Freestylers on Rap of China Go Viral

Rap Battles! Young folks showing others how it’s done

If you’re looking for how freestyling is done, your best bet is by watching the TV series, the Rap of China. The iQiyi produced network variety show not only went viral on WeChat and Weibo, it even became the new hot topic among those in the entertainment circle. Four hit celebrity producers are “dissed” by a myriad of professionals and amateurs from head to toe on the show and a large number of underground rappers became the new sensational, ideal “husband” material among their female fans.

Just four hours after the first season aired, the replay count online broke 100 million. The hot topic was actively discussed by folks on WeChat and the number of followers of these popular competitors on the show are soaring by folds on their Weibo accounts. TT, one of the more popular rappers, has a fan base that rose from around 100 thousand followers to over 1.1 million followers since the show started. And the same popularity was seen by rapper PG One, whose fan base rose from 30 thousand to 1.05 million. Thanks to the show, many of these underground rappers felt that they were suddenly famous after one night.

Freestyle jokes are popping up all over WeChat. Recently, McDonald’s released a hip-hop food themed ad, bringing out all the post-90 and post 95 fans.


The highlight? Attitude and dramatic irony

Rap of China is presented in a way that speaks to the hearts of young people in China: Have an attitude, keep things real, and fire away whenever one feels like (bragging, insulting and boasting).

The “Attitude” part is reflected in the expression of emotions of the competitors. Throughout the second season, most competitors are matched up with their opponents through a random draw from a hat. Since female contestants don’t usually perform as well compared to male contestants, some male rappers who aren’t as talented will pick their battles against female contestants, hoping for an easy, smooth advancement to the next round of competition. This is often frowned upon and booed off stage by other contestants. Contestants who were picked this way, will often lash back instantly by freestyling live to fully show their attitudes.

This programme also made these rappers more popular. “Keep it real” is a phrase that these rappers often say and their personalities have become a very attractive factor to fans. Those who attended the show’s first recruitment scene were teased of having “300 pairs Yeezy Boosts, 200 different shades, and 100 dreadlocks” altogether. Rapper Sun Bayi on the other hand, tried to “keep it real” by going the non-mainstream route of dressing business formal, and being himself this way. Ironically, the audience loved this about him.

Many are confused about the development of Chinese rap, and what hip-hop culture really is. Rap in China was able to explain the concepts of flow, freestyle, hard core, old school, double rhymes, and so on to the public easily. This allowed the entrance of many underground rap bands into the field.


Does dramatic editing create conflict?

“It turns variety shows into TV dramas” is what’s on people’s minds after each season.

There are all kinds of suspense and foreshadowing techniques used throughout the editing of Rap in China, as well as the obvious use of conflict creation. For example, when rapper HipHopMan battled against the twin brothers during the third season, producer MC Hotdog commented: “HipHopMan used English just a tad too much. Rap in China really shouldn’t have someone who uses too much English win.” Right after this comment, the scene cuts to HipHopMan declaring his intention of heading back to the United States and the episode then ends abruptly, foreshadowing heavily what’s to come in the next season.

Another highlight of the show goes to the conflict shown between underground rappers and their idol counterparts. The former had always thought the latter to be lacking in skill and because rappers are almost always outspoken, this intense conflict is further amplified during the elimination rounds on the show. This created very polarized opinions where many thought that it is way too dramatic, while others thought that it made for a good “plot” and contributed to the quality of a good show.


A new outlet for variety music

At the International Year of Peace Concert in 1986, Cui Jian’s song “Nothing at All” brought the whole generation into the world of rock and roll, and a large number of outstanding rock and roll folks emerged. Seeing how pop music in China has developed in recent years, talent shows have now become the fertile grounds for fostering pop culture.

Folk music in China, popularized by singers like Song Dongye and Ma Di, has garnered a few loyal fans on the Internet, but it was never able to achieve a new breakthrough in popularity. It wasn’t until titles like “Nanshan South” and “Zebra, Zebra” were showcased on the TV show Voice of China, that singers who sang covers of these songs rapidly soared in popularity and received great attention. After that, the new folk music with elements of “independence and minority” became the favorite of the public.

Similarly, rap was popularized by variety shows, and underground raps became the biggest opportunity for business overnight. For Chinese rap music, the following decade may be its peak period of development. Of course, it may also be susceptible to excessive business, making for a dangerous playground altogether.

With the emergence of all kinds of advertisements, big brokers are hoping to hop on the bandwagon and sign these up and coming rappers to labels quickly. The lifeblood and development of rap music then rest on whether these rappers can maintain their initial convictions at heart, work on their art and sharpen their music.

Whether it’s about the contestants, producers or fans, opinions of them should all be from a more general perspective. Because there’s still a long way to go for Chinese rappers on making their way to international popularity.


This article originally appeared in iheima and was edited and translated by Pandaily.

Click here to read the original Chinese article.