Sporting old-school kicks and retro bowling shirt, an enthusiastic MC runs onto the stage and exhorts the crowd to "make some noise." A DJ and five-piece band back up his infectious rhymes about hip-hop posers.
"Of course we gonna love hip-hop. Hip-hop teaches us to be brave," Kidgod shouts to the crowd, as a cute singer with a throaty voice and hot pink high-tops growls sultrily in the warm, humid air. "If your soul is so remote from it, how can you realize the deep cultural meaning in it?"
Despite the very Western sentiments, this isn’t a performance at a back-alley club in the Bronx. This is a music festival in Guangzhou, a sprawling megalopolis in South China. Here, in recent years, Chinese rap artists have started to peek their heads out from a long-hidden underground.
Kidgod, also known as Fei Bao (a nickname meaning fat Bao, his family name), says that although hip-hop has been slow to catch on in South China, it's getting "hotter and hotter." And he should know-Kidgod is at the center of hip-hop's ascendancy in South China.
Kidgod’s general sunniness – it’s difficult not to be sucked in by that friendly face and easy smile – belies his tendency to rap with sarcasm about China’s rampant commercialism, particularly when it comes to his favorite musical genre.
“A lot of people are trying to use hip-hop to attract attention, to be cool,” he says, “but this kind of thing is not really hip-hop.”
But more than just his rhymes warrant attention. Last year, Kidgod collaborated with Li Zhe, the bassist from Chinese funk and soul group The Big Big Band. The resulting album is a fusion of jazz an hip-hop that is reminiscent of early '90s-era Digable Planets, but with a 2012 edge. And of course, it's all in Cantonese.
American rap stalwarts like Mos Def, Common, The Roots and Wu-Tang Clan first attracted Kidgod to the genre. In 2003, he and two friends - one a fellow rapper, the other a DJ -- formed Dumdue, Guangzhou's first hip-hop group and one of the first in China to rap in Guandonghua, or Cantonese.
Despite Dumdue’s critical acclaim, hip-hop largely remained an underground phenomenon in South China, even as it flourished in larger northern cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
Although his band mates vanished from the scene due to financial responsibilities, Kidgod stuck with it, juggling a day job with endless amounts of shows in tiny clubs across the country. In 2010, it finally began to pay off. He was rewarded with a new artist music award in China, even though he had been writing and performing for years. This year, the rapper has three albums slated for release, one a mix tape with more than 20 performers from all over China.
Back at the music festival, Kidgod, wearing a Guru baseball cap paying homage to the legendary Gang Starr MC, wields his swaggering stage presence. Fans spontaneously combust with arm waving and dancing, unusual for a typically reserved and respectful Chinese audience. The Guangzhou throng is eating it up, just the rest of the world soon will be.
Chinese MCs Kidgod recommends:
MC Wilber, Beijing
MC Ren, Hong Kong
Cha Cha, Shanghai
Hear hip-hop in China at:
C:Loft in Guangzhou
Shelter in Shanghai
Photo courtesy of Ashley Phillips.