Chinese Rap Wrap: Xinjiang’s AIR Drops the Perfect Album to End 2019

The 2018 Rap of China champ mixes jazz, funk, and synthwave with this hardcore flow on a sophisticated new long-player, "Air Plan"

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9:00 PM HKT, Wed December 18, 2019 4 mins read

Chinese Rap Wrap is a bi-weekly RADII column that focuses on the Chinese hip hop scene, featuring the freshest talents, hottest new tracks, and biggest beefs from the world of Chinese rap.

Chinese Rappers to Watch

As we have reported before, Higher Brothers’ KnowKnow dropped his first solo album, Mr. Enjoy Da Money, on December 12. The 14 tracks were produced by Shanghai-based musicians Yoken and YYKBZ’s Yang Bang Muzik over a seven-month period.

The title of the album speaks for the content: flex trap, if not cute love songs. The album title’s acronym, MEDM, is also a fashion brand that KnowKnow established last year. Track titles “Mafia Cashier” and “Mr. Bentley” are two new nicknames/roles that KnowKnow has given himself, along with Mr. Enjoy Da Money and Baby CEO. “Higher Speed Club” is also the name of KnowKnow-owned car wash (for luxury race cars, I assume). In an interview with Chinese hip hop video channel Lang Wave, he said he opened a bar as well. His money is so enjoyable that at least half of the tracks name-check luxury brands, including “Face Power,” featuring Jackson Wang, and “Uncomfortable,” featuring Masiwei.

In another feature with Masiwei, “Ik Hou Van Jou,” both Higher Brothers appear to want to come off as “Mr. Right.” Maisiwei has earned the nickname “Ma Tiantian” for (“Sweetie Ma”) for his occasional, maybe-too-sweet love songs. And KnowKnow is even better on this one with his smooth melodies. Apparently he really loves Iron Man and the line “love you 3,000 times” from the last Avengers movie, which is not only used in the track “I Love You 3000 III,” but also quoted in a few others. As of this writing, “R&B All Night” is KnowKnow’s most played track on streaming platform NetEase Music.

A few days back, AIR, the Uyghur champion of Rap of China 2018 and a former hardcore battle MC from Xinjiang, dropped his new album, Air Plan. These twelve tracks definitely sound “newer” than traditional hip hop beats, thanks to a lot of experimental crossovers with rock, jazz, funk, and soul.

In “Like AIR,” keyboard, trumpet and jazz drums comfort the listener’s ears, reflecting the track’s its Chinese name, “Yong Yin Yue An Wei Ni” (“Comfort You with Music”). “Blue Planet” comes with a wasteland-style, stop-motion music video showing someone looking for an oasis in a future polluted global environment. “Bad Game Player” shares AIR’s observations about the game, where “geniuses turn to ants,” using elaborate lyrics and flow. “Wu” (“Fog”) is more melodic, featured synthwave elements on top of the rapper’s hardcore flow, giving us a different side of AIR.

Overall, Air Plan is a high-quality and refreshing Chinese hip hop album at the end of 2019. The tracks don’t squeeze Chinese words into English-like flow, but use the characters’ original tones to make the flow smooth and natural. Instead of rhyming in simple English words — which might be (a lot) easier than in Chinese — Air obviously spent lots of time honing the verses and the musical arrangement. Plus, we see some attitude clearly in his words.

Here’s a lyrical sample from “Ants”:

“It’s trendy to blindly follow others or to be arrogant / What they want are pretty similar / Pu**y cash fame power / This batch died, there’ll be another one showing up / I don’t get it / Who really cares about the future that you thought would be free / I’m afraid the storm will come earlier than you thought / So pathetic, being blind when everything is being ruined.”


New Chinese Rap Releases of Note

Nanjing rap crew/label Free-Out dropped their first all-member cypher. Founder MC Guang is the most important OG in town, and his label bros are powerful new blood. Round 2 went on Youku’s music talent show, Chuang!, and made into the final six. Trouble Z, Kc and producer Ice Paper all earned loyal followers while keeping underground and low-key, as their leader always does. The cypher consists of three parts, as well as three different styles, showing Free-Out’s diverse skills and vibes.

Cee and Keyso, two hip hop pioneers from Shanghai, dropped a collab called “SHANG” featuring a bunch of established Shanghai rappers and musicians rapping along to the hook in Shanghai dialect. From local veteran crew Bang Crew/Double Boom, Tang King, GALI, Kozay, and Blakk Bubble — former crew mate of Cee’s in legendary Bamboo Crew — to members of the younger generation like Straight Fire Gang. Dana “Showtyme” Burton, founder of the long-running freestyle battle Iron Mic, also shows up.

MC Bei, after the shocking scandal that directly caused HHH to publicly disband, came back with a new single, Pour it Up,followed by a collab with members of another recently-disbanded crew, CDC: “SAO Zheng” feat. Mengzi and Lil Shin. According to MC Bei’s repost on Weibo, there are three more collab tracks in the works. This is notable because the two trap crews from Chengdu and Xi’an have never been so close as they are on “SAO Zheng.”

And Finally: Another Hip Hop Crackdown?

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism released an exposure draft outlining stricter regulations on the performance market, something reported in some corners as a possible precursor to another “hip hop ban“. However, in the seven-page draft there is one passing reference made to hip hop, a vague guideline “to check on electronic and hip hop music performance.” Most of the draft looks helpful in building up a healthier market, outlining the need to increase transparency of the ticketing trade, and to allow foreign-funded agents and venues to be established in China.

It’s not clear yet if the guidelines sketched out in this draft will be implemented, or how how influential it will be. We will follow it closely.

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