IASPM International Conferences - Proceedings, Situating Popular Musics

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Blackness transmuted and sinified by way of rap music and hip-hop in the new China
Lee William Watkins

Last modified: 2013-01-22


I argue that rap music and hip-hop in contemporary China is evidence of the opening up of China's real and symbolic borders, and that the adoption of hip-hop represents the elision and transmutability of its racial origins. This situation, where Chinese rappers and hip-hoppers explore the limitless potential of a Western and largely black genre, prevails in an environment intersecting with the desire to conform through self-censorship with the rigorous demands of the new Chinese nationalism. There is an ambivalence however as the Internet and access to technology enable rappers and their bloggers to freely engage in discussion around aesthetics and Chinese statism. The rapid growth of hip-hop (and reggae) in China moreover alludes to the increasing consumption of Western cultural forms regardless of racial associations and is a gesture which seems to deny the long history of black disavowal in China. On the other hand, the difference between the global hip-hop nation and the nationalism of the new China, which is negotiated on its own terms and in the face of ongoing authoritarianism, is the basis for a provocative argument, which complicates the dialogue of ethnic difference and cultural similitude. Based on fieldwork and virtual research undertaken among hip-hoppers and rappers in Shanghai and Beijing, this paper describes how the utterances and the rap music style and lyrical themes of crews such as Yin Ts'ang 010, and Dragon Tongue Squad, among others, articulate the processes identified above.

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