Hatin' on hip hop: China's rap scene frustrated by crackdown
Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT) March 29, 2018
Hong Kong (CNN)Hip hop has been getting a bad rap in China.
Last year, the genre was having something of a heyday, but since then, the bubble has burst.
In the wake of new rules from China's media regulator, songs have been blacklisted; rising Chinese rappers, such as Gai and VaVa, have been dropped from shows; and another artist, PG One, even apologized for lyrics that came under fire for glorifying drugs and sex.
The crackdown has had a chilling effect on a genre more commonly associated with blasting rebellious opinion.
"There's definitely a period of straightening, moral straightening, and hip hop is an example of that," said Archie Hamilton, co-founder of Split Works, one of the largest live music promotion companies in China. "It's not really anything different to what worked before ... it's just much more strictly enforced."
Hamilton said he is reconsidering his festival line-up in China even though he has always chosen to tour more "socially conscious" rappers, versus those that may have a more anti-establishment vibe. This is to appease both advertisers and government regulators, he said.
Since taking office in 2013, President Xi Jinping has pushed for traditional Confucian values and new guidelines on morality.
There's been concern over blood and gore in video games, rules against crude language in news reporting and even fines for exposing flesh and underwear at car and entertainment expos.
China's media regulator singled out hip hop in January, with an edict saying that Chinese television "should not feature actors with tattoos (or depict) hip hop culture, sub-culture and immoral culture," according to state media.
Many in the industry say China has long tried to suppress Western-influenced youth culture, going back to punk and rock music.
Chan Kwong-yan, aka MC Yan, a Hong Kong rapper from the group LMF, said he was banned from performing in China 20 years ago for his controversial lyrics and is not surprised it's happening again.
"When it's out of control or too many people involved, then the government will come out to re-educate people," he said.
Hip hop's vibe is popular with both working-class kids and the "fu'er dai," or offspring of wealthy Chinese.
"Chinese hip hop is based on dreams, it's what they want to become, that's why Chinese rappers are so hungry," said Jeff Kung, who founded "The Park," China's first hip hop radio show in 2009.
"It's aspirational ... it's a great outlet for those who deal with hardship in China at its core. It's the same as why hip hop got big in the States, for kids who don't have money, it's an outlook for expression."
Sam Chang, a 31-year-old hip hop journalist and occasional rapper, was one of these fans, finding hip hop through illegal CDs that were imported as plastic waste from the West.
Hip hop was a "secret society" that brought him into a "whole new world," he said.
Chang appreciated how Chinese artists were keeping things "relatively more real and honest." Many were rapping in their own dialects -- keeping alive their local culture, as opposed to the official language of Mandarin -- and experimenting with sounds, incorporating Chinese instruments with rap beats.