If anyone needed proof that Asian hip hop is a big deal today, all they would need to do is walk into a club. It won't be long before the inescapable chorus of Higher Brothers' Made in China streams through the speakers, breaking the monotony of an all-American line-up.
Yo! MTV Raps is the timely new game show that spotlights rappers made not just in China, but also in Indonesia, Korea, Thailand and all across Asia. In each episode, regional hip hop artists flaunt their flows and face off in rap battles, hyped up by DJ Kim Lee and her fellow show co-hosts Yung Raja, Joe Flizzow and Zamaera.
Here, Kim runs us through what music fans can expect from the show and why Asia's take on hip hop is much more than just a pale imitation of the Western cultural movement.
What does hip hop mean to you?
Hip hop is not just a music genre, it’s more of a lifestyle. What makes it so special is you can express how you feel in a cool way. Hip hop is everything to me, because I listened to it growing up. I listened to Tupac, because I’m from L.A. and he’s a West Coast rapper. Hip hop is everywhere.
How do you usually discover new music?
It’s a lot to keep up with, but I’m always on the Internet. Being a DJ, it’s definitely my job to know what’s out all the time. Nowadays, a new song comes out and people in the club want to hear it the next day. For example, there’s this new artist called Lil Nas X. And this sounds crazy, but I think the new direction for hip hop might be country.
Who are some Asian hip hop artists that you’ve been keeping an eye on?
I really think that Keith Ape is very talented. He’s one of the artists that people look up to, not just in terms of music but fashion too. He did shows in Paris and he rapped in Korean. I feel like when you’re able to rap in your native language and people don’t understand you, but your shows still sell out, that’s really cool. I also really like Vava. She’s from Beijing. She has a very unique style and stage presence when she performs. It looks like she was born to do this. And she's actually on Yo! MTV Raps. I'm excited for the world to see that because she's really cool.
What do you think makes Asian hip hop special?
What I noticed is that everyone really supports everybody. I'm not saying that [rappers in America] don't, but there's a lot of controversy all the time. Here, everyone knows everyone; everyone gets along. And I witnessed that during the taping of Yo! MTV Raps. That’s why I mentioned that it could be the biggest Asian hip hop show.
What was it like being on the set of Yo! MTV Raps?
It was so fun, the energy was so crazy. Through the show, I was introduced to Joe Flizzow, who’s like the Jay-Z of Malaysia. And I didn’t know Thailand has a really big hop hop scene too. I was very amazed. My co-host is Yung Raja. Have you seen him rap? He could rap in [Tamil]. I was just like, wow.
How was it like co-hosting alongside Yung Raja?
Raja is amazing. He is a ball of energy. I’ve never met anyone that talked more than me! He wouldn’t leave me alone on set. I’m like, “We’re not filming, why are you talking to me?” (laughs) Our chemistry is amazing. He really helped me on the show. He was born to do this, he’s a natural.
What can we expect from Yo! MTV Raps?
Expect a lot of excitement, a lot of really cool music and big names. We have a lot of special guests, not just from here, but from the US too. A lot of ladies will be happy that some big K-Pop idols are going to be on the show too, like Jackson Wang.
Personally, how was your experience hosting a show for the first time?
It has been a very fun challenge for me. All of this is new. Being able to just read a script was really cool. I made a lot of new friends. I feel like this is the beginning of something I want to do, which is more TV and film. I really hope Yo! MTV Raps gets to Season 2 because everyone on the show was so friendly. When we wrapped up, we almost kind of cried because we felt like we were part of an awesome team and we were creating something that could be really, really big.