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Hip hop in China

Crazy Rich Asians gives China’s hip-hop queen Vava international exposure

Sometimes described as the Rihanna of China, rapper Vava is receiving global exposure thanks to the Crazy Rich Asians film. The former Rap of China contestant’s single, My New Swag, features on the film’s soundtrack

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 10:22am

After rising to fame in China on a hugely popular hip-hop reality TV show, Vava is now receiving her big international break – and she has the film Crazy Rich Asians to thank.

The 22-year-old rapper from Sichuan province contributed to the film’s soundtrack with her single My New Swag – originally released in October last year. The song sits alongside others from the likes of 1950s Hong Kong singer Grace Chang, 1980s Canto-pop star Sally Yeh and modern Chinese jazz vocalist Jasmine Chen.

Crazy Rich Asians dominated the US box office over the weekend, beating expectations to bring in more than US$34 million since opening on Wednesday. The film opens in Hong Kong on August 23.

The Chinese rappers showing the world how cool China is

Vava is sometimes described as the Rihanna of China. She rose to fame as a contestant on the first season of The Rap of China. The reality show spread hip-hop fever across the country, leading concerned authorities to ban hip-hop culture from television for several months last year.

On the show, Vava rapped in both Mandarin and Sichuan dialect, and was the only female contestant to make it to the final four, where she eventually lost to winners PG One and GAI.

The best looks from the Crazy Rich Asians Singapore red carpet

Vava’s popularity has exploded since her appearance on The Rap of China; she has secured her high-profile advertisement deals and become a fashion icon as well as the face of Chinese hip hop across the country.

“Chinese hip hop comes from rebellion in young people’s lives,” Vava said during an interview with Esquire Singapore. “I realised all my rapper friends went through a period of insurgency and that’s when they started rapping. The generation before us were rockers, but today we use rap to express ourselves.”

Vava was born Mao Yanqi in the Sichuan city of Ya’an, in southwest China. She had a turbulent childhood and was mainly raised by her grandmother. By the age of 16, Vava had already decided to pursue a career in music, so she dropped out of school and started singing in bars to earn money for her family.

During the interview with Esquire, Vava said: “I was still learning and didn’t know how to make this my profession, so I sang covers. If I sang my own songs, I would get in trouble because back then they didn’t allow hip-hop songs.”

“When I was singing in the bar, I saw the others were just doing it as a job; they were just drinking and singing, they had no passion for it. But I was making my own music so I left … and travelled around China.”

During a visit to Shenzhen, a city across the border from Hong Kong, Vava met hip-hop producer Double G, who invited her to join his team in Shanghai. This encounter launched her career in hip hop. Double G has produced many of Vava’s biggest tracks, including Know My Style and Shady Wit Me.

My New Swag was included on Vava’s debut album, titled “21”, which was released last year.

The singer has enjoyed her breakthrough as the queen of Chinese hip hop, and her rise alongside Chinese acts such as Higher Brothers. In the interview with Esquire, Vava acknowledged the debt Chinese hip-hop artists owe to the originators of the sound in the US.

Chengdu hip hop crew the Higher Brothers vow to bring Chinese rap to the world

“Hip hop comes from the US, and let’s be honest here, we’re really just copying their style, but, in a sense, we are connected. We’re still finding our way, still creating and finding our own Chinese style of hip hop. We need to put more Chinese elements into our music. Already some rappers abroad are inserting Chinese elements into their music,” she said.