Performing on stage alongside hip-hop queen Missy Elliott is an opportunity many young American rappers would, quite literally, kill for. Yet Tsing Yi teenager Calvin Chiu Chin-shun did just that at Club Zouk in Singapore last month. The 18-year-old student and three other Asian MCs even received words of praise from the American star, who had agreed to headline the free hip-hop showcase while in town for the MTV Asia Awards show. 'I didn't get to talk to her, but it's really great that she listened while I was rapping,' effuses the mild-mannered Chiu, an Elliott fan. 'She can do old school and new school. It's so hard for a woman to break into hip-hop, but she made it.' Chiu understands what it is to be the underdog. Eminem might have put white rap on the map, but Asian hip-hop is light years behind. That doesn't stop Chiu trying to break new ground. The son of a fireman got to play the Singapore show, organised by Warner Music, as the reward for beating 11 other rappers in an MC Battle at Central's Queen's Club. Rapping in English he out-rhymed not only his Canto-rap rivals but also South Korean and American challengers. Chiu uses his second language because he believes Cantonese doesn't work for rap. Apart from the restrictions of the language's tonal structure, he could not run words into each other as American rappers do. Chiu, who is now studying English translation, has the talent but he admits it doesn't come easily. The decision also means he has his work cut out to achieve his dream of a record deal. 'I have sent some demos out, but although people say I'm good they say there is no market here because I rap in English,' sighs Chiu. 'But it's the international language and Hong Kong has a high education level so people can understand.' Chiu was 10 years old when he heard his bother Terry put MC Hammer's Too Legit To Quit on the CD player. He was hooked. Soon the pre-pubescent hip-hop head was listening to the lyrics of angry American black rappers like Public Enemy and Run DMC. 'No one knew what hip-hop was at that time,' says Chiu. 'My school friends thought I was a weirdo. All they listened to was Canto-pop.' But times changed. As Hong Kong youngsters began to discover the sound of 1990s America, Chiu's taste was moving more underground. He would find records by 2 Pac, Atmosphere and The Roots via the Internet and listen on his Walkman, scribbling rhymes in a notebook while on the school bus. By the time he was 15, Hong Kong was catching up. LMF had become Hong Kong's first hip-hop group and were gaining widespread appeal. So Chiu decided to MC publicly for the first time, alongside LMF's MC Yan, at a party at CE Top. 'It was freestyle s***,' says Chiu, 'about all the things I'd been through.' What had a 15-year-old been through? 'Stuff at school, the party scene, getting high ?' Chiu assembled his own crew, which includes his brother along with old-school turntablist DJ B - 'the DJ I respect most in Hong Kong', says the rapper. After winning last year's MC Battle, he now gets paid up to $1,000 for half-an-hour's MCing at club nights and fashion shows, although work is sporadic. While the hip-hop scene in Beijing and Shanghai is fast growing in the wake of an earlier explosion in South Korea, Hong Kong's flirtation with rap is dwindling. 'Everything's a trend in Hong Kong,' laments Chiu, although he hopes Eminem's movie 8 Mile might revive flagging interest. 'It doesn't matter if you're black or white or Asian, anyone can do it if they want to.' If you want to bust your rhymes, or hear Chiu rapping his, go to any Freestyle Friday event at Queen's.