In our second insight into China’s music scene, Tim Jonze immerses himself in the rap world, lead by Changsha’s hottest rap group C-Block
During my first day in Changsha, I was mid-way through a guided tour of the city’s sights when my host Michael unexpectedly burst out into rap. He wanted me to know about C-Block, the city’s hottest new hip-hop group who have built a fanbase around the fact they rap in the local Changsha dialect. As Michael rapped away, explaining how the group’s songs are about “not wanting to have to get up and go to work”, his friend Vicky in the backseat started laughing: “Please don’t think we are all as crazy as him!”
But I was intrigued. Who were these local, anti-authority rap stars? The next day I discovered they were playing a gig and, within a couple of hours, I magically had a ticket in my hand to see them that night at Red Live House (OK, not so magically – my main point of contact here is Ren Li, a Changsha arts and entertainment guru with an uncanny ability to make these kind of things happen).
The first thing I noticed about C-Block was the crush to get in. Queuing seemed an alien concept and I swiftly found myself being swept towards the doors in a sea of excitable Chinese teenagers. In the midst of this makeshift game of sardines I met Dingding, who spoke excellent English with an old fashioned cockney lilt, and told me – admittedly I’m taking her word for this – that she was Changsha’s first blogger, and the reason why at least half of the audience had come tonight.
Watching C-Block is riotously good fun. Pitched somewhere between a boy band and a rap act, they swing from singing what sound like a rough-edged, East 17-style love songs to rapping over more aggressive, Chief Keef-like beats (perhaps this explains the reason why their fanbase have an equal male/female split, although to be honest both genders actually seemed to prefer the more boy band-orientated numbers).
C-Block’s songs, Ren Li had explained beforehand, are about “everyday Changsha life … not wanting to work, or not wanting to be the person other people expect you to be”. Although Li didn’t think the songs have the same sense of emotional depth as some of the best US rap artists.
What C-Block lacked in substance, though, they made up for in showmanship: throwing out basketballs and fake dollar bills into the crowd, or pulling audience members out of the front row in order to get them to rap on stage. The latter provided my favourite moment of the night, when a bashful young girl was given the mic and announced: “Motherfucker!”
As I watched the young Chinese crowd waving their dollar bills in the air to the only English-word chorus of the night – “Get money money money! Get money money money!” – I was pretty sure it was a metaphor for something deep and meaningful about China’s increasing financial muscle and the ensuing materialism it generates … but then I thought: if you’re busy constructing metaphors during a C-Block show then you’re probably not doing it right.