○ Chinese rapper was condemned by government and media for promoting drug use and insulting women in his songs
○ China hopes to transform local hip-hop into a positive influence but will punish those who cross the line
Upon hearing a web-wide condemnation of rapper PG One for promoting drug use and insulting women in his songs, Wang Zixin (aka "Chuckie") quietly logged into the official Weibo account of his rap group and wrote a post saying "The freedom of music should stand on morality and laws. Humans should restrain their lust instead of indulge endlessly …"
He also included a screenshot of a previous interview of PG One, where he commented to media that Wang's rap group Chengdu Revolution (CD Rev) has "a strong background," saying determinedly that he will never do "their kind of rap."
When PG One made that comment, he was the winner of video platform iQiyi's hit talent show The Rap of China. Starting last summer, he began receiving tremendous attention across the country along with numerous gig offers.
This all quickly changed a couple of days before New Year's Eve, when netizens found his lyrics included lines such as "pure white powder in a line" and "a shameless bitch, with restless hands."
Then came a storm of condemnation from government institutions and the media via Weibo. They each said PG One "doesn't deserve the stage" and "should be forced out." PG One apologized and said all his songs were taken offline for further review.
"I was deeply influenced by Black music in the early days when I was exposed to hip-hop culture, and I didn't have a correct understanding of core values of hip-hop culture," the singer said on his twitter-like Sina Weibo account, adding that hip-hop should be about peace and love.
Furthermore, a discussion on whether Chinese hip-hop should be restrained ensued on social media. "It is more important to think about how hip-hop culture should be guided than to criticize individual singers," the People's Daily wrote last Saturday.
In reply to PG One fans, who said the condemnation is internet violence, Xinhua News Agency replied, "As a public figure, if he has correct values and sets a positive example for fans, who would criticize him?"
In stark contrast to PG One, CD Rev came into the public's eye last year with the endorsement of the China Communist Youth League (CCYL). Controversy and suspicion never left them, as many questioned whether hip-hop, which was originally created to depict oppression and rant against injustice, can also be used to promote the government and spread "positive energy."
Rap with Chinese characteristics
Even before cooperating with CCYL last June CD Rev released controversial songs that clearly distinguished themselves from other rap groups.
At the beginning of 2016, a Taiwanese musician made pro-Taiwan independence comments, rousing widespread discontent. Outraged, CD Rev recorded "Force of Red," attacking Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's current leader, and the Western media.
Then in June, CCYL released a new track by CD Rev on its official Weibo account called "This is China." The four-minute English-language song claimed to restore the image of China distorted by Western media. The lyrics came from a discussion Wang had with another member, who said he felt the ignorance of Westerners toward China when he was interning in a foreign enterprise.
"This is China/We love the country/ … The red dragon ain't no evil/But a peaceful place/The beautiful land with rich culture remain," lyrics read in part.
In recent years, the Chinese government has attempted to use lighter and more fashionable means to reach out to and guide its younger generations, who easily tire from endless preaching and serious reads. CCYL, for example, started using Weibo and video site Bilibili, both where many young Chinese congregate.
Wu Dezu, head of CCYL's new media department, said in an interview with Chengdu Economic Daily, "[CD Rev members] have direct and plain feelings toward the country, it's the young people's own expression. Instead of saying this [cooperation] is government-led, you can say we mix well with young people."
Wang, 24, told the Global Times the cooperation came as a sheer coincidence. Their song This is China had already been written when a friend leaked the track to someone at CCYL. The organization liked it and wanted to create an MV.
The rapper said he doesn't see such cooperation as "kowtowing" to the government, as their songs all stem from their hearts. "Our values match a part of the government's mainstream values, so we are willing to cooperate on some levels," he said.
"We don't participate in all their events, we are not an art troupe and we are not hired by them. We never received a cent for 'This is China,'" Wang clarified, adding that CCYL even agreed to leave in some "negative parts" such as pointing out China's pollution and food and drug safety issues, making him feel the cooperation was built on friendly grounds.