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[Interview] Kris Wu discusses The Rap of China 中国有嘻哈 and his views on hip hop

Recently, iQiyi’s new show The Rap of China 中国有嘻哈 held a press conference to give us a better understanding of the program — a talent competition which aims to showcase hidden hip hop talents from China and bring the underground culture into the mainstream spotlight. There are four producers on the show: Kris Wu, Wilber Pan, A-Yue (also known as Chang Chen-yue) and MC Hotdog.

Kris Wu sat down for an interview with Sina and touches upon some interesting points. We have translated the interview which discusses views on the show, hip hop, and what he hopes to achieve.

Sina: This time you are participating in the contest style program as a producer and it requires strong professionalism. Did you feel uneasy before coming [on the show]?

Kris: No, because I’ve always been doing hip hop music so I have an understanding about the cultural background, including hip hop’s current direction and China’s current situation regarding hip hop. Like I just said, China’s current hip hop music type is 70-80% trap. I’ve also heard a lot more new school type music, not just rap. I also hope to bring the program more different forms of expression. I have a lot of confidence in this [topic].

Sina: Do you have a lot of confidence in taking on the role of a “producer” too?

Kris: I think, this time, each producer (Wilber Pan, A-Yue, MC Hotdog) has a different expertise. I also have my own advantage. It’s more about how we can all work hard together to bring Chinese hip hop music some new blood. So, it’s not really a thing I can do on my own, it needs the hard work of everyone.

Sina: Some netizens believe that the producers are considered more mainstream and wouldn’t be able to truly represent the voices of “underground hip hop,” what do you think of this issue?

Kris: Firstly, I think depending on what kind of circle you are in, you will be affected by that circle, this is definite. Out of our three producer teams, the ones that are considered more underground are our teachers, MC Hotdog and A-Yue. Wilber and myself are considered to be working more in the public eye, doing more mainstream things. But personally, I’ve always wanted to use different ways to make hip hop music more mainstream and allow the mainstream audience to accept hip hop, so I’ve been trying to find a bridge like this. How I can combine the melodies that the general public likes with hip hop but not lose the foundation of hip hop is something I’ve always been trying to do.

So like the question you just asked, I think it’s because of the different environments. If I was in the underground music circle, my musical style and the lyrics I write may be different from the music that I’ve been releasing because I wouldn’t need to cater to the general public at all. But because I’m currently in a more mainstream environment, my goal is to allow more people to access and enjoy this type of music. So, when I’m making my music I will consider the feelings of the general audience more.

Sina: So the music you’re currently making does “try to cater to the public”?

Kris: Right, because I think in order to make a music genre, including its culture, universal and broaden its boundaries, you need the public to expand their understanding. So how do you get the public’s appetite? You need to take a familiar melody and put it in something new that you’ve created. After they’ve listened to it, they’ll think “ah, it sounds quite familiar, it sounds quite beautiful, but it doesn’t sound like the ballads I usually listen to and has a lot more beats to it.” That way, it might be easier for them to accept, that is my method.

Sina: The “attitude” that hip hop lyrics present is the essence of this type of genre. For example, are there any topics that inspired you and made you want to express yourself?

Kris: I don’t actually have anything I really want to express right now, I’m quite well, right now. (laughs) You may be referring to the more rebellious attitude, to… to me, I don’t wish to write music that way. This is indeed the image that people have toward this genre.  They think that it needs to give a fierce hit, but it’s actually not like that always. There are a lot of hip hop songs that cover different types of normal situations like walking on the streets, walking on grass, when by the sea (simple feelings like that). It’s not something that’s definite. The type you’re referring to is more of the gangsta rap type from back in the day, that’s one type but not everything is like that.

Sina: Have you ever asked the production team why they asked you to become a producer? And what is the main reason this program attracted you?

Kris: I’ve never asked about the reason why they chose me. I believe they must have heard my music, that makes the most sense. I also didn’t really promote myself.

As for my decision, I did have a lot to consider about doing this reality show. I really think that it’s a pretty good platform to promote hip hop culture. If you want something to do well, one person’s hard work is not enough. You need more fresh blood mixed together to push the entire market forward and attract a lot more music producers to do hip hop music.

Perhaps some music producers will say, “The ballads I make earn more money and sell better. I have needs everywhere and hip hop has such a small audience. I don’t know where I can find investors so how could I maintain a living?” But now, we want to use this way to allow more people get into it and create more demand for it. This way, it will make the market consider it. So, I think, although I can’t say [the program] will definitely be successful, since no one really knows, it is definitely a good start.

Sina: You mentioned earlier that you are trying to mix hip hop with current popular music to make it easier for the public to accept the genre, so when you’re choosing contestants will you be more likely to choose the ones that have a more mainstream feel? So for example, the contestants that are less likable, you wouldn’t consider them?

Kris: I’ve been thinking about this issue too. I don’t have a good answer right now, it would probably depend on the contestant’s performance. Of course, I will go toward the ones that I think are more well rounded. The ones that have possibility of becoming popular will get plus points. But if your style is very underground yet you performed very well and if you’re very good and have a lot of talent, I’ll think since you can handle this you must be able to handle other things too. You will have potential (I would consider that).

Sina: A lot of hip hop contests overseas have a battle segment, both sides will “diss” each other, are you worried about being dissed by a contestant?

Kris: No, if you’re better than me you can diss me. But if you’re not better than me, don’t diss me.

Sina: The three producer teams will definitely have some moments of conflict, have you thought about how to handle that?

Kris: I have never thought that we’d have conflict…….

Sina: What about if all three teams want one contestant?

Kris: Ah, then it would depend on who the contestant picks. If everyone chooses the same contestant, it’ll be up to the contestant.

Sina: Earlier, A-Yue and MC Hotdog said they’re strict producers, even straight up said “losers go home early” type of words. What about you? Will you go the powerful route of giving criticism or very gentle?

Kris: I’m definitely going to be very strict. When it comes to music, you must be very strict in order to pick the truly best contestant. But I think my attitude will be kinder, I might not say much.. (laughs).

Sina: Do you remember when was the first time you listened to hip hop?

Kris: When I was around 10 years old. At the time, I was overseas and I liked to play basketball. Basketball is also a sport that is dominated by black people and hip hop comes from American black culture.

The mainstream breakthrough of hip hop started in America in the 90s, that was considered its golden age. Back then, I was still very young and in 2000 I stared to pay a lot of attention to it and really liked it. When I played basketball, I heard a lot of hip hop. When I watched basketball, they always played hip hop, so I really grew interest in the culture. At the time, I would bring around an mp3 player and it would be pretty much filled with hip hop music.

Sina: Who did you listen to the most in the beginning? Did you have any special “crazy fan” moments?

Kris: The most obvious (that I’d imitate) is hip hop style clothing. At the time, I’d wear baggy clothes because it was really popular to wear oversized pants and t-shirts, the really big ones. As for music, I’d listen to the ones everyone at the time was pretty familiar with, like 50 cent.

Sina: Are there any hip hop works that influence your personal musical style a lot?

Kris: Every year it’s different. Every year, there are new musical styles that come out. Hip hop is actually changing really quickly- what’s popular today may be changed into something else tomorrow. It will always be changing.

Sina: So would you say the risk in doing this type of music is pretty big? You said hip hop is frequently changing, so you could be eliminated easily.

Kris: Yes, a little. Hip hop and EDM types of music change faster than ballads. Ballads will always be based on the melody, when a song depends on whether the melody sounds good or not, the changes in the music won’t be much. But hip hop and EDM’s changes in element are greater.

Sina: Nowadays, a lot of youngsters like hip hop, what do you think needs to be prepared in order to enter the hip hop circle? Or, what should they do?

Kris: First, I think you need to understand the cultural background and find a hip hop artist that you like. You need an idol, every person needs someone to learn from in order to grow. I think this is very important. I think right now we’re missing a platform, missing a method to allow them to join and express. This is also another reason why I came on this show. Before, the contest shows mainly focused on finding singers, people who sang well or are good looking, but The Rap of China is different. It’s entirely based on your musical talents and only focus on hip hop. You can’t get through with just singing love songs here, but if you sing well you’ll get extra points, definitely.

Sina: Do you think the way you dress is important when it comes to hip hop? Most people would start from copying the fashion, right?

Kris: It’s okay. But I feel like if you want to dress that way you should understand why you are dressed that way. For example, why do I wear such baggy pants? Why do I wear my pants at my crotch and expose half my ass? You need to understand the origin. A lot of hip hop fashion is baggy because back then the people were very poor and could only wear their parents’ hand-me-downs. So their clothes would be really big, they wear them from their youth until they get older.*** Why do they wear do-rags? Why do they style their hair like that? This is a culture, they need to understand the culture before they start dressing that way. Although, it is your freedom if you want to wear it without understanding the culture, but if you don’t understand it I think you’re missing the significance.

***This is referenced in Killer Mike’s song “That’s Life”

We wear our fuckin’ pants big
Because our mothers were too poor to buy our size
So they had to buy two or three sizes up
Call it what it is n****: poverty
It’s fuckin’ poverty
You know poverty, the opposite of the big fuckin’ cars and planes you drive
To all you rich bourgeoisie n***** out there
Stop ignoring your cousins in the ghetto
Because they’re there

Source: Sina

Disclaimer: This article was edited on September 20, 2017 to remove incorrect information.

  • From this interview you can tell he’s very well grounded and knows exactly what he’s doing. I never doubted his passion for hip hop, but it’s the first time we get to hear him talk this much about it, and I appreciate the fact that he mentioned the importance of understanding its cultural background because not many Asian celebrities do.

    • Tbh I initially had my doubts if he was ready for a show like this and wanted him to avoid the backlash. But, after reading this interview, my worries are gone 🙂

      • I feel the same way! I was skeptical of him joining this show and honestly had my worries.. but reading his thoughts on hip hop made me think hmm maybe he should be doing this show after all! I’m looking forward to it.

  • Unspoken Demise

    As Ebu/Blackitude said “Hip-Hop is a culture that encompasses a lot of different thing, but the media is only interested in sensational part, which focuses on the negative things.”
    Like he also said there are lots of different types of hip- hop, there’s gospel , sad , happy and violent hip hop. But media is only interested in sensationalism.

    Boy kris i’m so proud of you, his word really shows how deep his knowledge is. And I must say last line/word of this interview is really POWERFUL.
    I don’t really know much about music but i am gonna support him no matter what.


    • I love how he knew exactly where the interviewer was trying to steer his answer toward and deflected it like a pro hahahahahaha hip hop isn’t just about being negative! It can be about long walks on the beach!

  • FanZi

    I’m really pleasantly surprised by this interview.I’ve always had trepidation with how he’s approached hip-hop because considering the kpop “rap” way he trained in was mediocre and goes the appropriation route a lot and he has done appropriative things too.This interview is giving me hope that he’s since learnt and is more knowledgeable on how to develop his identity as a rapper and I’m looking forward to seeing him as a mentor on this show.

    • I’m really proud of him! I hope he continues to educate himself and improve as well.

  • Gabbar Singh

    There are SO MANY things I love in this interview! Many of the things Kris has said are very mature and do show that he has grown. I’m a POC and despite this article being about specifically about hip-hop, his answers can be applied to many things so it is absolutely lovely to read! He talked about understanding the background and black culture so he’s clearly learnt some from his previous approaches to the culture so I hope he’s grown from his past mistakes and won’t repeat them. This is a damn good and very informative interview nonetheless.

  • L.A_21

    I was worried for him when he was confirmed to judged this show at first coz people might mock him as he might be known for not that great rapper himself but he showed himself that he’s capable of being a judge or a hip hop contest as he has knowledge and better understanding about the history of hip-hop. He may not be the a great rapper but he has a good eye and open minded.