Once I managed to find hip hop culture in Hong Kong, I felt like I’d never left home. Before travelling to Hong Kong, South Korea and Tokyo, my knowledge of hip hop in Asia went as far as Keith Ape’s viral hit ‘It G Ma’. So I landed, half expecting to see packs of HypeBeast kids wearing clinical masks. However ‘on trend’ I felt I was in London, travelling to Asia made it clear to me I didn’t know shit. Or at least didn’t have the courage to experiment with clothing. I arrived in Hong Kong wearing my Reebok Fury Pumps only to find out this trend had circulated across Asia for the past two years. After spotting an elderly man practicing Tai Chi in air max 95s, I realised Asia’s shoe game was different.
Within a month I felt like a local; I’d found my top rice noodle spots around Kowloon. If I wasn’t at work, I was on the bus riding through the city at night listening to Frank O’s new album and taking in the skyline views. I’d often stop at the basketball court outside my apartment block to ask the local boys if I could play. The evenings were warm, everyone was chilled and I’d stopped surveying the passage of time. During my year in Hong Kong, I was totally free.
My first interaction with the country’s underground music scene was at YetiOut’s MACHINEDRUM event. DJs on the night included CYBER69 of Russia and Arthur Yeti playing back 2 back with Leo to end the night. Standing at the bar, listening to them mix a couple of BBK tracks together, I was sold. Ever since that night, I would follow them to different events.
XXX Gallery soon replaced Dalston’s Visions; The grungy club/gallery is located in an industrial district on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Screenings held at the gallery were well attended, with films ranging from George Orwell’s 1984 to Space Jam. Entry was free and you could bring your own food and drink so it was a good pre-gaming spot for any late-night events.
I was lucky to be in Hong Kong towards the end of 2016 and early 2017 as two soon-to-be dominant collectives were formed and began hosting regular hip hop events at XXX Gallery. The ‘Dragon Town Trap House’ consisted of the WILD$TYLE rap crew and Tedman Lee, a resident DJ. Their policy was ‘trap music only’ and all of a sudden these young kids were exposed to a new genre of American trap, which had been foreign to many of them. We were then introduced to the ‘Mean Gurls Club’ in January 2017. The all-female collective came with a similar vibe to London’s ‘Pussy Palace’ and ‘BOSSY LDN’ – with lots of pink, as female DJs remixed trap beats, clapping back at the usual male-dominant panel of DJs.
The formation of creative collectives like the Mean Gurls Club of Hong Kong and Bae Tokyo as well as more dominant collectives across Asia like YetiOut, worked as an enabler. They bridged the gap between overseas artists by enhancing additional exposure to UK talent as well as introducing more niche genres of music that are still in development, such as Tokyo Grime and Korean Trap. Both London and these hot spots across Asia (Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul), support and benefit each other in their individual relations with hip hop and its culture.
I asked James of XXX Gallery if he had any idea as to why people across Hong Kong gravitate so much to hip hop, to which he responded, “I believe that hip hop culture is part of popular culture which is fundamentally black culture. It is felt and heard all around the world. It manifests itself in many forms, in many industries both directly and indirectly. I feel that hip hop culture has always had a rebellious quality, not unlike punk culture of 1970s UK. It’s something that the youth in Hong Kong embrace as it’s become a vehicle for them to channel their emotions and generally express themselves. Not to mention the “cool factor” that comes with hip hop.”
How would you describe your position within Asia’s hip hop scene?
Asia’s scene is definitely on the come up at the minute with lots of people focusing on rising talent like Higher Brothers, Gosh Music, Young Queenz and shout out to Hong Kong via Shanghai rapper Al Rocco doing his thing. Despite mixed reviews, The Rap of China reality TV show is giving a lot of local rappers a stage to perform to one of the world’s biggest nations. We do play hip hop at our parties but I guess the broader term is bass music, so we’ll mix the UK stuff with the aforementioned artists to make something unique to our background. At a Yeti party, you’ll probably hear Old Skool UKG cuts mixed with Cantonese rap.
Where can we reach you?
S.U.S.B. does a monthly Yeti Out show on Hong Kong Community Radio but we got random mixes from Berlin Community Radio, Rinse France, NTS, 8ball Radio, Radar and collabs with Kitsune and Sonar on our Mixcloud / Soundcloud
This is an extract from Issue 8, The Nomad Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here. Buy physical and digital copies here.
Photos and Words by Yassmine Benhalla