If you haven?t heard any Chinese rap, you?re missing out. Similar to K-pop, Chinese rap mixes in some English lines, but overall, transcends language. Since the competition show ? Rap of China? came out in 2017, Chinese hip-hop has blown up within China and internationally. 7/10 artists on this list were all previously contestants on the show. Chinese hip-hop as a genre is so new and not strictly defined, so we are seeing the emergence of different sounds that incorporate R&B, soul and electronic. These top artists are also very young: 7/10 are 25 and under. Stay tuned at the end for a bonus list of 5 artists who got their start in K-Pop.
Check out my YouTube playlist and Spotify playlist for these songs. I recommend the YouTube playlist because some of these artists are not on Spotify. Did I miss any of your favorite artists? Let me know in the comments.
C-Block is 3-member group from ChangSha that consists of DamnShine (??), Kung-Fu Pen (???), and KEY.L (??). The group has been around since 2007 (pre-iPhone era!), making them one of the earliest groups to hit the scene. Their beats will sound pretty familiar to fans of American rap, as it uses a lot of the same elements. Some songs of theirs to check out are Long River and Lighthouse.
9. Ma Si Wei (???)
Ma Si Wei is part of the 4-member ChengDu group, Higher Brothers, but also has solid solo music. He released his first studio album, Prince Charming, earlier this year. To promote the album, he released this freestyle that, if it was truly unscripted, is by far the most impressive freestyle I have ever heard. Take a listen here to see how he effortlessly switches up his pace and intonations to showcase many different rap styles in the 5 minute video. Some other songs to check out are The World is Yours and Amsterdam.
8. Fu Ke Si (???)
Fu Ke Si is from XinJiang and is known for his rapid but enunciated raps. His stable vocals hold down any beat. He stands out for his unique 80?s inspired fasion of his mullet, colorful oversized dress shirts and flashy jackets. He gained fame as a contestant on Rap of China season 3, where he was selected for celebrity judge Kris Wu?s team (the best team that season). He actually ?dissed? Kris on social media prior to appearing on the show, but Kris overlooked that and selected him anyways, starting a great friendship between the two. My favorite songs are Culture, Jungle Juice and Follow Me.
7. Wu Du Montana (??)
Wu Du means ?Fog City? in Chinese, and is a nickname for his hometown of ChongQing. Fun fact: ChongQing has 104 days of heavy fog every year. Wu Du?s music is very experimental and combines elements of electronic, R&B and autotune. He?s part of the ChongQing label, GO$H, which also represents other prominent Chinese rappers like GAI and Bridge. Wu Du gained popularity after appearing on Rap of China season 3, but still has a relatively small number of songs out to the public. Nevertheless, I really like the few songs he has and I?m looking forward to hearing what?s next. Songs I like by Wu Du are Wu Du Night Talks, ChongQing Forest, Hey and I?m Out Ya.
6. BrAnT.B (??)
At just 22 years old, BrAnT.B has released an impressive portfolio of music. His songs are identifiable by their strong melodies and clever lyrics. He almost didn?t make it on season 1 of Rap of China because he decided to sing for his audition instead of rap. Good thing judge Kris Wu saw his potential and asked to hear his rap lines. Top songs from him include July (Remix), Waiting and Skyline.
5. JelloRio (???)
JelloRio is an R&B artist that got popular on Rap of China season 2. On the show, he composed and performed a romantic song, Falling Stars, with another contestant and won ?best duet of the season?. However, he was eliminated after performing this song, as the competition only allowed one member to stay on. His music experiments with very chill, slow R&B rhythms that I haven?t heard before in Chinese music. Some top songs are Special, Full Moon and Lighting.
4. Wang Yi Tai (???)
Wang Yi Tai is one of the most soulful artists in the hip-hop landscape. He can rap and sing and draws inspiration from many different genres. He started his career as part of a regional rap collective called ChengDu Rap House (CDC) along with Higher Brothers. CDC is responsible for kickstarting many of the top Chinese rappers of today. I like the songs Shout it Out, Mask Off (Remix), Gua Yang Tou and HYFR (Remix). Shout It Out has some of my favorite lyrics Wo men mei you cha yi, zhan zai tong yi pian da di, which means ?We are all the same, we all stand on the same land that is earth?, where he expresses acceptance of everyone regardless of color and creed.
ZI is a 23 year-old Taiwanese American artist. He grew up in Taiwan attending Taipei American School, and his bilingual and bicultural background is clearly reflected in his music. His songs seamlessly mix Chinese and English and he honestly spits fire in both languages. His music has such a distinctive sound that it constitutes a genre of its own. Some songs to check out are Diamond, Paradise Island and Bad Intentions.
At just 24 years old, VAVA is a technically skilled rapper and respected veteran in the industry. She is mostly a self-taught artist. At age 10, she was accepted into a performing arts school in SiChuan, but couldn?t attend because her family couldn?t afford the tuition. At 18, she moved to Beijing to start her music career. Check out her insane audition for Rap of China! You?ve probably heard her song My New Swag in the movie Crazy Rich Asians. Other good songs are Ego and You Should Know My Name.
1. Higher Brothers
Hailing from ChengDu, Higher Brothers is one of the first groups to succeed in bringing Chinese hip-hop to a global audience. They are part of 88rising, the cross border Asian American label that Rich Brian is also represented by. Their music videos have both Chinese and English subtitles, so you can follow along in either language. My favorite songs are Panda Remix, Won?t Believe, Gong Xi Fa Cai (a great jam for Chinese New Year), and 7?11 (a heartfelt song about their love of the convenience store).
? and these 5 K-pop idols turned Chinese solo artists
There?s actually quite a few Chinese members in K-pop groups. These members naturally get very popular around the world and most eventually return to China to pursue solo careers. I separated these from the rest of the artists on this list because their claim to fame is different. They already had massive fan bases before going solo, so it?s a little unfair to compare them to the rest of the list.
5. LuHan (??)
LuHan was formerly a member of EXO-M. His music is split between between ballads, pop, and R&B. I recommend his songs Adventure Time and Coffee. Coffee?s lyric ?this world is crazy, I?m feeling lazy? is pretty relatable right now.
4. Lay Zhang (???)
Lay is still a member of EXO, but he?s making moves to popularize his solo music in China and the US. Check out his music videos to enjoy his amazing dancing. I like the songs Honey (Chinese version) and Sheep.
3. ZTAO (???)
ZTAO is another former EXO-M member. His music since leaving EXO has been pretty unexpected and he?s experimented with a lot of different sounds. Some tops songs are AI and Stay Open (ft Diplo). Stay Open is one of the coolest collabs I?ve ever heard. It mixes trap beats representative of Diplo with Chinese instrumentals (GuZheng and ErHu) representative of ZTAO.
2. Jackson Wang (???)
Originally from Hong Kong, Jackson is currently a rapper in the K-pop group Got7. Before becoming an idol, he was a world class fencer for Hong Kong, winning 1st place in the all Asia Junior Fencing Championship at age 17. Today, he is very popular in Mainland China for being a regular on what feels like every variety show ever. Most of his solo songs are in English (Different Game, Bad Back), but he occasionally raps in Chinese (Okay and Face Power (Know Know ft. Jackson). Props to Jackson for being one of the hardest working artists in the business.
1. Kris Wu (???)
Coming in at the top of our list is Kris Wu. Kris started his career with EXO, but has since returned to China to do solo music. He wants to bridge the gap between the East and West with music, so he?s very active promoting Chinese hip-hop in America despite it being an uphill battle. His primarily English language album for the US market, Antares, is one of the best debut albums I?ve heard. His music combines R&B beats with traditional Chinese instrumentals (PiPa, GuZheng, DiZi) to create pleasing cross-cultural medleys. Be careful if you run into him though, he might just ask if you ?have freestyle?. His best Chinese songs are Big Bowl Thick Noodles, Six, Eternal Love, and Dawn.