Made in China: Hip-Hop Moves East Hip-hop is huge in China, but most of what people hear is imported. Until recently, there hasn't been a real Chinese hip-hop scene and style. New spaces like The Lab in Shanghai and newly formed multinational hip-hop groups like Red Star could change all that — and soon.

Made in China: Hip-Hop Moves East

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Back now with DAY TO DAY.

American hip-hop is huge in China. It's on Chinese billboards. It's on the pop charts. It's also in Chinese advertising. But those are American rappers. Chinese rappers are getting no radio play. Jamila Trindle(ph) reports from Beijing.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Put your hands up.

JAMILA TRINDLE: It's a Saturday night in a packed Shanghai club. And two emcees from the hip-hop group Red Star are pumping up the crowd. It's part of a growing theme in China, driven both by Chinese hip-hop artists and foreigners like Morgan Jones from Brooklyn. He first came to China to study Mandarin.

Mr. MORGAN JONES (Hip-Hop Artist): I mean, you got me as a black guy, you got Chinese guy, you got one (unintelligible) and one American, Chinese-American doing stuff out here. We're trying to do something new, something different, and hopefully it'll change people's minds about the way hip-hop is seen in China.

(Soundbite of music)

TRINDLE: The other American in the group, producer Kyle Ching, came to China from L.A., chasing the China business boom. Now he's working on Red Star's first album. But he says it's for the music, not the money.

Mr. KYLE CHING (Producer): It's not really the place to come and try to make a million bucks off of selling hip-hop music. It's not the place to come to try to make money off the music, period.

TRINDLE: For one thing, it's hard to get airplay where radio stations prefer saccharine pop music like this.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHING: You hear it on the radio, you go to a mall, you go to any store and you're going to automatically hear very pop, bubblegum-pop type style music, you know what I mean?

(Soundbite of music)

TRINDLE: Former radio DJ Ping Ke quit his job after he got bored because he had to play the same music all the time. Now he has a podcast called Anti Wave: All Radios Go to Hell.

Mr. PING KE: (Speaking Chinese)

TRINDLE: On air, he goes by the name Ping Ke after Pink Floyd. He says 20 years ago when he was listening to rock music, the government wouldn't allow it on the radio.

Mr. KE: (Through translator) Before when we got noticed saying this is not allowed, that's allowed, it's all because of propaganda. But now that's not the reason. It's because of commercial reasons. For example, if I have to do this and that just because my program has a sponsor, I won't be happy, you know?

TRINDLE: And there are far fewer radio stations in China than in the U.S. because the government still keeps a tight hold on radio licenses. But Ping Ke says the Internet has changed everything. Now he can not only podcast, but also listen to radio stations from all over the world.

Mr. KE: (Through translator) Also, most importantly, the Internet is having an impact on radio. If it caused a big change in the U.S., I think it's causing an even bigger change here in China, because in the past we couldn't find out as much information as Americans. But now everybody's more or less the same because I can know everything through the Internet.

TRINDLE: Before the Internet came to China, if you wanted the latest music from the West, you had to rifle through pirated cassette tapes in back rooms. That's how Chinese DJ Gary Wang came across hip-hop by accident in 1988.

Mr. GARY WANG (DJ): I bought cassette tape from some, you know, market.

TRINDLE He picked it up because he liked the cover. He had no idea who the artist was.

Mr. WANG: I just listen. I was, wow, this is great. It was Run-DMC.

TRINDLE: Wang, now 35, recently opened The Lab.

(Soundbite of music)

TRINDLE: It's a non-profit music studio to help Shanghai develop its own hip-hop style. But he says they still have a long way to go.

Mr. WANG: Well, I would say we don't have a Chinese style yet. If you really want me to tell what is Chinese style, I can say it's the local young kids really enjoy Western things right now. And then maybe after 10 or 15 years, they become their own style.

(Soundbite of song, "Who We Be?")

TRINDLE: But in The Lab, young Chinese rappers like Red Star's Tang King are learning about music and starting to make their own claims about Chinese style.

(Soundbite of song, "Who We Be?")

TRINDLE: In this track titled "Who We Be?" Tang King proclaims his independence from American rappers like 50 Cent and Eminem.

Mr. TANG KING (Member, Red Star): (Through Translator) Adding your local style and adapting it to your country is important to make your own hip-hop. We should focus on how to combine Chinese and American hip-hop and create a hip-hop culture that really belongs to our own country.

TRINDLE: That's what Jeremy Johnson has been encouraging Chinese kids to do since he came to Beijing to study Chinese philosophy nine years ago. After giving up his studies, Johnston now raps with a group called Tin Tsang, which means concealed, as in out of the mainstream.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JEREMY JOHNSTON (Yin Tsang): When we first started, I mean a lot of people said, straight up, you can't rap in Chinese. Chinese does not work for rap. And I was like, what does that mean? They're like, Chinese is not suitable to make rap music because it's tonal. To say anything won't work, that makes me want to try and make it work even more.

TRINDLE: That's the determination that keeps Johnston making records in home studios, using MySpace to promote his music and helping out up and coming emcees like Young Kim.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JOHNSTON: Kind of like hip-hop in the golden era. It was like hip-hop was before there was a bunch of money being made, because we aren't making a bunch of money. So you can't brag about, oh, look at my chain, if you don't got a chain. So Chinese kids, they rap about what they do, you know. Most Chinese kids keep it real, which I hate to say, but you've got to keep it real over here because there's no other option. You have to.

TRINDLE: Hate the term, but that's his message for young hip-hop artists everywhere.

Mr. JOHNSON: No matter where you are, you're in the U.S., you're in Singapore, you're in Indonesia, you're in Hong Kong, you're in China, if you want to make hip-hop, do it. Do it in your own language. I mean China, stand up, right?

(Soundbite of song)

TRINDLE: For NPR News, I'm Jamila Trindle in Beijing.

HATTORI: You can watch video of Chinese hip-hop artists on our Web site,

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