We haven’t seen GAI for a while. The last time he appeared in public was in the first episode of reality show Singer, where he placed third, after Jessie J and Wang Feng. But by the second episode of the show, GAI had been abruptly removed, and he never returned. Soon after, his hopes of appearing on the CCTV Spring Festival Gala were dashed by personal drama, and by China’s rumored “hip hop ban.”
Fast forward a bit: Firefly Born to Drama, a reality show for ordinary people who want to be actors, began airing earlier this month. GAI attended a press conference for the show back in September of last year, but did not appear in the official music video of the theme song, which despite its pop melody and mainstream-friendly lyrics, was actually written by GAI.
Finally, GAI has reappeared with a new video: Endless Flow, which features Damnshine, leader of Changsha rap group C-BLOCK, and Bridge, GAI’s younger brother. (Bridge is part of the same Chongqing rap group as GAI, called GOSH, and placed in the top ten on The Rap of China last summer.)
The Chinese title of the video, Chang He, is a combination of “Chang Jiang” (Yangtze River) and “Huang He” (Yellow River). Appearing in the video with a traditional Chinese flute, GAI mumbles about his brothers, his bride, and his life in front of settings that include the scenic Simian Mountain waterfall and a typical Chongqing wharf. Sample lyric:
人生的长河 / 我把酒当歌 / 血里流淌着 / 长江和黄河
The long river of life / I sing my life as I drink / What’s in my blood? / Yangtze and Yellow River
Music fan Fei Huo XB wrote in a review that has been viewed over 130,000 times on Weibo:
I’ve always been saying ‘vibe’. This is what I’m talking about! … This is China’s own music. It’s the sound of huge mountains and rivers, and the voice of boat men at the wharf.
The song focuses a lot on brotherhood and the city of Chongqing; during one of many city-view shots included in the music video, Bridge raps:
我把解放碑的碑都背在我的背 / 把嘉陵江的水都装在我的胃 / 把重庆城的雾都吸进我的肺 / 说江小白的酒怎么也喝不醉
I put my culture on my back / What I drink is from Jialin River / What I smoke is the smog of my hometown, Wu Du [a slang term for Chongqing, literally “foggy capital”] / Drink Xiaobai’s liquor y’all will get drunk
Jiang Xiao Bai, a famous Chongqing liquor, is the sponsor of the music video — Endless Flow is evidently a commercial, though that fact is not quite obvious throughout. According to a representative from the liquor company quoted in Fei Huo XB’s post:
It is a rare creation in China — so many companies just want to tuck their product into the music and ignore the ideas of the singers and writers, which would [make the song] naturally lose its melody not be catchy at all. But Jiang Xiao Bai gives creators sufficient space. GAI also talked about the lack of this type of commercial music, and this kind of thinking with regard to the business model.
The music video was directed by Long Zeyu Fack, and co-produced by Lao Dao and Xiao Bai Ge, who directed the China-wide YOLO hip hop tour last autumn, also sponsored by Jiang Xiao Bai. Rap crews GOSH and C-BLOCK have both performed “Chang He” live at YOLO concerts earlier this year.
At the end of the video, GAI and C-BLOCK’s Damnshine hug tightly on stage, with tears in their eyes:
It’s never been easy for Chinese hip hop, even now that it has gained more mainstream success and followers. At the very least, we still see these rappers hanging in there with their heartfelt, if commercial, rhymes in “Endless Flow.”
Cover image: Weibo
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