Hip-hop parodist takes aim at Chinese politics and culture
No one’s spared in razor-sharp rapping of Big Daddy Dough, alter ego of a US economist, known for his breakout track Beijing State of Mind, who brings his political and cultural observation to Hong Kong after eight years in capital
Whether it’s Xi Jinping, Wang Qishan, Liu He and Leung Chun-ying, or Jay Chou, Andy Lau and Bruce Lee, no official or public figure is safe from Dough’s razor-sharp rhyming and political parodies.
Dough is the streetwear-and-shades-clad alter-ego of Andrew Dougherty, a financial analyst from the US who spent the past eight years in Beijing as an economist before moving to Hong Kong last month “for work and better air for the family”.
Last year, Dougherty released his album The Redprint, a “21-track parody mix of Sinohiphopfunkaliciousness”, filled with witty takes on all areas of Chinese culture set to the sound of instantly recognisable rap and R&B songs. “I take old-school hip hop and apply it to China,” he explains. “These are great beats, great melodies, then I add these really nerdy things about Chinese economics and politics.”
His earworm parodies come peppered with CCP name-dropping, Putonghua slang, and distillations of often complex concepts. “I try to mix in some Putonghua because I’m rapping about China and you can’t not have the local language content in there and feel relevant,” he says, adding, “And it makes it more accessible to local audiences who don’t speak English.”
Big Daddy Dough’s breakout track was Beijing State of Mind, which described the capital as a “Commie jungle where dreams are made of” – a catchy retake of Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind.
“Hop onto the subway, the smell it ain’t so lovely, But at just two kuai I don’t mind gettin’ cuddly/ I say what up to Jintao, Hu defines the in-crowd, But don’t forget Jiabao, Wen he goin’ change his hairstyle?” the verse goes.
Another of his tracks is Hong Kong, an ode to the city inspired by several years living there before moving to Beijing, based on the funk-influenced Downtown by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
“This track was written as a description of the city that represents the contradictions of China in such stark relief … a combination of East and West, authoritarian and democratic, and control with clear strains of market liberalism. It is, in many ways, what mainland China would like to evolve toward at some point,” the 39-year-old writes on his website.
The track covers not only the city’s key issues, such as property prices and even shark finning, but the main sights, starting at Chek Lap Kok before jumping on the Airport Express and giving a nod to all the city emblems, from the Star Ferry and fish balls, to Southorn Playground, hiking the MacLehose trail, and boogying in Lan Kwai Fong after hours.
From his perch up in the high-rise IFC building, Dougherty now has an eagle’s eye view of all the financial goings-on in the city, and expects Hong Kong will be ripe with inspiration for future tracks. “It’s such a unique city, there’s nowhere like it in the world. There’s a lot more that could certainly be rapped about,” he says.
Growing up playing basketball in Chicago, Dougherty was surrounded by hip hop culture as a youngster, while classical and jazz violin lessons gave him an ear for music and an appreciation of different styles.
Inspired by his love for US parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic, Dougherty began writing songs about 15 years ago on the guitar before turning his penchant for parodies to the medium of rap.
He turned his imagination to China in 2007 during the economic boom while undertaking a research project.
“During that bubble I wrote a song, the original was Runaway Love by Ludacris, and I rewrote it as Runaway A-Shares. It was about how this stock market might have a real social impact. That was my first China-related song, and was around the time I started a job as a China analyst and moved to Beijing and realised there was a lot of material there that would be fun to rap about.”
It was impossible to avoid touching on politics, he says, when Chinese politics and economics overlap so much, so political themes ended up taking up about half of the album. “Chinese politics have been so interesting since Xi came into power in 2012. Compared to the past 30 or 40 years of Chinese history, the last five years have been some of the most dramatic.”
Dougherty says he keeps his day job separate from his hobby, though he does get a lot of writing done on planes.
“When I’m at work, I’m really on. I’m not sat at my desk finishing rhymes in the middle of the day,” he says. “My process for writing parodies involves hearing a song and the chorus striking a thought in my head.”
His track Xi’s a Bad Mama Jama parodies Carl Carlton’s classic R&B hit She’s a Bad Mama Jama. “Once I had that initial chorus line, I sat down for a couple of hours and put it all together. Once I’d made that connection, I thought, this is going to be great for how big and important he is.”
Dougherty says one of the first questions people usually ask him is whether the Chinese government has acknowledged his work.
“The only interest I’ve had has been positive interest,” he says. “When we put out Beijing State of Mind, Xinhua and Global Times reached out for an interview. Although some of the lyrical content is honest and candid about some of the issues, so far it seems they look at this from a positive perspective, which was really the intent in the first place.”
After his relocation to Hong Kong, the rapper wants to find his feet in the city again and spend some time with his four children – aged six, four and two 18-month-olds – before getting to work on fresh tunes or scheduling any live shows, but he is planning a launch party “at the end of this year or the beginning of next”, the proceeds from which will benefit several music and performing arts charities.
One of the most rewarding parts of being Big Daddy Dough, the rapper says, is receiving comments from Chinese people, particularly those overseas, who praise his take on their home country, or tell him it makes them feel homesick.
“I think people understand there’s no real agenda behind this for me,” Dougherty continues. “I try to present all the different sides of each issue in a way that’s fun and memorable. The goal was to inspire and educate people about China and the China-watching community has responded pretty favourably,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “But there are probably some hip hop purists who think it’s sacrilege.”