Aged 21, Rich Brian is the first Asian artist to top the iTunes rap chart. Higher Brothers is acknowledged by VICE as “Chinese hip-hop’s greatest hope,” globally known for their chart-topping single “Made in China.”
Other mentors of the show include Huang Zitao, a former member of K-pop band EXO, and “Godfather of Chinese Hip-Hop” MC HotDog.
Bilibili, a Chinese user-generated video community, has started producing its first original rap show this week in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. The ten-part show is scheduled to release later this summer on Bilibili, and will air weekly.
The Shanghai-based company said the new show will focus on young rap artists aged 18 to 35, advocating self-expression and that “You can rap about everything.”
“To be heard is a collective need for China’s Generation Z,” said Carly Lee, vice chairwoman and COO of Bilibili. “We’d like to create a platform for self-expression for young people that is progressive and culturally diverse, not antagonistic.”
Bilibili said Rap for Youth will focus on cross-over productions and draw from other genres of music to highlight the versatility of rap music.
The show will be the third hip-hop singing competition this year. The other two include iQIYI’s the Rap of China, and Mango TV’s Listen Up.
Hip-hop is a relatively new phenomenon in the Chinese music industry and has found favor with audiences in recent years with the appearance of hip-hop reality shows. Aimed at Generation Z, these shows try to explore talent in the industry, and innovate the music genre within the context of Chinese popular culture.
Before these high-profile appearances in public, most hip-hop artists and their music were but a part of a subculture in the Chinese music industry with little mainstream attention. Thanks to hip-hop talent shows, the once underground scene has been recognized by the mainstream. In 2017, the Rap of China, China’s first talent show that centered on hip-hop artists and which was sort of a hip-hop version of “The Voice”, had amassed 2.7 billion online views in the first month of its premiere. Following that, many other Chinese streaming platforms joined the competition to produce this kind of niche show and have generated massive profits. In recent years, not only have the shows successfully boosted the popularity of the genre, but they have also pushed many talented hip-hop artists, such Gai and Jony J, into the limelight.
In March 2020, Bilibili saw the viewership of videos with “rap” and “hip-hop” tags surge by 440% and 309% year-on-year. Over the same period, the number of rap and hip-hop videos on the platform also increased by 202% and 168%. Last month, Bilibili launched a rap channel. Along with other popular tracks, the rap video The Mightiest Test King that encourages students taking the national college entrance examination has been played more than 6.5 million times in 20 days.
Although many Chinese rappers are learning from their American counterparts, some artists try to embrace their personal cultural identities and develop uniquely local music. Some artists complement their lyrics with Chinese traditional instruments and samples from classic operas. Some even rap in their local dialects– Higher Brothers’ Black Cab, a trap ode to the unlicensed cab drivers of Chengdu city, is an album almost entirely in the Sichuanese dialect. Incorporating local dialects and other Chinese language elements helps artists achieve greater expression using their mother tongues while also establishing a unique sound within the genre.