Hip-Hop in China: A Growing Music Scene


Hip-hop has increasingly made its mark on the Chinese music scene recently. While the genre has been popular worldwide for decades, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that hip-hop emerged as a mainstream phenomenon in China. Much of this attention is attributed to the reality television show “Rap of China,” which has garnered billions of views online, propelling underground artists to national stardom and bringing terms such as “freestyle” into the Chinese cultural lexicon.

The growth of hip-hop in China indicates the country’s cultural transformation, as younger generations seek new ways to express themselves through music, dance, and performance. The rapid evolution of hip-hop in China bears witness to the expansion and localization of the genre, where artists adapt international hip-hop styles and incorporate Chinese musical traditions.

Despite the genre’s surging popularity, hip-hop has faced challenges within China, such as government crackdowns and censorship. Nevertheless, the resilience and creativity of Chinese hip-hop artists are helping shape a unique and vibrant cultural landscape in the country, showcasing the potential for further growth and development in the genre.

History of Hip-Hop in China

Early Origins

Rap music began to emerge in China during the early 1990s, when Chinese pop artists started experimenting with hip-hop elements that were popular in the United States. The first Chinese album to gain popularity branded as “rap” was “Stranger” (某某人), released by early pioneers Xie Dong, Yin Xiangjie, and Tu Tu.

Rise of Mandarin Rap

As hip-hop continued to grow in China, Mandarin rap became more prominent. This can be traced back to 2000 when the first generation of rap groups appeared on the scene in China. Some record companies anticipated the spread of new music trends, such as rock and hip-hop, from the Western world to China. Consequently, they created a new rap group called Yincang (literally “hiding”).

Underground Community to Mainstream Appeal

During the 2010s, Chinese hip-hop attracted more attention from the general public. The final battle between Beijing rapper Dawei (大卫) and Xinjiang MC Max (马俊) in 2010 marked a turning point for the genre’s nationwide appreciation. The rise of the hit reality show “The Rap of China” further enhanced Chinese hip-hop’s cultural significance and popularity. However, as the genre’s mainstream appeal grew, some artists faced challenges regarding political content, such as the Higher Brothers experienced in 2015 with their anti-Uber song.

In conclusion, Chinese hip-hop has evolved from its early origins through the rise of Mandarin rap and from an underground community to mainstream appeal. The genre continues to develop while facing challenges and adapting to the unique cultural landscape in China.

Key Players in the Chinese Hip-Hop Scene

Chinese Rappers

Several prominent Chinese rappers have shaped the hip-hop scene in China. Some notable names include:

  • Kris Wu: Formerly a mentor on the popular show “Rap of China,” he has had widespread influence. However, his career faced a setback due to legal issues in 2021.
  • GAI: A well-known rapper and a former winner of “Rap of China,” his controversial style has garnered him significant attention.
  • MC HotDog: Often regarded as the godfather of Chinese rap, he has been an influential figure in the genre for several years.
  • VAVA: Gaining fame from her appearances on “Rap of China,” she has since maintained a strong presence in the industry.
  • Tizzy T: Known for his storytelling skills, he is another prominent rapper who has found success both in China and abroad.

Hip-Hop Groups

China has several hip-hop groups making waves both domestically and globally. Some of these groups are:

  • Higher Brothers: This group gained international recognition with their unique sound and collaborations with Western artists such as Famous Dex and Rich Brian.
  • REDSTAR: As one of the first Chinese hip-hop groups, they have had a significant impact on the genre’s development in the country.

Record Labels

Chinese hip-hop’s growth has been supported by various record labels and platforms. Some key players include:

  • 88rising: A record label and multimedia platform, it has been pivotal in connecting Asian artists, including Chinese rappers and hip-hop groups, with the Western market.
  • Modern Sky Entertainment: Known for its diverse roster, this label has provided crucial support to Chinese hip-hop acts, including Melo and AIG.

China’s hip-hop scene continues to evolve as artists push creative boundaries. These key players have undoubtedly shaped the genre and contributed to its growth in recent years.

Influence of Western Hip-Hop on Chinese Hip-Hop

American Hip-Hop

The evolution of Chinese hip-hop can be traced back to the early 1990s when artists in China started experimenting with elements of American hip-hop. The United States, particularly hip-hop legends like Eminem, played a major role in shaping China’s budding rap scene. Chinese artists started to adapt the genre and incorporate their own cultural characteristics while also drawing inspiration from the Western world.

Language and Themes

One significant challenge Chinese rappers faced was language barriers. However, they overcame this by using a combination of English, Mandarin, and other Chinese dialects in their lyrics. Many Chinese hip-hop artists adapted the language and themes from American hip-hop but gave them a unique Chinese twist. They often touched upon social issues, politics, and youth culture, expressing their thoughts and experiences in Chinese society.

Styles and Creativity

The influence of Western hip-hop led to constant innovation within the Chinese rap scene. Artists not only experimented with various beats and production styles but also took inspiration from Hong Kong’s emotive Cantopop music. As Chinese hip-hop grew, local talents started incorporating elements from other genres such as rock and electronic music, further diversifying the sound and making it more appealing to broader audiences.

By drawing from both American and Chinese culture, artists developed a distinctive style that defines Chinese hip-hop today. The jianghu flow is a core element, which represents loyalty, struggle, and compromise rooted in traditional Chinese culture. This fusion of modern and traditional themes has played a significant role in the popularity and growth of hip-hop in China.

Hip-Hop Competitions and Media in China

The Rap of China

The Rap of China is a reality TV show that brought hip-hop into the national spotlight for the first time in China. With more than 2.5 billion views on China’s largest online platform, iQiyi, the show significantly increased the overall recognition of hip-hop in the country. The Rap of China has also expanded internationally, traveling to LA to scout fresh hip-hop talent.

However, since January 18, 2018, the hip-hop subculture in China has faced censorship from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television. Despite this, The Rap of China remains highly popular and continues to showcase the cultural resonance of Chinese hip-hop.

Iron Mic

Iron Mic is another notable hip-hop competition in China. It is an underground battle rap competition where emerging talents and established rap crews engage in freestyle battles. Iron Mic provides a platform for rappers to showcase their skills, gain recognition, and connect with other artists in the hip-hop community.

Reality TV

In addition to The Rap of China, other reality TV shows and competitions have started to incorporate hip-hop into their formats. These shows have embraced diverse styles and sub-genres within Chinese rap, giving a broader audience exposure to hip-hop culture. Some reality TV shows have even partnered with popular social media platforms such as TikTok to boost their presence and reach even larger audiences.

Impact on Chinese Society and Politics

Youth and Identity

Hip-hop in China has been a growing cultural phenomenon, primarily among young people. It offers a platform for them to express their individuality, emotions, and opinions. As a result, hip-hop has significantly impacted the shaping of youth identities within China. Chinese hip-hop tends to blend Western elements with distinct Chinese characteristics, seamlessly connecting diverse cultural backgrounds and fostering a sense of unity and belonging among the younger generation.

Censorship and Government Regulation

However, the emergence of hip-hop as a popular genre of music has also caught the attention of China’s government. The country’s strict censorship and regulations on content give the government substantial power over the creative process and distribution of hip-hop music. State authorities closely monitor controversial or politically-charged lyrics, leading some artists to self-censor their work to ensure they don’t jeopardize their careers – a clear sign that an underlying struggle exists between artistic self-expression and political compliance.

Nationalism and Patriotism

Despite government regulation, Chinese hip-hop has also been utilized as a vehicle for promoting nationalism and patriotism. In some instances, artists have cooperated with the state to create music that expresses loyalty and support for the country, its government, and the Communist Party. For example, some hip-hop music videos aesthetically evoke state-centric ideologies while incorporating popular cultural aspects, demonstrating a unique blend of grassroots nationalism with state-led patriotic propaganda.

In conclusion, hip-hop in China is a complex and rapidly evolving cultural force that significantly impacts the country’s society and politics. It has contributed to shaping youth identities, bred unique forms of nationalism and patriotism, while also facing challenges posed by government censorship and regulations.

Current Trends and Future Prospects

Regional Hip-Hop Scenes

In China, regional hip-hop scenes are flourishing in various cities. Beijing is known for its politically charged hip-hop, while Chengdu has a more laid-back vibe and is home to the Higher Brothers, a popular rap group. In Shanghai, the scene is infused with a mix of fashion and international influences. Xi’an is also witnessing an emerging hip-hop scene, as artists from there adopt a blend of traditional and modern elements in their music.

International Collaborations

Chinese hip-hop artists are increasingly collaborating with international artists from North America, London, and Los Angeles to expand their global presence. These collaborations are not only limited to music but also extend to fashion and streetwear. This exchange of ideas is helping Chinese rap artists develop their unique style while building connections in the global hip-hop community.

Evolution and Adaptation

Hip-hop in China is continually evolving and adapting to the local cultural landscape. As the genre gains popularity in the country, artists are fusing traditional Chinese elements with modern beats and styles, creating a unique sound that attracts both domestic and international audiences. This hybridization is helping to propel the growth of Chinese hip-hop into a mainstream cultural phenomenon, despite facing some challenges from authorities and censorship.

By embracing these regional variations and international collaborations, the future of Chinese hip-hop looks promising. As the genre continues to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing cultural and political environment in China, it will undoubtedly create further opportunities for artists to express themselves and reach a broader audience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How has internet influenced Chinese hip-hop?

The internet has played a significant role in the growth and popularity of Chinese hip-hop, especially through platforms like iQIYI, which produced the reality show “The Rap of China.” This show alone garnered over 3 billion views in its first season, helping many Chinese rap artists gain international recognition and fans. Internet has helped artists share their work, connect with other artists, and reach a global audience more easily than ever before.

What is Chinese rap called?

Chinese rap is often referred to as “中国新说唱”, which translates to “Chinese New Rap” or “The New Generation Hip-Hop.” This term is used to describe the modern, localized form of hip-hop that incorporates Chinese culture, language, and style.

When did hip-hop arrive in China?

Hip-hop arrived in China around the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the release of albums by artists such as DJ Krush and the first Chinese hip-hop album “23 Hip-Hop” by Lao G in 1999. The scene grew gradually, gaining traction and popularity in the 2000s and 2010s, until the mainstream emergence of rap through the reality show “The Rap of China” in 2017.

What’s the impact of American hip-hop?

American hip-hop has had a considerable influence on Chinese hip-hop artists and their music. Rap lyrics often reference American culture, artists, and themes, and the hip-hop styles have taken cues from the sound and fashion of American artists. Chinese artists have learned from successful American rappers and adapted their approaches in terms of marketing, branding, and style while incorporating their own local flavor.

How popular is rap in China?

Rap has become increasingly popular in China, thanks to the surge in interest generated by “The Rap of China,” which gained more than 3 billion views for its first season. This popularity has attracted many fans, and Chinese hip-hop artists now enjoy both national and international recognition. Furthermore, hip-hop culture, including dance, fashion, and lifestyle elements, has started to thrive in the country as well.

What is the New Generation Hip-Hop project?

The New Generation Hip-Hop project is a term used to describe the modern, localized form of hip-hop in China that incorporates Chinese culture, language, and style. The project represents efforts by Chinese artists to create their unique hip-hop identity, distinguishable from Western or American hip-hop, while appealing to a global audience. This movement focuses on the fusion of Chinese traditions and themes with modern, global hip-hop beats and styles.