such a different background embrace the styles, tropes, and aesthetic of a culture that helped me, a first-generation African-American, fully understand my own role in the world. I became someone I liked through hip-hop, and it seems like the Higher Brothers are evolving through hip-hop as well.
I don’t imagine the Higher Brothers—or artists such as Jay Park and Keith Ape from South Korea, and Kohh from Japan—seriously competing with American and Canadian hip-hop artists on a global scale for years to come. But in 2014, I didn’t imagine I’d actually enjoy listening to any East Asian hip-hop artists at all. Hip-hop artists and styles fade into and out of their peaks in less than a decade. Maybe the window for these ambitious Eastern students of the game will open up sooner than we think.
UPDATE 9/24/2020: edited for style and structure