China's daughters and sons don't get the rhymes I spun
But I guarantee ya that we party til the sunrise come
A diplomat, for hip hop's international relations
An expat on China's hip hop radio stations
Getting China's peeps to swerve out—get the word out
Get ya to curse loud, singin' a verse out
They might not understand what I say in Wuhan
But in Chengdu and Guangzhou they clap they hands
They all give me love, plus they give me hugs
See if I can stand da baijio, if I'll stumble much
Thus thru blurred eyes what I see is pretty much pure
These kids' hearts is golden, that is pretty much sure.
—Blingman AKA Mancub AKA Kaprishus AKA TipDef
Yo, have you ever seen 45-year-old Chinese businessmen strip off their collared shirts and ties, throw them to the crowd and jump onto be-dancing-poled stages to rock their pale little bodies? Though the mental image might be unpalatable to some, for a live performer like myself, the sight is truly awesome. And how many times have you seen a female Chinese club owner shower the crowd with bottle after bottle of champagne? How many times will you see Chinese people lining up at the stage for free long pours of whiskey—walking away cheering as much to their drinking prowess as to their whiskey-saturated clothing? How many times has a Chinese girl, looking like she weighs less than 110 pounds, challenged you to drinking, not a cup, but a full pitcher of mixed alcohol? How many times do you see a whole crowd repeating after the MC "Spank me baby!" and collectively spanking each other's naughty little backsides? This I have seen, and more.
How have I found myself in such spots, you ask? Well, you see, I'm among the few touring foreign MCs in China, and I've rocked tha house as MCs Kaprishus, Blingman, TipDeft and Mancub in over 20 cities around China. There aren't many of us foreign MCs around, but you might see us here and there. We're usually sponsored by a major liquor brand—J&B Rare Scotch, Smirnoff, Absolut and others—though some of us are also part of the music communities in the Chinese cities we call home, such as the Shanghai scene that's home to Redstar and MC Showtime. Now, there are pros and cons to being a fly MC in a country where the crowds don't understand a word you shout at them, and below is a little list I've assembled while on the road in China. I present it here as a precautionary tale or solitary wail (excerpts from a future prison confessional?).
Pro:People never really understand what live MCs are saying no matter where you are, but in China, oral exercises to improve your diction are finally unnecessary! For example, I no longer practice repeatedly saying "red lorry, yellow lorry" in rapid succession while fellating an inflatable baseball bat (an ingenious exercise of my own invention).... I'll miss you, inflatable baseball bat ... kinda. "Wed lowwy, yellow lowwy." Geez, my diction's already starting to slip ....
Con: It's really embarrassing when the crowd can see how crappy your Chinese is! I think you'd go a little red in the face if you were faced with the same situation. I was trying to get the crowd hyped about the sexy girls dancing for a RMB 10,000 prize, but my foreign accent, grammatical shortcomings and "so poor" vocabulary were met by a sea of puzzled expressions and silence. What I said probably amounted to "Look! Here are four girls! I have 10,000 applications for cheap Chinese classes I've yet to use! So Everybody Go Crazy!" Yeah, cue the chorus of crickets. Not the highlight of my MC'ing career.
Pro: The next part of the set was four of those sexy dancers grinding themselves on me. Well, that put a smile on everyone's faces!
Con:You don't actually get to see much of the cities you perform in. Case in point: Qingdao, a seaside resort town anyone who doesn't currently have either skin cancer or a morbid fear of the ocean would definitely want to check out. But does an MC get to see it? Of course not. And who's fault is that? Certainly not the MC's, and certainly not the promoter's (there's always a few hours between 5 a.m. when you leave the clubs and 11 a.m. when you board your plane to enjoy a sight or two). It is, of course, the fault of the loving locals. You see, one of the pros of being a touring MC in China is being the recipient of an incredible amount of love from the crowd.
Pro: The crowd gives you mad amounts of love. You wouldn't guess it from the way people shove each other with blank faces in the Shanghai subway or on a Beijing bus, or from the way they refuse to intervene in scuffles between old men fighting for a cab, or the way they fail to help an overburdened old woman cross the street, but the love is there in abundance. Sure, sometimes I think that the love I receive isn't always so pure and that, rather, it's cynically offered as part of a ruse to see yours truly get drunk enough to cause irreparable property damage to the hosting venue (sorry, stained glass club signage!), but judging by the open smiles and welcoming arms directed at me, I would say that the love was, in fact, unblemished by guile of any form.
As for said drunkenness, I guess I should take some responsibility for it. Partly it's the result of my Titanic-style approach to intoxication ("I'm unsinkable!"). But that's what you get when you down four bottles of Korean Soju with the DJ before the show even begins (DJ Kill, I will get you back!). And that's what you get when you visit every single table in the entire club and "gambei" with them. That's the entire club twice, folks. The result? Well, you miss your cues, for one. Fortunately, any DJ worth his salt will only let an instrumental track run for half a minute before deciding that enough is enough and mixing in the next song. I guess I can claim as one mini-pro the development of a liver of steel, with the concomitant mini-con being a slight yellowish tinge to my skin ... hmmm, wonder if I should worry about that ...
A mixed pro/con of never-been-this-wasted-before-in-my-entire-life levels of drunkenness is the loss of motor control, depth perception, balance and judgment of what is culturally appropriate (I'm stone-cold sober as I write this, I swear). Even after launching myself clear over the stage in an attempt to leap on it and landing instead on the table of a young Chinese couple and spilling—or was it breaking?—everything on it, the manager still enthusiastically asked how much it would cost to bring me back. Just as it was with Belle and her beast, love overcomes all shortcomings. Love is awesome.
But hey! I'm not the only clown in the house! Don't wag your finger and disapprovingly cluck at me just yet! You see, another big pro of being on the MC circuit is getting to see the Chinese really cut loose, a behavioral set often too elusive for many foreigners to be acquainted with, as, obviously we're all too aware of the prevailing bashful/conservative stereotype of the Chinese. Seriously, how often do you see girls on the actual bar countertop shakin' their tail feathers, how often do you see young Chinese men grab the microphone and croon "Ooohhh! I love you is so very good!" When I see people losing their inhibitions and living in the moment, it's just beautiful. Unless, of course, the moment involves explosives....
Con: Ridiculously hazardous, pre-arranged party antics. Does anyone else here share my opinion that industrial-strength fireworks should not be set off indoors? Ha ha. Well, here's another part of the MC-in-China experience: brushes with death. Some say that staring death in the eye (visions of my burn-covered body, wails of agony unabated by multiple morphine injections—oh the horror!) are an integral part of every person's life journey. I agree, and I'm glad that one of these occurrences (which I seriously hope stop happening with such worrisome frequency) happened to me while MC'ing. Here, the situational awareness of one square-bodied, Chinese-commando-force-worthy security guard is what saved me from sure disfigurement. Climbing on stage to deliver yet another cry of enthusiasm to the crowd, I was violently pulled off just in time to see a vicious geyser of chemical flame engulf the space just occupied by my face.
Pro: Being cradled like a damsel in distress, saved by a squarish Chinese knight-in-dark-security armor. Don't think it's a pro? Well I'm charge of the story, so I get to say that it is! Thanks, muscley-Chinese-knight-in-dark-security-armor-man!
Con: Too much love. Yes, from time to time, this is possible. I reward the craziest, least inhibited partiers in my show with large, fake diamond-studded bling chains, making a big show of bestowing the bling upon them and "crowning" them as kings or queens of the party. (Yo, it's nutty how badly some people want a 22-kuai piece of plastic bling!) I had one older gentlemen (again, completely twisted and shirtless) smiling, his eyes totally unfocused—his slovenly lack of coordination reducing his movements to that textbook, drunken, slow-motion kind of shuffle—yank one of my bling chains right off my neck. What stands out as being most bizarre is how slowly it all went down, and how easily the chain broke (well, considering the 22 kuai price point, maybe not so bizarre...). The man's simple smile—evidence of a thought-stream reduced to processing just one base desire at a time—faded. He stared at the broken necklace in his hands in dismay. He looked up to me, wide-eyed and innocent, and tried to give me the broken necklace back. I laughed. It's all yours, buddy!
Pro: For the love of Chinglish! Some of the English songs I hear sung by live Chinese vocalists get hilariously corrupted. Take for example Guano Apes' "Open Your Eyes." First, take away the ability to properly inflect the sound "z," and combine that with faulty recall of kindergarten phonics classes. Then, accidentally switch the long "I" sound with the short "A" sound and what do you get? A chorus that could solidly anchor any number of chart-topping techno club bangers:
"OOOPPPEEENNNN YOUR ASSSSSS!!" x 8 (remember to squint hard and sing with passion!)
Poor guy. Of course, he was oblivious to our snickering. Sadly, he was even more oblivious to the fact that he'd probably rule Ibiza's gay scene for a full six months were he cognizant of his own (unwitting) potential. Heck, filter his voice to sound like a cartoon and he could probably rule all of Europe for twice that long!
Pro: Sorry, I'm out of Cons. I've been to about twenty-odd cities thus far, hugged a whole lot of sweaty strangers, been doused with alcohol and blinded by spotlights all over the country and the next pro is simply the opportunity for fun, frank exchanges with a wide variety of Chinese people, an opportunity I wish more of the jaded foreign crowd could share. Though the expensive-club sample of Chinese people I'm referencing here can't accurately represent Chinese society in general, I'll venture to say that I doubt my sample is too far off the mark. The people I've had the fortune to meet have generally been warm, friendly and willing to experiment, even if it means getting in a little bit of trouble.
Having partied with all these people, from Shenzhen to Tianjin, I've been privileged with a view into an interesting tension, the natural human desire for free expression and experimentation pulling against the socially inherited mores that dictate adherence to conformity and conservatism. All it takes for a self-conscious, suit-wearing guy to turn into a booty-shaking maniac with his tie wrapped around is forehead is one other buffoon to show him how it's done. Yeah, I'm that buffoon, and I can proudly say that I do my job well. Though I can't claim to have single-handedly turned the social trend towards development of a generation of insatiable party animals, I think I can take pride in having contributed to a worthy cause. For this, I'm thankful for the imperfect medium of hip hop, which, for all its sexist and hyper-capitalist imperfections, has still had a palpably positive influence on China. It's helped liberate people's sexuality (yes, grinding with complete strangers can be really fun!), and the world-conquering rhetoric—inherent in its million variations on the theme of ghetto-pimp turned industry-ruling king—really resonates with a generation of Chinese, arguably the first generation, seeking to really assert themselves as individuals.
Obviously China is changing rapidly, but I think that if that change includes the open-mindedness, self-confidence, warmth, and overall good humor that I've been privy to, then I think that, culturally speaking, China's heading to good places.