Classical allusions in Chinese hip hop

What happens when a subculture crosses over into politically circumscribed mainstream culture? How do artists strive for authenticity and make a meaningful cultural contribution when their music is decried as being at odds with local norms and tastes? These questions are prompted by the recent popularization of rap music in China via the hit reality TV talent show The Rap of China (Zhongguo you xiha中国有嘻哈). Funded and produced by the Chinese video platform iQiyi (爱奇艺), this repackaging of the South Korean tastemaker and talent incubator Show Me The Money represented significant exposure for a genre that had existed for many years as an urban subculture with little mainstream impact. In commercial terms the show was a success, and it is now into its third season. However, it is the inaugural season that represents the more revealing case study on creative strategies in the Chinese context because at the time there was little guidance on what was permissible. Since the state’s censorship regime encourages circumspection by sketching deliberately vague guidelines enforced post-hoc, everything about the show’s inaugural season was a “calculated risk”. After the first season the state responded with clear guidance on acceptable content, and numerous changes in produc- tion were made: the word “rap” was removed from the Chinese show title; performers were forced to cover up their tattoos and to adopt lyrics more actively supportive of the state. In short, much of the experimentation and boundary testing that was possible during the first season has been replaced with familiar modes of circumscription that prevail across the Chinese entertainment industry. Full paper here