A 15-minute rap celebrating the Chinese Communist Party’s centenary has been slammed by music critics and fans alike as “tasteless”.
The song, featuring 100 artists, praises the country’s achievements – such as overcoming famine, developing 5G technology and sending rockets into space. There is also commentary related to China’s place in the world. Rapper Mercy takes aim at the G7 countries – which include the US, Canada and Germany – accusing them of antagonising China.
There was condemnation for 100% when it was released on Sunday, with some music industry insiders criticising the song for trying to make a quick buck.
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Most of the artists were relatively unknown but high-profile names included Jiang Yunsheng, 26, a star of popular reality TV show Rap for Youth, and Wang Zixin from hip-hop group CD Rev. One critic called the rappers “100 slaves” for pandering to the country’s rising wave of nationalism.
Producer Li Haiqin – who also founded Shenzhen entertainment company Hip Hop Fusion which released the song – said he was “shocked and disappointed” by its reception. “Since when have rappers loving their country become a shameful thing? Or a type of ‘suck-up’ behaviour?” he wrote on social media platform WeChat.
According to Li, the inspiration for the song came from the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2019. On his WeChat post, he said the original project had involved 70 rappers but could not be completed in time.
He said he decided to pick up the song’s production for the party’s anniversary celebrations on July 1, bringing another 30 artists on board. Li did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Music commentator Eraifu was sympathetic but scathing on microblogging site Weibo, saying he understood the difficulties in producing a song with so many singers involved and the project deserved respect. “But it honestly is bad. Sorry, everyone. I just unlocked the skill of disrespecting 100 rappers at once,” he wrote.
One comment on Li’s WeChat post said the song was objectively not good, and the chaos of stitching together contributions from 100 rappers was the biggest reason for the criticism. “This many rappers crammed into a 15-minute song, what can be taken away from it? If you were serious about doing this, then create something actually good. Do not produce a song just for the sake of it,” the commenter wrote.
The nationalist track Red, a response to the 2019 anti-government protests in Hong Kong by Kindergarten Killer, was held up by critics as an example of how a patriotic rap song should be done. It was endorsed by Chinese state media and, more importantly, was enjoyed by listeners, scoring hundreds of thousands of plays on streaming platforms.
In contrast, 100% was shared on a number of platforms, including music streaming site NetEase Cloud, where it quickly attracted more than 7,000 comments. Many were deleted, but it was not clear whether Hip Hop Fusion, which posted the song, was responsible for the deletions. As of Tuesday, it had 35 comments on NetEase Cloud.
Hip hop and rap are popular in China, where some artists are household names and reality TV shows such as Rap of China generate hundreds of millions of views. However, unlike in the US – where hip hop is known for challenging authority and speaking out against police brutality – Chinese rappers are expected to maintain a clean image and refrain from criticising the government.
Cho Li-fung, a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong who researches the media and culture in China, said nationalistic sentiments and patriotic content had been on the rise, partly because of global events such as the US-China trade war and international criticism of China’s handling of the pandemic.
“It’s not that surprising to then see this kind of song, which has this strong patriotic content, as a natural response to what they see as increased tensions and hostility towards China. There’s a feeling of ‘we’re being held down’ or ‘we’re being demonised’,” she said.
Cho said the song conformed to the poetry of the hip-hop genre in its expressions of anger and sense of being treated unfairly. “For some it might seem ironic. But we can look at [rap] as being localised. It was still created by young rappers that have something they want to express, whether it be anger or pride. I think it’s important to recognise that,” she said.
The popularisation of hip hop in China also showed the party’s adaptability in co-opting new cultural art forms to reach young people. The criticism of the song was mostly about its musicality, not the content, she pointed out.
“Just like grass-roots musicians, [the party] will use any emerging or trending communications tools to try to reach their audience. This may include co-opting and mainstreaming rap as a broader effort to try to reach young people.”
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