What you need to know
A new reality show seeks to bring hip-hop to the forefront of the country’s music scene, but not without pushback.
In flashy new talent contest “The Rap of China,” participants vie for golden chains that spell “R!CH,” but the show itself has received mixed reviews and even two “diss tracks.”
The show’s self-proclaimed aim is to transform hip-hop from a Chinese subculture to a mainstream genre. And with over 140 million views since its Saturday debut on iQIYI, one of China’s largest video platforms, it seems to be off to a good start.
“The show is beneficial in that it introduces hip-hop to a more general Chinese audience,” Andy Lee (李涵之), creative director of Shanghai-based entertainment company CAPO, told Sixth Tone. However, he added that the show also fails to deliver a comprehensive picture of the diverse Chinese hip-hop subculture.
Lee isn’t the only one to point out the show’s shortcomings. Hip-hop lovers have been quick to criticize the show’s judges and their evaluations. The celebrity judge lineup includes just one rapper, MC HotDog, who is joined by Taiwanese singer Chang Chen-yue (張震嶽), pop musician Pan Weibo (潘瑋柏), and heartthrob entertainer Wu Yifan (吳亦凡), who used to be in a South Korean pop band.
In the opening episode, Chang eliminated well-known rapper Al Rocco, citing the fact that “His rap is all in English, but we are now in China.” The comment proved unpopular among net users on microblogging platform Weibo. “Watching Chang Chen-yue judge is really awkward from beginning to end,” wrote one user.
Al Rocco responded to his elimination from the show by writing a diss rap song titled “China X Hip-Hop” that questioned the program’s judgment. “Got the whole China saying y’all ain’t hip-hop,” the lyrics read. “iQIYI, man, y’all ain’t got no hip-hop.” Another eliminated contestant also recorded a diss track called “The Trap of China,” a play on the show’s name.
Chen Wei (陳偉), senior deputy CEO of iQIYI, was quick to shrug off the criticisms. “Dissing things they are unsatisfied with is the basic way of hip-hop,” Chen told entertainment news outlet Sansheng.
Al Rocco, an American living in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone that he didn’t think his English-language songs would be appreciated on the show. “Honestly, we didn’t expect much. The whole purpose of this was to show my music to the world,” he said, adding that he thought the judges were good artists in their own genres, but that MC HotDog was “the only reputable rapper.”
In addition to raising questions about the show’s professionalism, viewers also noted on social media that “The Rap of China” was very similar to South Korean talent contest “Show Me the Money.” “From its production, audition format, and rules to its [golden] chains, subtitles, and set design, it makes people feel like they’re watching a rip-off of SMTM,” one Weibo user wrote. Others theorized the Chinese show may have bought the copyright from its South Korean counterpart but would not dare say so publicly due to recent tensions between the countries. iQIYI could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, the show’s first-round audition attracted over 1,000 participants, a sign that the genre is gaining a firm foothold in the country. For veteran Shanghai-based rapper Mr. Weezy, whose real surname is Liu, the program is a double-edged sword. “This show will bring more fans and commercial value, allowing more rappers to earn a living,” Liu told Sixth Tone. “But [the genre] may also lose a lot of cultural meaning and value.”
The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published on Sixth Tone here. Sixth Tone covers trending topics, in-depth features, and illuminating commentary from the perspectives of those most intimately involved in the issues affecting China today. It belongs to the state-funded Shanghai United Media Group.
TNL Editor: Olivia Yang