“Be a dream owner”: Chinese MC Tang King Interview
MC Tang King, born Tang Jun (唐君), is one of the most prominent hip hop talents in China. He’s known as one of the best freestylers in the country, with almost 10 years experience on the hip hop game. At the age of 17, he got to know some of most relevant rappers in Shanghai and around China, such as Shout Dogg from Bamboo Crew, Shanghai’s most important crew. In late 2003, he joined Double Poom Crew, which is, together with Bamboo, one of Shanghai’s most known crews. Double Poom is particularly significant for being the first crew which ever wrote a song in Shanghaiese dialect. Joining this crew, he learned a lot and became more confident in his skills. At age 18, Tang King signed for Sony BMG.
Always looking to prove his skills, Tang King got on the stage of the Iron Mic, the Chinese Freestyle Battle Contest. Winning many battles, he ended second best freestyle rapper in China in 2006. And then it was the birth of Red Star, Tang King’s own crew, originally composed by Tang King, Mojo and Dj Sickstar. In most recent times, Tang King together with PQ, one of the fellas from Double Poom, they created the “Back to the Golden Age” event, featuring freestyle battles, street dance contests, DJing and live shows, giving to Shanghai some good hip hop vibes and letting the culture spread. Meanwhile, he has been working on new songs which could express his point of view on modern Chinese society, speaking it out both in Mandarin and in Shanghai dialect, but always with three words printed in his mind: never give up. That’s for him the only way to be the “owner of your own dreams” and to be able to fulfill them.
On a cold winter afternoon, I meet Tang King in a crowded Starbucks in the center of Shanghai, and there I listened to his story.
WHHM: Please fill us in your story: how did get into hip hop?
Tang King: You know I was BMX rider, when I was young, so I got a lot of friends with me, some guys were listening to hip hop, some guys were listening to rock and roll, but actually I was on hip hop, I love this music, that’s what I’m talking about. So when I was young, the first time that I met hip hop was when my father brought a CD, that was Puff Daddy’s “No Way Out”, so thanks to Puff Daddy! At that time I just now that but actually I didn’t learn about hip hop at that time because I was so young. When I was playing BMX I got injured, my arm was fucked up so I couldn’t play that anymore, so I just changed my life, and so why not, you can be hip hop rapper, and I did it.
WHHM: When did you start to rap?
Tang King: Ten years, yeah, almost ten years ago, next year will be ten years of my rap career.
WHHM: What about the experience with Double Poom crew?
Tang King: Oh yeah, Double Poom, I’m still in Double Poom right now, because Double Poom is my first crew, and when I was, maybe, yeah in 2006 we got some different point of view so I quit Double Poom, so everyone started doing it on his own. But I’m still in Double Poom right now. The crew was founded by Robin. I’m just a crew member. They found me, they gave me a chance and let me do it. It’s a four rapper crew, and one r&b singer. You know Double Poom is like old hip hop crew in Shanghai and MC Robin is like the Shanghainese Rap founder I think. He developed a lot of Shanghainese rap. Yeah, Double Poom.
WHHM: And what about Red Star?
Tang King: Red Star… that three people (laughing)…, I just got a lot of memories….Red Star! (smiling) Kyle (a.k.a. DJ Sickstar) is a good producer, Mojo… he’s “real mothafucka” I think. And you know what, when we finished our first album, Mojo told us he wanted to go back in New York. You know, we just finished our first album, everything we need to promote, we need to get some shows, we need to make more money, but he fucked us. This album we did it in almost two years, we spent a lot of time, but he said he just wanted to have some good memories in Shanghai, actually he wanted to go back in the USA. He fucked us you know what I mean, we spent two fucking years, man, when we finished the first album he fucked us.
WHHM: That your first album too, right?
Tang King: Yeah, that was my first album also. And in that moment we signed for a company for publishing the album, but you know 2008 at that year was so fucked up, all the world, a lot of rich people got poor, also our boss got poor too. But we said “yo let’s do it”, because we spent two years, for this first album, but fuck Mojo, you know what I mean. That’s the bad memory in my life. But I studied a lot of things in that moment, how can I be a professional rap recorder.
WHHM: Just like you often say, jianchi (it means “hold on, resist, don’t give up”) is the most important…
Tang King: Yeah, of course, you know that’s my dream, I need to keep my dream going on, you know what I mean. I spent a lot of money for what? For my dream, that’s what I’m talking about, because I know I can make money for hip hop right now, but I want make money with hip hop, you know what I mean?
WHHM: When I first listen to “Love Shanghai” I was so impressed…
Tang King: That was like a joke, like, in 2009 me and my man Sunbiz, he’s a friend of mine and a good producer, and his company got like a mission in the Chinese government, wanna make like a “city song”, and they thought about hip hop so they asked my friend, and he said “yeah why not, let’s do it”, and when I wrote down the first verse I gave it to the government leaders and they said “yeah that’s good, keep going on.” OK? So me and my friend we still did this track. But when we finished this track, the government leaders said “ah, we don’t wanna use the hip hop song anymore”. You know what I mean? I mean, ok, but we did it right? We did this one, so, alright, let’s keep going on, and we made this video, but it haven’t got a lot of more promotion, it was just like underground track! But the song is very funny and the video, the director is from Netherlands, his name is Bas. He is a good director, like, yo, how to think to reverse the video? I mean, damn! That was fucking crazy! Than was amazing! So let’s do it! And we did it. The director and his crew are from Massive Music, the sound engineer, my friend Sonny (a.k.a. Sunbiz) he’s from Massive Music too, his boss is from Netherlands. Yeah, Netherlands people is fucking crazy! Yeah, they are really, really crazy, this idea of reversing the video let me … Wow! Like The Pharcyde’s song “Drop” video, we used the same technique. Bas let us do a lot of background shootings, something different, you can check, something different, but the idea … Wow!
WHHM: It’s should be stimulating working with this kind of people, a quite international team…
Tang King: The cameraman, Peter, is from France, and our producer actually is Shanghaiese but some years ago he move to Canada, Vancouver, so is also Canadian, yeah, so our team is really international!
WHHM: The song has a verse in Mandarin and one in Shanghaiese. Why choosing one instead of the other?
Tang King: You know the first verse is so official, but the second is different, because the lyrics of the first verse (sung in Mandarin) we need it for population, for the government, but he second verse (sung in Shanghai dialect) is totally different style, more street.
I usually rap both in Mandarin and in Shanghai dialect, Shanghai dialect is like mama’s daddy’s language, when I was young I was studying it. The Mandarin is for China, but in Shanghai, why not, that’s my mother language you know, Shangaiese, is so real, why not, I got a lot of Shanghaiese friends and I’m a Shanghaiese also!
WHHM: The government previously wanted to use the track for the Shanghai Expo, right? But at that time the Nanchang (Shanghai rap duo) they also played a hip hop song for the Expo…
Tang King: Yeah but neither that song is official, is not official. Chinese government they don’t care about hip hop right now, that not official, they just like they own shit. ‘Cause my song I think is more better than theirs (the Nanchang’s song)! For the idea. And my song is original, they just made a cover of Kanye West’s “Good Life”. Is like roof radio, is not mine, you know what I mean.
WHHM: Describe the Chinese hip hop scene
Tang King: It’s much more better than before, because ten years ago, it was totally different. People they can’t see much more, except for that they can see on the ‘Net. They just know some hip hop shit on the ‘Net, but right now we got more and more international shit, like hip hop stars they come to Shanghai. They come to Beijing, they come to China, is better, there is more people who listen to hip hop, so we can talk about it with them, talk about the real fucking hip hop shit! For me right now hip hop is like business, they made it, you know what I mean, they got culture, they got mind, to tell everybody. Biggie when he sung “Juicy” he talked about it, hip hop so far, nobody would ever though that could go so far, but is real. 20 years ago, Biggie said that. You know, actually we got a lot of Chinese hiphoppers, Shanghaiese hiphoppers who keep their dreams
WHHM: There is quite a nice scene in Shanghai, we got rappers like Young Cee…
Tang King: Young Cee for me is a good rapper, his career is longer than mine, when I was a bmx rider, he was already rapping. And you know “double rhymes”, you know his crew, Bamboo Crew, they developed the double rhymes, a way to rap, 10 years ago they use to rhyme in double rhymes. Is like American rap, so you know something like, jiabin yayun, the rhyme is the double, you got two rhymes in a line, in the last rhyme you got the double rhymes, two rhymes, you know what I mean? Is also like: jianchi, xianshi, we call it shuangya (double rhyme) in Chinese, the last two rhymes is a double rhyme, two words, also one word, this word got the two rhymes.
WHHM: Someone said that Chinese language is not good for rapping…
Tang King: It’s hard to rap in Chinese, Chinese is like no flow, you know what I mean? Just like reading, just like speaking, it got no flow. But if you can deal with it, you can get good rhymes, you know what I mean? So in Chinese rap, we can say that this flow is the Chinese old school rap flow, but right now is different, maybe ten years ago we just got one flow, and the flow was so simple, but now ten years later we got a lot of new flows for Chinese. Because more and more young bloods were thinking about oh why can’t I create a new flow? And that’s good for Chinese hip hop. So I can say, right now, Chinese hip hop golden age is coming right now.
WHHM: Yeah, I was surprised to see a lot of hip hop video coming from all over China, posted on Zhong.TV.com
Tang King: All over China we got a lot of cities which develop hip hop, they got a culture right now, they got a Chinese hip hop culture right now, is not like before, a lot of people say we copy, but we are not like before, we ain’t copy, now we create our own hip hop shit. And it’s fucking good I think. Maybe ten years later we will have the “Chinese Jay-Z”, think about, of course, is a big business if a lot of people are businessmen. I think that’s a good deal.
WHHM: “Back to Golden Age Party”, describe the event and the purpose.
Tang King: That’s me and my homie, PQ, we made it. One time, two years ago, I was chilling in my home, and I was thinking about a lot of things like, so right now hip hop parties are so boring in Shanghai, why don’t we do it? So I called my man PQ, “Yo, I need to talk with”, so I went to his company and then “Yo, you and me, right now we can do a lot of things, why don’t we do it?” So we just did it. Because we need to bring a lot of people in the in golden memory, when I was young, and the party was like many people listening to the music, dancing, there weren’t so many table in the place, you know now in the club we got a lot of tables, tables everywhere, you now more tables more money, but got not a lot of like Shelter Club (Shanghai famous underground club), without table in the main floor and more space for dancing. In those memories we listen to a lot of hip hop is like our age, so we listen a lot of, around 2000, 2002, 2005, and the party was like that. So we need to bring those parties back, so we did it. Because in that moment, in that age the party was so fucking good, a lot of people know wear hip hop style, so when the played a good hip hop song all the people started to bounce, like when playing Naughty By Nature and bam, a lot of people were like “hip hop hooray, hoo, hey”, they were dancing at every song, they could sing all the songs, I mean, so we just want the party like that again.
WHHM: Tell us about your last release “Tamen ai” (Girls love)
The song sings: Girls love Gucci, LV, Benz and BMW,
But when they meet a boy who’s making efforts they won’t take him
(translated from Chinese by Fabio Nalin)
Tang King: That song is …, you know, in these years I was making project, is like a short movie. “Tamen ai“ is the first one, and it talks about girls and why they love money, just wanna get a good life, so for the short movie, the music video I need to make three songs, this is the first one, the second one is like why the girl would change herself, in this sense.
Not to mention that girls for money can to everything,
If you want to get happiness you must have the guts
So the song is, the story is like the of when she was young, she wanted love but the love hurt her so she changed, and the last song is the girl see a lot of things about life so she gets smart, she cleans about love but everything is like, in Chinese say is kong, everything is like a dream, a bubble dream, so she want to change, she want to be a good girl, and she want to look for a good man, but the man doesn’t want to marry her, just like play her you know what I mean. That’s the movie, maybe next year I’ll figure out.
Good girls become bad, so many boys have hurt her,
China is plenty of girls who look for the rich man, not only in Shanghai
Is a story about girls, so first one, why does she love money, because love hurt her, second one, why is she in this condition described in the first song, and the last one, she see all the things, she wanna change, so she wanna look for a good boy, but the boy just say fuck that. So the story is talking about, I actually think it’s a sad story, but if you think about the story you will find a lot of society shit.
WHHM: So you think hip hop for you also means talking about society right?
Tang King: Of course, and my life, this is my life, I make all the song on my life experience, cause when I say the thing I say, actually I think maybe there are a lot of people they were thinking about, but I wrote it. And check it out next year, I’ll make a lot of fucking shit man! And actually the three song definitely I’ll write down, now I finished this one, and I’ll write down the second song, and for the third one I’m still thinking about. Is like a story man, it’s a short videos, twelve or fifteen minutes long, I’m a director so I need to make this happen!
WHHM: How hard it is to be a rapper in Shanghai?
Tang King: Actually I wanna be a full time rapper, but, you know, life is hard, life is not good right now for us, I need to make money you know what I mean. I’m party MC and host a lot of parties (at Muse, one of Shanghai’s most successful club), but actually I would like to be a recording rapper, a full time record rapper, but right now, I can’t, I have to make money, for my life you know, life is the first one, if you always fuck your life you can’t get it, you need to pay the room, you need to buy a lot of things, you need to get some food, so you know you have to get your life, if you got your life and you have time to do something else, you can calm down, and think about how to write rap.
WHHM: In the documentary “Let the dream fly” you were also discussing about it….
Tang King: That was when the college people want to do a documentary about hip hop, about dream, you know a lot of people they need this dream, our parents, actually I think they ain’t got dreams, in our age we need to talk to more people and say, you must have a fucking dream, you know, don’t be a like, is normal human thing, a lot of people they wanna get dreams but life fuck them up, so we need to tell ’em, if you have a dream, don’t give up. If you keep that, you will get it, if you give up, your dream got fucked up. We need to tell more and more people you must keep your dream, you know what I mean, actually, for me, I don’t wanna be a dream catcher, I wanna be a “dream owner”, yeah, cause you know what, you must to keep your dreams so you can be a dream owner. “It was all a dream” is like Biggie said. You know “Juicy” that song, when I feel so hard, so loose, I would listen to this song, this song give me a lot of energy, is my dream, it was all a dream, I made a tattoo on my harm so anytime I can see that, so when I feel so bad when i feel so sad, I can see that, “It was all a dream”. So keep that, be a dream owner, don’t be a dream catcher, yeah. For me I always do, I don’t wanna be a dream catcher, if you always wanna be a dream catcher you always catch them, but if you keep that you make it, that’s the successful people, you know what I mean. Yeah, so we need to talk to all the people, be a dream owner. I know life is so hard, but you have one, you know what I mean.
WHHM: What about the promotion you made for Vans? It was new for me to see a underground rapper in China promoting a big clothing brand.
Tang King: Vans…(thinking) this is for the Chinese street culture, so… why not? Let’s get it together. And the photographer is very very famous in Japan, Kenji, so famous, he’s crazy, he’s real fucking crazy, he can make model get his feelings in the photos, he will make you feel so bad and make you feel the moments of things, and catch it, he’s so good, I think.
WHHM: What kind of music do you usually listen to.
Tang King: Oh, a lot of songs. Cause, when I go to sleep I don’t always want to listen to hip hop or r&b, but I listen to lounge music, Cafe’ Del Mar, Buddha Bar… I need to chill you know! I need to go to a good sleep! And for hip hop a listen a lot of Jay-Z, Biggie, Rakim…. I’m a big East Coast rap fan. Rakim you know, is my god I think! Like rap god. And Jay-Z is my idol, I wanna be like him, because he’s a real successful man, in all the world I think. But Rakim, his skills, his flow…, damn! Nobody can, nobody can do it better that Rakim, his flow is fucking good, he made the flow. He made a lot of people know what’s the flow, Rakim he did it, you can check a lot of like old school rap, they were like Chinese old school rap too, tata tata, tata tata, you know, he made the flow.
WHHM: Is there something else that you want to say to our readers?
Tang King: Keep your dreams, go ahead, and if you wanna be just be, yeah, you can, why not, right? If you wanna be a rapper, do it, if you wanna be a good people, just be it.
WHHM: Thank you Tang King!