Zai Beijing: A Cultural Study of Hip Hop [pic][pic][pic][pic][pic][pic][pic][pic] By Angela Diane Steele 14 December 2006 Abstract An abstract of the thesis of Angela Diane Steele for the Honors Program in Cultural & Social Anthropology at Stanford University submitted December 14, 2006. Title: Zai Beijing: A Cultural Study of Hip Hop From urban hipsters spending their nights in the clubs dancing and drinking to the sounds of Hip Hop, to Bboys sweating out their days perfecting power moves in the studio, the seeds of Hip Hop culture are sprouting throughout Beijing.
Hip Hop emerged around the year 2000 and currently a small number of casual consumers and cultural producers create, support, and maintain Hip Hop culture. Despite its fledgling status, Hip Hop has already influenced popular music, youth fashion, entertainment culture, and corporate marketing. This work will answer many questions concerning the establishment and growth of Hip Hop culture in Beijing. I posit Hip Hop as an object of cultural study and use the circuit of culture model introduced by Paul du Gay et. l in the book Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman to explore the ways in which articulations of representation, identity, production, consumption, and regulation operate within
Situating Hip Hop within Chinese racialism and the racialization of Hip Hop as a Black art, I argue that the production of Blackness is involved in the construction of style and that articulations of race perpetuate the Chinese race-nation paradigm. Lastly, I expose how Hip Hop artists navigate government censorship and argue that Hip Hop has potential to affect change in the lives of Beijing youth. This work is important for establishing a method for examining Hip Hop culture, exploring shifting cultural forces in Beijing, contributing to the canon of Hip Hop scholarship. Dedicated to Gram
Love Always Table of Contents Introduction China Beijing History of Hip Hop in Beijing Thesis Questions My Interest in Beijing Hip Hop Methodology Section I. Translation Overview DJ Diplomacy Technics I Want My Channel [V] Hip Hoop Dreams Consumption and Legitimacy Section II. Localization Overview My Rhymes Are the Type of Fly Rhymes That Can Only Get Down with My Crew It’s Like a Jungle Sometimes, It Makes Me Wonder How I Keep From Going Under Kungfu Hustle Regulators Section III. Racialization Overview Hey Mister DJ Chinese Racialism The Perception and Performance of Blackness
I am a CHINESE MC Section IV. Resistance Overview Parents Recommended: Excellent Content What’s Going On? Liberate the Minds, Then You Go On Home Conclusions Acknowledgments ……. Mom, Steph, Ed and the whole Steele family, thank you for your unconditional love and support. Whatever path I take, I know you are behind me every step of the way. ……. Percy, Meghan, Jackie, Sok, Griff, Casey, and Cess, thank you for reading early drafts. Your comments and critiques were invaluable. ……. Olivia and Griff, thank you for lending me your laptops and helping me get back on track. …….
Gaosh, Evan, Bai Ling, Adam, Rox, Ian, Liang, Max, Azat, Sarah, Wynn, “Jenny”, Li Yanju, Ge Dong, Mark, Christina, Li Xin, thanks for keeping things crazy in Beijing. I’ll meet you in Lush in 2008! ……. Professor Yanagisako and Shelly Coughlan, thank you for your patience and encouragement. I know it seemed like I would never finish! ……. Professor Ebron and Professor Wilcox, thank you for supporting this project. I appreciate you taking this on at the last minute. ……. Denise Chu, Lu Hongyou, Chen Minqian, thank you for translating lyrics. I am eternally grateful. ……. Dr.
Morgan and everyone at the Hiphop Archive, thank you for your encouragement and understanding. You really helped me stay focused. ……. The Center for East Asian Studies, thank you for supporting my many trips to Beijing. You provide incredible services to the Stanford community. ……. The Undergraduate Research Program, thank you for funding this project and believing in the value of undergraduate research. ……. The Overseas Studies Program, thank you for giving me the opportunity to extend my stay in Beijing and discover Hip Hop culture. ……. All of my students in Comm12SI, thanks for helping me think about Hip Hop in new ways. …. All of my friends in Stanford, NJ, and around the world, thanks for filling my life with love, laughter, and ridiculousness. I promise I will come out of hiding now! ……. All of the amazing Hip Hoppers in Beijing, thank you for sharing your time and stories with me. You all are doing big things for Hip Hop. ????! Introduction “It [popular music] has, in fact, become part of the everyday reality of millions of these Chinese youth, many of whom do not remember a time without it. It has, in fact, become an integral part of their view of what Chinese culture is. ” – Tim Brace 1991:44 You can’t really define Hip Hop. I am a dancer but I am still Hip Hop. He is a DJ but he is still Hip Hop. Anyone who loves Hip Hop is Hip Hop. Hip Hop is a concept, an idea. It’s something you do, but it’s also something you live. ” – Gao Bo, interview with author September 4, 2005 Hip Hop is the latest musical genre to capture the attention and imaginations of Beijing youth and has become an integral part of popular music culture. Hip Hop began in the South Bronx borough of New York City in the late 1970s. Five elements originally defined Hip Hop – DJ, Bboy, MC, Graffiti Art, and Knowledge.
DJs spun the records, MCs rapped over the music, Bboys danced to the beats, and Graffiti Artists bombed city walls and subway trains. Knowledge was created and spread through Hip Hop music and art. Hip Hop has since grown to describe a type of fashion, literary style, cinematic genre, journalism, lifestyle, ideology, activism, and scholarship.  Hip Hop’s creativity, flexibility, accessibility, and rebelliousness appeal to youth and members of marginalized communities around the world. Traveling through the forces of the global market economy, migration, and telecommunication, Hip Hop has become a growing cultural force in Beijing, China.
From urban hipsters spending their nights in the clubs dancing and drinking to the sounds of Hip Hop, to Bboys sweating out their days perfecting power moves in the studio, the seeds of Hip Hop culture are sprouting throughout Beijing. Hip Hop is not yet widely understood by the general populace and is most influential among Beijing youth. A small number of casual consumers and cultural producers create, support, and maintain Hip Hop culture.  Despite its fledgling status, Hip Hop has already influenced popular music, youth fashion, entertainment culture, and corporate marketing.
The development of Hip Hop culture in Beijing is representative of the ways in which Hip Hop has taken root in other Chinese cities. China With approximately one-fifth of the world’s population, one of the fastest growing economies, and ambitions to be a major power in global politics, China is one of the most dynamic countries in Asia.  The People’s Republic of China was established under the rule of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. The three decades following saw China isolated by foreign nations and fraught with political and natural disasters.
With the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping, China embarked on a new path. Deng passed the “Open Door” Policy in 1978. This invited direct foreign investment and jump-started China’s economy. In 1979 China normalized relations with the United States and also implemented the “One-Child Policy” to curb population growth. The population of China is now 1. 3 billion (The World Factbook 2006). China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The intersection of economy, politics, education, and popular culture is easily explored in Beijing. Beijing The home of China’s finest universities, numerous cultural heritage sites, and government agencies Beijing is not only China’s capital city but also its educational, cultural, and political epicenter. Beijing has a fluctuating population of 14 million people and is made up of sixteen districts and two counties (Beijing International 2006). Most Hip Hop-related events take place in Chaoyang and Haidian Districts (Figure 1). Chaoyang contains Beijing’s nightlife and has numerous clubs, bars, and pubs.
Most of Beijing’s universities are in Haidian and the district has many venues that cater to local and foreign students. Popular music culture reflects Beijing’s history as well as its increasing cosmopolitanism and consumerism. Employment opportunities, higher education, diplomatic activities, cultural heritage sites and opportune locations for multinational offices bring other Chinese citizens and foreigners to Beijing to live, work, and travel. Beijing is thus exposed to myriad domestic and foreign influences. [pic] Fig. 1 Beijing Districts
History of Hip Hop in Beijing Hip Hop in Beijing emerged around the year 2000, but its roots stretch back to the late 1980s. Beijing’s first contact with Hip Hop culture came from early Hip Hop movies such as Wild Style (1982) and Breakin’ (1984). Copies of the movies often entered Beijing via trade and travel with Japan and Hong Kong. In the wake of the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, interest in Hip Hop waned as the government attempted to revitalize reverence for traditional Chinese culture and socialism. Throughout the 1990s Hip Hop culture regained momentum.
Hailed as the “Godfather of Rock”, Cui Jian was influenced by many musical genres including rap, which he introduced to Chinese Rock & Roll fans in the late 1980s and early 1990s (de Kloet 2005:611). Another important musical influence was the sale of dakou CDs on Beijing’s black markets. Dakou CDs were surplus CDs created in the West that were supposed to be destroyed but were instead smuggled into China and sold on the black market.  The mid-to-late 90s also saw unprecedented levels of commercialization and commodification of Hip Hop in the United States, and Hip Hop came to dominate popular music markets.
From movies to magazines, numerous cultural products exported from the United States bore Hip Hop’s influence. Hip Hop consumer products and mass-marketing schemes further exposed Beijing residents to Hip Hop culture. In the 1990s improved communication, technology and migration drove Hip Hop’s expansion. Internet technology enabled the rapid transmission of music (much of which was banned in stores), movies, literature, and ideas. The Internet helped Beijing Hip Hop fans and artists access and share information. Lastly, the movement of foreigners to and through Beijing greatly aided the development of Hip Hop.
All of these forces combined to see the emergence of a substantial Hip Hop scene in 2000. This is the year that some artists also note as marking the separation of the “underground” from the “mainstream”. I found these definitions to be fairly ambiguous, but they most often meant that some artists now had the opportunity to get record contracts or perform in commercials, television programs, or state-sponsored events.  Since 2000, Beijing has had many “firsts”, from the first DMC Champion to the first nation wide Hip Hop dance competition. Today Hip Hop in Beijing has a solid foundation and continues to grow.
Thesis Questions This work will answer many questions concerning the establishment and growth of Hip Hop culture in Beijing. I posit Hip Hop as an object of cultural study and use the circuit of culture model introduced by Paul du Gay et. al in the book Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman to explore the ways in which circuits of culture operate within four distinct categories – translation, localization, racialization, and resistance. Paul du Gay et. al conduct a case study of the development of the Sony Walkman and create a methodology for the analysis of cultural texts or artifacts.
Their method concentrates on the articulations and interplay of processes of representation, identity, production, consumption, and regulation. Their analysis examines the multiple ways in which meaning is assigned and contested and cultural practices are interpreted and managed. They argue that both the production of culture and the culture of production associate cultural texts and artifacts with particular identities but that individual agents situated within specific public and private spaces ultimately assign meaning.
In order to offer a comprehensive evaluation of Hip Hop culture in Beijing, I focus on the circuits of culture within four categories important to Hip Hop studies. I place my research in dialogue with the work of the following theorists, ethnographers, and Hip Hop scholars. Section I: Translation Most Hip Hop artists and fans in Beijing remember when, where, why and how they first encountered Hip Hop culture. Some speak of their first contact with Hip Hop as a life-altering moment and others as an event of little consequence. All stories revolve around three themes: migration, media, and technology.
Jeroen de Kloet asserts that the development of Hip Hop in China is a result of “cultural translation” from which a “copy” of Hip Hop is made from an “original”. In this section I examine how Hip Hoppers in Beijing access representations of “original” Hip Hop. Arjun Appadurai suggests a theory about capitalist consumption. He argues that non-habitual consumptive practices are based on “an aesthetic of the ephemeral” (1996:68). I expand this theory to explore the particularities of consumption of Hip Hop products in Beijing’s socialist market economy.
Jonathan Friedman found that consumptive practices in the Congo are central to imagining selves and communities. I similarly argue that the consumption of Hip Hop commodities is a claim on the present and can support the development of Hip Hop identity and ultimately Hip Hop culture. Section II: Localization The idea of “keeping it real” is ubiquitous in Hip Hop. The idea evokes the sense that true Hip Hop artists represent the depth, complexity, struggles, and successes of life in their current social, political, economic, geographic, and cultural climates in a meaningful way.
As Hip Hop cultural producers work to represent their life experiences in a meaningful way, they create spaces in which to examine “real” Beijing Hip Hop. In his article, “Japanese Hip-Hop and the Globalization of Popular Culture”, Ian Condry maps the processes of localization of Hip Hop in Japan. Condry introduces the phrase genba globalism. Genba means “actual site” in Japanese and Condry sees the nightclub as being the physical, social, and symbolic space in which “globalized images and sounds are performed, consumed, and then transformed in an ongoing process” (2001:381).
Localization enables Hip Hop to be represented audiences in a meaningful way. I utilize Condry’s theory of the genba to argue that the actual sites of locality lie in the language, message, and style of Beijing Hip Hop. Section III: Racialization Any assessment of Hip Hop outside of the United States must address the ways in which Hip Hop is racialized. Hip Hop has an inextricable link to Black bodies and culture. As Hip Hop travels around the world, the performance of Blackness becomes an important and often contentious point of inspection.
Nina Cornyetz examines the role of Blackness in Japanese Hip Hop in her article “Fetishized Blackness: Hip Hop and Racial Desire in Japan”. Cornyetz argues that in order to justly evaluate the role of race in Hip Hop we must first separate “hip hop and rap from the specifics of American racialism, and a reconstruction bounded by Japanese racialism”(1994:114). I similarly situate my evaluation of expressions of race within Chinese racialism. I argue that Blackness carries cultural capital for foreigners within Beijing Hip Hop culture and representations of Blackness are involved in the creation of style.
Frank Dikotter asserts that over the past century, China has moved from a conception of race based on cultural heritage to one based on national identity. I utilized Dikotter’s definition of Chinese racialism to argue that articulations of a racialized identity in Beijing Hip Hop perpetuate the Chinese race-nation paradigm. Section IV: Resistance Integral to my study is the concept of resistance. The primary way in which the Chinese government seeks to control popular music is though censorship. Jeroen de Kloet evaluates how rock and roll artists navigate and subvert government censorship.
I argue that Hip Hop artists similarly negotiate censorship in order to make their work socially relevant. In his evaluation of popular music, George Lipsitz explores the ability of popular music to destabilize the nation-state. Part of the power of popular music culture is that it gives participants the ability to assign various, subjective meanings to cultural practices and products. In this section I argue that the potential for Hip Hop’s political relevance lies in its ability to influence, inform, and subvert processes of identity formation. My Interest in Beijing Hip Hop
In my small, rural, working class town in New Jersey, I did not have much access to Hip Hop culture outside of mainstream radio and television. My family listens to a range of popular music genres including funk, soul and classic R&B while most of my friends enjoy Rock & Roll, pop and country music. While all of these influences have given me an eclectic taste in music, rap, New Jack Swing, and later Neo-Soul was the music that spoke to me. After listening to a tape of Salt-N-Pepa Very Necessary I became a huge Hip Hop fan. I used to make my own Hip Hop mix (cassette) tapes by recording songs off the radio.
MTV, BET, VHI, The Source, and Vibe taught me about new artists and Hip Hop styles. I built a decent Hip Hop and R&B tape and CD collection by illegally filling out orders for “12 CDs for a penny” deals from Colombia House and BMG. (My mom paid for my purchases. ) Though I considered myself a fan of Hip Hop music, I did not learn about Hip Hop culture until I went away to boarding school in Massachusetts and then to college in California. The more I learned and experienced the music, the more I realized Hip Hop’s potential to really affect change in the lives of young people.
This potential has yet to be realized in the United States and it is particularly interesting to explore how Hip Hop is influencing the lives of young people outside of the United States. The first time I experienced Hip Hop in Beijing was at a dance competition on China Central Television (CCTV)  in the summer of 2004. I watched the battle for hours and was amazed by the talent of the Bboys and Bgirls. I was focused on surviving my language program and did not further explore Hip Hop at that time. I returned to Beijing in September to participate in the first Stanford Overseas Studies Program at Peking University (PKU).
At PKU I used my free time to travel, visit cultural sites and go out to popular nightclubs. I quickly learned that, at least in terms of entertainment culture and fashion, Hip Hop music and aesthetics are popular. My academic interested was piqued when I went to a Hip Hop showcase at PKU. The show featured several college dance crews and a professional crew called The Sol. They combined pop-locking with tai chi and I was intrigued by this synthesis. I then wanted to find out why people were interested in Hip Hop dance and how they learned about it.
I first contacted the choreographer of PKU’s Hip Hop dance crew, a physics major named Tang Ke. He invited me to come along with the group to another showcase where I met the Forbidden City Rockers (FCR), arguably Beijing’s best Bboy crew. They allowed me to do an impromptu interview with them. FCR had a solid knowledge of Hip Hop history and kept up with new sounds and styles from around the world. They recommended other dancers and MCs for me to contact to learn more about Hip Hop in Beijing. I had no time left to conduct more interviews but knew that I wanted to return and continue to explore the development of Hip Hop in Beijing.
Methodology This study is mainly based upon ethnographic research I conducted in Beijing from June to September of 2005. However, I also draw from my personal experiences in Beijing in the summer and fall of 2004 and the summer of 2006. Before formally embarking on the project, I studied Chinese for three years at Stanford University, for two months at Beijing Capital Normal University and for four months at Peking University. My methods consisted of participant observation, in-depth interviews, and media analysis. I read English language articles and reviews on Hip Hop in Beijing as well as blogs concerning Hip Hop events.
I frequented popular nightclubs such as Mix, Vics, Propaganda, and Club Look (now Star). I also attended an MC battle at Club Taku, Section 6 Hip Hop Parties, Open Mic Nights at Lush, the DMC Championship, the Keep on Dancing Competition, the Dragonstylez Bboy Battle, and the Battle of the Year. I conducted ten formal interviews with Bboys, MCs, DJs, club owners, promoters, and one graffiti artist. I also conducted surveys with students at Peking University and Qinghua University. I translated all interviews. Denise Chu, Chen Minqian, and Lu Hongyou helped translate song lyrics.
However, all mistakes in translation are attributed to the author. I. Translation I anxiously waited inside Starbucks sipping on my half-empty mocha frappucino, wondering why I always seemed to do interviews in Starbucks. But what better place is there to talk about the globalization of culture? Today I would talk with DJ Shorty S – Beijing’s first DMC Champion. I had spoken with other Hip Hoppers about Beijing’s DJ Schools and there seemed to be a mixed opinion on their usefulness. Some saw the schools as valuable businesses and others as useless wastes of money. “Do you know how many vinyls you can buy with 5000 RMB? DJ Wordy had rhetorically questioned, “Why spend that on classes? ” As one of Beijing’s most prominent DJs I wanted to get his opinion on the issue. We sat at a quiet table and he told me his Hip Hop history. Originally into skateboarding and house music, he started studying turntablism in 1999. At the time, Beijing had few scratch DJs and he had gotten most of his information from DVDs and recordings of the DMC.  After winning the China DMC in 2003 and 2004 he stopped competing in order to open a DJ school. Shorty S saw the role of the DJ as crucial to developing Hip Hop culture because DJs “help people develop taste in music”.
He believed that China needs more DJs but found being a DJ in China to be very frustrating. The difficulty of importing vinyls, the lack of record stores, and the absence of a supportive environment all factored against the growth of Beijing’s DJs. I asked what artists he was listening to at the time and he listed Mos Def, Ugly Duckling, and Jurassic 5. He asked me what I was listening to and I said RJD2, Brother Ali, and Outkast. He had never heard of RJD2 or Brother Ali so I offered to burn him a copy of the albums. “Right now? ” he questioned.
My apartment was nearby so we hopped a cab back to my place and I quickly burned him a copy of Deadringer and Shadows on the Sun. He perused my ITunes Library while we waited, commenting on albums that he did and did not have. When the last disc finished initializing he handed me my computer and said he would go. I thanked him again for the interview and he thanked me for the CDs, saying he was always trying to find new music. Overview Jeroen de Kloet defines growth of Hip Hop culture in Beijing “as an act of cultural translation” (2005:3, 5). He argues that the act of translation transforms the “copy” and the “original”.
Applying this theory to Hip Hop in China, he asserts that the translation of Hip Hop culture reconfigures definitions of both “Chinese” and “Hip Hop”. “Original” sources of Hip Hop in Beijing are represented in mass media, on the Internet, and in the artistic expressions of foreigners in Beijing. The translation of Hip Hop motivates the production of Hip Hop commodities and cultural products. The breadth of translation of Hip Hop is most visible through the consumption and display of Hip Hop commodities among Beijing youth. Appadurai argues that capitalist consumption invokes nostalgia for the ephemeral.
I expand this theory for Beijing’s emerging capitalist consumer culture. I use Friedman’s examination of consumption and identity to argue that consumptive practice enables some Beijing youth to imagine an identity situated within Hip Hop. Circuits of culture are not equal in their influence and within the translation of Hip Hop, representation, production and consumption take precedence. DJ Diplomacy A tongue-in-cheek reference to the US and China’s diplomatic policies of the 1970s, one That’s PRD journalist thus dubbed the recent surge in performances from international DJs in Mainland China (Qin 2006).
No dimension of global cultural flows has been more important to the establishment of Hip Hop in Beijing than the movement of foreigners to and through the city. Foreigners come to Beijing to work, travel, or study. The majority of long-term foreign residents and foreign students come from other countries in Asia especially Korea and Japan. As members of the global ethnoscape, foreigners in Beijing “constitute the shifting world in which we live” (Appadurai 1996:33). As they adapt their lifestyles and desires to the reality of life in Beijing, they simultaneously affect change in the organization of the city.
In seeking space and time to represent their Hip Hop knowledge and talent, foreigners introduced many Beijing Hip Hoppers to the scene. Though they were instrumental to bringing Hip Hop into new spaces and helping it gain initial exposure, the elements of Hip Hop were not equally open to or dependent on participation from foreigners. In terms of direct participation, the elements that have been most open to foreigners are rapping and DJing. The number of local MCs far exceeds the number of foreign MCs. However, foreign MCs such as American MC Foenix XIV, American MC Ascension, and Canadian MC Sbazzo are considered among the best in
Beijing. All rap in Mandarin and frequently headline Hip Hop events in Beijing. Foreign DJs are also ubiquitous in Beijing nightclubs. The reason that foreign DJs and MCs have been so visible, active, and accepted in Beijing is that, some were among the first to play Hip Hop music in clubs, to organize Hip Hop events, and also because they have cultural capital. In surveys with students from Qinghua University and Peking University, of students familiar with Hip Hop, the majority qualified Hip Hop as fundamentally American (Appendix 1).
With the construction of Hip Hop as external to Chinese culture, there is no conceptual conflict in seeing a foreign MC, the position that often becomes the face of Hip Hop. DJs, with the help of the nightclub managers, strengthened the association between Hip Hop and foreigners as all of Beijing’s popular clubs have at least one foreign DJ. Foreigners also help MCs and DJs produce cultural products by mentoring young artists and having local artists appear on albums and mixtapes. If MCs and DJs are at one pole in terms of foreign participation, then Hip Hop dance is at the opposite pole.
Hip Hop dance crews and the overall development of Hip Hop dance has not had as much direct participation from foreigners. Perhaps it is because dance requires more of a long-term commitment to a crew, where as DJing and MCing can be balanced with full-time work or study and offers easy entry and exit. Throughout my fieldwork period I did not encounter any Hip Hop dance crews that had foreign members. Hip Hop movies, music videos, and instructional dance videos are the most common “original” sources from which Beijing Bboys and Bgirls translate Hip Hop.
However, dancers have been able to bring foreign talent from around the world to Beijing to judge competitions and teach classes. For dancers the concept of receiving representations of Hip Hop from an “original” is particularly salient because they often invite originators of specific dance styles or moves. Wujiawu Better Dance Family, a crew of lockers, poppers, and breakers, hosts an annual Hip Hop dance competition called Keep on Dancing during which crews from across the country compete. They bring in celebrity judges, such as the Electric Boogaloos, who judge, perform and teach classes.
Promotional company, DJ School, and dance studio Dragonstylez also organizes an annual Bboy competition that invites world famous dancers from Korea, France, and Germany to judge and perform. Reflecting on whether Chinese dance has its own style, one of the organizers of Keep on Dancing revealed the importance of communicating with foreign dancers when he said that “We are all still students of Hip Hop and we need to learn from the best in order to develop our own style” (Gao Bo, interview with author, Sept. 4, 2005).
Graffiti art is the slowest growing element and at the time of my research only of handful of Beijing artists engaged in the art. The reasons vary, from the criminality of the practice to a lack of appreciation for the artwork. If not commissioned by a property owner, once discovered, graffiti art is promptly painted over. Graffiti artists also risk being arrested for vandalism. Though some of the foreign MCs and DJs have experience with graffiti art and offer support to local artists, few, if any, graffiti legends have traveled to Beijing to teach or share their knowledge with local artists.
During my fieldwork period, there were no exchanges between local artists and foreign artists. Graffiti artists generally learn about new styles and how to improve their techniques from graffiti websites and books. This assessment of the role of foreign nationals in Beijing Hip Hop scene is not meant to privilege the foreign or argue that Beijing Hip Hop is wholly dependent on participation from foreigners. Rather, it is meant to elucidate how foreign participation has been instrumental in giving many Beijing Hip Hoppers an initial contact with different sounds and styles of Hip Hop and supporting the scene through participation.
Not only the movement of foreigners, but also the movement of other Chinese to the city has influenced Hip Hop in Beijing. Dancers from Urumqi, DJs from Shanghai, MCs from Wuhan, and Graffiti artists from Guangzhou also introduce Beijing Hip Hoppers to new styles. Technics The growth of Internet technology has enabled information about Hip Hop culture to rapidly cross international borders and has been vital to the proliferation of Hip Hop in Beijing.
For the past decade the Internet has been “an essential force in the delineation and mapping of the virtual hip-hop nation” and is now the primary way in which information about Hip Hop is transmitted and received (Forman 2002:238). The Internet has given Hip Hop “infinite repeatability” and both constitutes and also disperses new meanings surrounding Hip Hop culture to a “global public” (du Gay et. al 1997:21,23). For example Hip Hop can be associated with being technologically savvy or available for mass consumption.
Many Beijing Hip Hop artists and crews maintain websites and/or profiles on MSN and MySpace and distribute information to fans via email lists and online message boards. Hip Hoppers can follow national and international Hip Hop news and purchase merchandise from Chinese and foreign websites. Numerous sites also exist for downloading music and videos. Perhaps the most popular Hip Hop website is 51555. net. Home to all things Hip Hop, 51555. net contains announcements, chats, music and video downloads, and links to other Hip Hop sites.
The Internet connects Beijing Hip Hoppers to artists and fans elsewhere in China as well as around the world. I Want My Channel [V] The popularization of music videos on MTV, VH1, and BET changed the music industry in the United States and it became necessary for artists to have a popular music video in order to have commercial success (See Banks 1997). During the 90s Hip Hop moved to the fore of this movement. Exciting videos and television exposure increased the popularity of Hip Hop. Media plays a similar role in the expansion of Hip Hop culture in Beijing.
Besides the Internet, television is the most important medium for propagating images of Hip Hop culture in Beijing. Hip Hop is frequently represented on Beijing’s two foreign-owned music television stations – MTV and Channel V. MTV Mandarin, launched in 1995, successfully navigated rough political terrains and is now available across the country. MTV plays both music videos and also produces local shows focusing on world music, movies, and English language acquisition. About 70% of the music videos shown are Chinese and 30% are international (Fung 2006:72). Channel [V] is MTV’s biggest competitor.
Owned by Rupert Murdoch’s STAR Network, Channel [V] has a range of music programming that combines local and foreign music videos, request shows, and interviews. Though international Hip Hop and R&B music videos are a small portion of the videos played on both channels, Hip Hop-influenced Chinese artists such as Will Pan, Wang Lee Hom, and Jay Chao help increase the visibility of Hip Hop dance and fashion. MTV also partners with CCTV to produce annual Music Awards, an event that is full of Hip Hop music and dance (Fung 2006:78). Locally produced programs on CCTV and commercials also represent Hip Hop.
Though there are no programs dedicated specifically to Hip Hop, many CCTV stations have programs featuring popular music and dance in which Hip Hop artists can compete and perform, such as Wudao Shijie (Dance World) broadcast every Sunday on CCTV3. Hip Hop dancers make the most television appearances though Beijing MCs made their way into several commercials. In an anonymous survey, one Qinghua University student said that you see Hip Hop’s influence in “fast food culture” (Appendix 1). McDonald’s plays a range of popular music in its stores and produced a commercial using Mandarin rap.
Pepsi, Sprite, China Mobile, Li Ning, and Taishan Beverage Co. have all used Hip Hop in commercials and marketing campaigns. Representations of Hip Hop on television influence the ways in which millions of viewers assign meaning to Hip Hop culture. Du Gay et. al argued that the meaning of the Sony Walkman cannot be extricated from the culture of production or the discourses surrounding the Sony Corporation and Japan. Similarly the meaning of Hip Hop is influenced by discourses surrounding the many companies that represent Hip Hop, most importantly Nike.
Hip Hoop Dreams Nike has been dubbed the “coolest brand” in China (Forney 2004). Regularly beating out competition from Sony, Adidas, and Panasonic, Nike is marketed as the new style of urban cool. Nike first began expanding its markets in China in 1997 and was catapulted into the definition of urban chic by its associations with basketball and Hip Hop. National Basketball Association (NBA) star Yao Ming is China’s most marketable athlete (Liu 2005). Yao Ming signed an endorsement deal with Nike in 1999 and became the face of Nike in China.
In 2001 Nike embarked on a new marketing campaign titled “Hip Hoop” and began hosting events throughout China that brought together basketball players and Hip Hop artists for showcases and performances. Just as Run-DMC’s 1986 “My Adidas” helped make Adidas the “seminal hip hop athletic shoe” of the late 80s, so Nike has become the shoe of choice for Hip Hoppers in Beijing (George 1998:158). The representation, translation, and production of Hip Hop through migration, media, and marketing lead to the consumption of Hip Hop cultural products and commodities.
Many young people striving to identify as “cool” or “modern” rock Hip Hop clothes, attend Hip Hop parties, and download Hip Hop music. Many cultural producers dismiss this level of participation in Hip Hop as superficial, claiming that “. . . people just listen to Hip Hop because they think it’s cool. They are just following trends . . . They buy the clothes, turn their hat to the side and think they are Hip Hop” (DJ Wordy. Interview with author Aug. 4, 2005). However, consumption can serve as the first step in imagining and legitimizing participation in Hip Hop culture. Consumption and Legitimacy
Lounging on the couches in Club Yugong Yishan, I sat with the boys of Yin Tsang and Shehui. While the crew smoked, drank Heineken, and chilled between sets I tried to get a discussion going about what people thought about Section 6 and Hip Hop in Beijing. MC Webber was proud of the success of the party, which had gained a sizeable following, but wanted to see more young Chinese people in attendance. I brought up that I thought there were a good number of locals considering that people had to travel to Chaoyang and pay a cover charge if they couldn’t make it to the club by 11PM.
Webber thought that the real problem was that not enough people knew about the party. Raph brought the conversation around to the problem of Hip Hop in China and expressed a common complaint that there is no “environment” for Hip Hop to grow. He thought most kids just bought the gear and did not understand the culture. He drew my attention to a group of “posers” in the back, awkwardly standing next to the air conditioner. The three young men certainly dressed the part – oversized white T-shirts, basketball jerseys, sagging jeans, Nikes, and sweatbands.
One was even wearing sunglasses. Though DJ Shorty S was playing good tracks, they did not dance and just hung together sheepishly in the corner. Though they did not quite fit into the scene and many would label them as fakes, they had made it to Section 6, the “underground” Hip Hop Party, and were not partying the night away at Mix or Vics, the commercial nightclubs across the street, so I questioned, is there was some potential here? Consumption is not an activity devoid of any meaning besides the simple fulfillment of material needs. With the implementation of market reforms, the overnment’s support of private enterprise, and the accumulation of wealth, the purchasing power of many Chinese citizens is increasing. Exactly how many people have achieved social mobility and economic stability is difficult to ascertain because the middle class is not a stable entity. Combinations of education, income, wealth, or consumption patterns can define the “middle class”. Alaistair Iain Johnston writes, “Regardless which measure one uses, in China the ‘middle class’ appears to be a misnomer because this group, in fact, is an economic elite” (2004:608).
Whether defined as middle or upper class, millions of Beijing residents have used their disposable incomes to create a vibrant consumer culture. Coupled with the One-Child Policy, Beijing youth have unprecedented purchasing power and the resources necessary to work on the “project of the self” through capitalist accumulation (Giddens 1991:423). The consumption of Hip Hop commodities has become a part of this project. Appadurai qualifies late capitalist consumption as a claim on the ephemeral and argues that it “is at the heart of the disciplining of the modern consumer” (1996:83).
In China’s socialist market economy and emerging consumer culture, the “disciplining” of the consumer, particularly youth consumers, is predicated on the desire for progress, individualism, and modernity. On their website MZone, a youth-marketing branch of China Mobile and a frequent organizer of Bboy competitions, describes their line as a “living attitude” and encourages customers to get busy having fun and choosing what they like.  Many Beijing youth have chosen Hip Hop and are making it a part of their “living attitude” and shifting identities.
In prefacing his theoretical framework in his evaluation of consumption in the Congo, Jonathan Friedman writes: It is from this point of departure that it is possible to envisage consumption as an aspect of a more general strategy of set of strategies for the establishment and maintenance of selfhood. Consumption, then, in the most general sense, is a particular means of creating an identity, one that is realized in a material reorganization of time and space. As such it is an instrument of self-construction, which is itself dependent on higher order modes of channeling available objects into a specific relation to a person or persons. 1994) Friedman argues that the consumptive practices help create and express multiple identities that can transcend temporal or spatial limitations. Similarly, the consumption and display of Hip Hop commodities resituates the individual in respect to proximity to the spatial location of Hip Hop in the “West” and the temporal location of Hip Hop in modern time. It also places the individual in relation to other members of the “imagined community” of the Hip Hop Nation.  Consumption creates symbolic space to create an identity situated within Hip Hop culture.
This construction of a “Hip Hop” self and the confidence gained from the process can motivate individuals to engage in further exploration and development of Hip Hop culture. However, only when individuals embark on the “genuine development of self” outside of market-governed frameworks will consumptive practice not be necessary to legitimate a constructed identity (Giddens 1991:424). The song “Distorcionadas Personalidades” or “Distorted Personalities” from the Cuban rap duo Doble Filo describes their journey from consumption to production of Hip Hop culture.
First they constructed identities based on images from Black Entertainment Television (BET) and MTV, in imitation of what they believed Hip Hop to be (La Fabri_K 2004). Then they found a unique voice and style and became one of the most respected and socially conscious groups in Cuba. The consumption and display of Hip Hop commodities enables Hip Hoppers in Beijing to construct a Hip Hop image and therefore imagine themselves as part of Hip Hop culture. Whether they engage with Hip Hop beyond the level of consumption will depend on their own life situations.
Viewing the decline in mass popularity of Rock & Roll in Beijing in the late 90s, the majority of casual consumers of Hip Hop commodities will most likely not become long-term supporters of Hip Hop culture. However, we must recognize that association with Hip Hop requires situating the individual in a history and movement, the process of which can be aided by the production of identity through consumption. In a 2004 interview Yin Tsang member MC Sbazzo described Hip Hop as « a people-to-people thing, two rappers in a park. But here in China, hip-hop came in as a commercial thing.
It’s a fashion — they’re imitating American gangsta rappers. They’re just trying to be cool” (York 2004). However, some are also trying to be Hip Hop and, as Beijing’s local scene continues to grow, some will make the leap from consumption to a deeper engagement with Hip Hop culture. II. Localization He sat quietly at a table in Lush puffing on a cigarette occasionally nodding in agreement with one of the other men at his table. I immediately recognized him from the ticket counter and the back couches at Section 6. He is the co-owner of Shehui Skateboards and one of Beijing’s best graffiti artists.
As I approached the table, he recognized me to, and directed me to an open table in the corner of the bar. I was very excited to interview him, as I had been unable to schedule interviews with any of Beijing’s other of graffiti artists and wanted to hear his opinion on the development of the scene. He told me his personal history, how he always wanted to be an artist and often turns paintings into graffiti murals. He lamented the difficulties of maintaining graffiti culture and listed its many wants including better paints, communication with better artists, and a place to preserve work.
He jokingly recalled when he had been arrested for vandalism and had gotten off with simply painting over his work. He reviewed the different scenes in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Guangzhou and noted that they have very good artists but a very different style than his own. However, he still qualified himself as a “student” of graffiti art and wasn’t quite sure how to put his style into words. He did qualify, “in those other cities, artists like to use a lot of English but I like to use Chinese characters. ” For him, using Chinese is more meaningful. Overview
The Hip Hop Nation is both a physical entity constituted by Hip Hop fans and artists around the world and also an “imagined community” constituted in the imaginaries of its citizens. From all-night dance parties at Club Vics to fantasies of traveling to New York City to see the birthplace of Hip Hop culture, Beijing Hip Hop fans and artists engage with the “local” manifestations of Hip Hop in their everyday lives as well as the “global” idea of Hip Hop. It is impossible to extricate the local from the global as both spheres influence and inform one another.
The production of locality enables consumers to challenge identifications with “Hip Hop” and “Chineseness”. Consumer sensitivities, artistic freedom and themes within Hip Hop culture all regulate the production of locality. The objective of my analysis of the localization of Hip Hop is not to construct a rigid binary between local and global Hip Hop but to evaluate the ways in which Hip Hop is made meaningful to a particular audience in a particular location. In his examination of Hip Hop culture in Japan, Ian Condry coined the term genba globalism.
He argued that there is a site, in the case of Japan the nightclub, at which the processes of localization can be observed through performance analysis. In Beijing, most nightclubs are not supportive of live Hip Hop performance and DJs mostly play Hip Hop from the United States. There are also few public spaces in which Hip Hop dance or music can regularly be seen or heard. Most performances are done at competitions and battles. Thus there is not a single physical site from which one can evaluate localization.
However, by using the words and works of the Beijing Hip Hop artists as points of departure, one can find processes of localization. In this section I argue that language, message, and style are actual sites of locality. My Rhymes Are the Type of Fly Rhymes, That Can Only Get Down With My Crew Language is a system of signs that signify meaning to those who understand a particular linguistic system and is the primary way in which human beings communicate their ideas. A common language is necessary to assign meaning, significance, and value to what is read or heard. 13] The use of Chinese language in Beijing rap music and graffiti art is a crucial site of locality because it is only through the use of Chinese language that “a measure of accuracy can be made possible between localized social experience and linguistic representation” (Bennett 2000:141). Most Hip Hop artists and fans in Beijing do not understand the lyrics of foreign Hip Hop music. Even for those that may speak the language, because of rap music’s relationship to space, place, and time, “raps meanings, especially social meanings, which are often expressed in a specific kind of slang, remain enigmatic” (Levy 2001:137).
The language barrier has not hampered the nightclub, dance, or DJ scenes in Beijing because fans and artists are either moving to or manipulating the beats. However, in order for a local art and music scene to develop, the sounds and images had to be made meaningful to the audience. In every country that rap music has taken root, language is cited as an initial barrier to development with participants claiming that their “rapper(s) cannot elaborate upon a linguistic invention similar to that of their African American counterparts” (Prevos 2001:45).
Condry spoke about the trouble Japanese MCs initially faced because their language has unstressed tones and because poetry is based on syllables rather than a set rhyme scheme (Lecture 2006). However, Chinese literary practice has a long tradition of poetry based on syllables, tones, and rhymes. Chinese characters have also long been incorporated into artistic expressions through murals, paintings, and calligraphy. Undoubtedly, MCs still face many challenges, such as trying not to end a verse in third tone (Wang 2004).
However, the use of Chinese language in rap music and graffiti art is not a large artistic or conceptual shift and is not seen as a type of “violence against the language” (Condry 2006). Foreign rappers also rap in Chinese. Jeroen de Kloet writes that “foreigners play a conspicuous role in Chinese hip hop” and that “the mixture of nationalities is negotiated in different ways” (2005:8). De Kloet says of Yin Tsang’s foreign members that they “seem eager to perform a Chinese identity by using a Chinese name and rapping in Chinese” (2005:8).
Many foreign MCs who desire to establish a wide fan base in Beijing rap in Chinese. Without spontaneous translations and unless they know the language, Chinese audiences have limited resources for assigning meaning to rap performed in a foreign language. This is again why language is a crucial to the production of locality. However, I will later problematize de Kloet’s argument that foreign MCs are “performing a Chinese identity”. To analyze this claim, we must look at the sites of locality within the message. It’s Like a Jungle Sometimes, It Makes Me Wonder How I Keep From Going Under
Part of the seminal track by Hip Hop legend Grandmaster Flash, “The Message” is hailed as Hip Hop’s first popular socially-conscious record in the United States (Sewell 2006:14). In the song Grandmaster Flash calls attention to poverty, racism, homelessness, prostitution, and the devastation of drugs and violence in urban communities. Released in 1982, the track resonated with a Hip Hop community still largely located in urban communities of color. “The Message” spoke to such communities about pertinent issues in their everyday lives.
MCs in Beijing are likewise communicating messages that are relevant to their specific audiences. All MCs in Beijing have different lyrical and musical styles. In order to provide an examination of popular Beijing Hip Hop artists with different styles, I focus my evaluation on, Yin Tsang, Chinese MC Brothers (CMCB), and Gongfu. Yin Tsang released what some consider to be the first “real” rap album in Beijing. Their album Serve the People was released on indie rock label Scream Records in 2003 and sold approximately 70,000 copies.
After the release, the group toured the country and received a nomination for the Pepsi Music Awards Best New Rock-Rap Group. Several Yin Tsang MCs also worked with other Beijing groups such as Dragon Tongue Crew and CMCB. The group is arguably the most well-known and well-respected rap group in Beijing. Serve the People contains a litany of messages, from the braggadocio rhymes of “Beijing Bad Boys” which remind the listener of Yin Tsang’s lyrical prowess to the upbeat yet cautionary rhymes of “SARS” which traces the history of the disease and urges listeners to take precautions.
The album is situated in the contemporary social climate of Beijing and many of the lyrics can be read as coded critiques of Beijing society. CMCB is a collective of musicians, MCs, and a DJ that came together in 2000 and signed to Scream Records in 2004. Their style has been characterized as rap-rock, new metal-Hip Hop, and punk rock-rap. Needless to say, their music is a hybrid form that joins various styles of Rock & Roll and rap music. CMCB released two records, Kongfu in 2002 and Who Moved My Zhajiang Noodle? n 2004. CMCB’s lyrical content has consciously focused on the trials and tribulations in their own lives as well as the obstacles facing Chinese youth. They speak to generational and social oppressions, such as the difficulty of navigating the Chinese education system and the importance of young people finding their own voice. Though CMCB is more often billed as a rock group than a Hip Hop group, Hip Hop undeniably influences their style and their music is both powerful and poignant for Beijing’s Hip Hop generation.
Gongfu is a trio of MC Yang Fan, MC Fugui and DJ Chongzi. Originally from Tianjin, a city south of Beijing, they began recording and performing together in 2001 and later signed with NewBees Records in 2003. Located in Beijing, NewBees Records is also an indie label with a roster of mostly pop, rock, and electronic artists. Gongfu was featured on several compilation albums in 2003 and released their first album titled Impulsion in 2004.
Gongfu has enjoyed much commercial success and has performed widely in live venues and also on CCTV. Though they have proven to have cross-generational appeal, Gongfu’s style is upbeat and fun and their music targets the teen pop market. Their lyrics surround themes of young love, shaping one’s future, managing family responsibility, and having fun. According to That’s Beijing columnist Alice Wang, Gongfu seeks to “create grassroots Chinese Hip Hop” which means “breaking from Hip Hop stereotypes” (Live House 2004).
Gongfu has a conspicuous connection to the “global” in that they frequently use English words and phrases in their lyrics and their look, replete with dew rags, Kangols, chains, and oversized jerseys, is derivative of Hip Hop fashion. What makes Gongfu “grassroots” is that their message is a reflection of and tailored to a specific generation of Chinese youth. As for foreign MCs and the production and performance of locality, all of the foreign MCs with a large fan base rap in Chinese. Does this mean, as de Kloet suggests, that they are performing a Chinese identity?
In their introduction to Global Local, Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake write: What we would variously track at the “transnational imaginary” comprises the as-yet-unfigured horizon of contemporary cultural production by which national spaces/identities or political allegiance and economic regulation are being undone and imagined communities of modernity are being reshaped at the macropolitical (global) and micropolitical (cultural) levels of everyday existence. (1996:6) Foreign MCs have reconfigured identities that represent their multiple transnational allegiances as well as their everyday lives in Beijing.
Such identities cannot be qualified as simply “Chinese”. In terms of lyrical content, it seems that the foreign MCs in Beijing, including the members of Yin Tsang, are actually engaged in the active production of a laowai, or foreigner identity. They represent Beijing because, in the world of Chinese Hip Hop, that is where they are “from,” but they also represent their homelands, such as MC Sbazzo and MC Foenix XIV’s “Where I Came From”. They also represent lived experiences unique to foreigners in Beijing, such as MC Foenix XIV’s “50 Questions”, in which the lyrics recount the myriad questions foreigners must frequently answer.
Foreign MCs localize their music and make it meaningful to Beijing youth by representing their transnational identities. Kungfu Hustle The title of this 2005 Hong Kong film sounds like a dance style using martial arts and disco. If such a specific dance style existed, it might resemble modern day breaking. Itself a fusion of influences from James Brown to Bruce Lee, Bboying requires the rhythm, athleticism, technique and most importantly the style necessary for both martial arts and popular dance.
Unlike rap music and graffiti art, the site of locality within Hip Hop dance is not the language or the message but the style. Hip Hop dance is the most popular Hip Hop-related activity in Beijing. Some complain that it has already been co-opted by big businesses such as China Mobile, CCTV, and Nike, which sponsor Hip Hop dance competitions and feature Hip Hop in television programs and commercials. Hip Hop dance is also marketed as a good health hobby and is taught in universities and fitness clubs as a weight loss strategy.
All of these phenomena have made Hip Hop dance wildly popular and the all-encompassing term for all types of Hip Hop dance, jiewu or street dance is often used to refer to Hip Hop culture in general. Hip Hop dancers have had the most exposure, monetary compensation, and opportunities to compete and perform. All of these factors help Hip Hop dance crews grow and develop. Bboy and co-owner of Beijing’s Wujiawu Better Dance Family Gao Bo claims that Chinese dancers are still working on “building a foundation” and “do not have their own style” (Interview with author Sept. , 2005). However, many Beijing Hip Hop dancers are using local elements to inform their performances. The most popular form of indigenization of Hip Hop dance is to infuse it with Chinese dance, martial arts, or music. At a 2004 Peking University Hip Hop showcase two dancers from Beijing’s The Sol walked onto the stage in white silk outfits and began doing taichi to traditional Chinese music. The song soon switched to a remixed version with a Hip Hop beat and the dancers extended their movements and began locking, eventually morphing into a full locking routine.
Though there were only two dancers and their performance was only three minutes long, they received the loudest applause of the night. Inspired by 1970s kungfu films; many of the earliest Bboys in the United States adapted kungfu to breakdancing. One of the many completed ciphers of the global Diaspora of Hip Hop culture, Bboys in Beijing now infuse breaking with kungfu and taichi moves. In the Peking University showcase other dancers incorporated Chinese fan dancing, ribbon dancing and pop music into their routines. At the Battle of the Year, several groups began with kungfu routines and one even used a New Year’s Dragon puppet.
The point of this analysis is not to set up an equation where anything “Chinese” equals the local and Hip Hop equals the “global”, but again to look at the power of the performance. The consumption of localized images enables audience members and artists to dismantle both the essential “foreignness” of Hip Hop and “Chineseness” of traditional art. By using traditional Chinese dance, music, or martial arts in their routines, dancers give audience members a point of departure to evaluate the synergy of Hip Hop and local forms of artistic expression.
Through performance, Hip Hop dancers represent the fact that “Chineseness” and “Hip Hop” inform and influence one another. Regulators Several processes regulate the production of locality. Du Gay et. al. argued that for some the Sony Walkman “offended our sense of social order” because it “disturbed the boundaries between the private and public worlds” (1997:115). The production of locality can similarly disrupt opinions on decency because it attempts to blur the borders between tradition and modernity, the popular and the political, and China and other nations. Cultural roducers regulate the production of locality by choosing how and if they will hybridize their performances. However, they have limited freedom in this choice and are subject to the expectations and desires of consumers including fans, audience members and employers. The mandate that Hip Hop artists “rep’ their ‘hood” also motivate cultural producers of Hip Hop to represent their countries, cities, and communities. Yin Tsang’s biggest hit was the single “Zai Beijing” or “In Beijing”. The song discusses tourist attractions, shopping centers, and other sites in the city.
It is admittedly not a wonderful song but it garnered much undue criticism for being inane, nationalistic and reifying Beijing’s hegemony over cultural production in China. However, from Zion I and Lyrics Born’s odes to the Bay Area to Jermaine Dupri’s celebration of Atlanta, Hip Hop artists frequently create music and artwork about the communities in which they live. Territoriality is a common in Hip Hop culture and influences the ways in which cultural producers engage with space and place. III. Racialization
I called the manager of S Club as soon as I found out that it would be the venue for the Keep on Dancing Hip Hop Dance competition. I was surprised that there was a club big enough for such a large event in Wudaokou, an area notorious for small, hot basement clubs, and I wanted to see the place before it was filled with people. The owner was very sweet on the phone and invited me to come by anytime. Early one Sunday night, before heading over to Open Mic Night at Lush to see Webber and Raph freestyle, a few friends and I stopped by the club.
I was surprised, and slightly impressed, by the fact that the exterior of the club was decorated with graffiti art. It was only the second club I’d seen in Beijing with graffiti. The first had a large Black male face on the wall opposite the bathrooms, and from the style of the artwork at S Club I assumed it was probably the same artist. The owner walked us around, showing us all the new additions and improvements. She said that they were working on launching the club with a new image. As we prepared to leave, another manager approached me and asked if I could do her a favor. She wanted me to recommend a DJ for the opening.
I had recently met a British guy who was interested in finding a regular DJ gig and recommended him to the manager. She seemed disappointed when I told her he was from England. She hesitated then asked me if my friend was Black. I was slightly confused as to why this mattered and responded, “No, he is White. ” She hesitated again and said, “Well, we really want a Black DJ. Do you know anyone? ” At the time, I didn’t and told her I would let her know if I found anyone. I had to ask her why she specifically wanted a Black DJ and she simply said, “We just think they are better. ” Overview
Despite participation by people of all races, ethnicities and nationalities, Hip Hop can be racialized as “affectively Black” (Brown 2006:138). This perception persists in part due to Hip Hop’s roots in artistic, musical, and literary practices in Africa and the Black Diaspora and also because of its initial and continued popularity in African American communities. As Hip Hop crisscrosses international borders, its association with Blackness remains, perpetuated by both the dominance of Black artists in mass-mediated Hip Hop cultural products and the participation of Black people in Hip Hop scenes around the world.
The association between Hip Hop and Blackness is “one of its chief selling-points” and non-Black participants in Hip Hop culture often must qualify the ways in which they are engaging with the performance of race (Brown 2006:138). In her examination of Hip Hop in Japan, Nina Cornyetz situates her study within Japanese racialism and argues that Blackness signifies sexual empowerment and racial liminality for Japanese youth. Cornyetz also notes that the racialization of Hip Hop coincides with “a mature capitalist disengagement of style from content” (1994:117).
The role race plays in Beijing Hip Hop must likewise be situated in the role race plays in Chinese society. Frank Dikotter reveals how definitions of race in China transition from ethnocentrism to nationality. I argue that the representation of Blackness in Hip Hop provides cultural capital to foreigners in the Beijing Hip Hop scene and that the production of Blackness has been incorporated into an expression of Hip Hop style. Moreover, explicit articulations of a racial identity are affirmations of a Chin