The last Chinese rapper to make much headway in hip-hop was Jin Au-Yeung, otherwise known as Jin, a Miami-born performer who managed to ridicule every known cliché of his heritage with the debut single "Learn Chinese" yet earned a fair degree of credibility. China's No 1 hip-hop crew, Dragon Tongue Squad, on the other hand, aren't likely to follow suit.
The Beijing trio aim to keep it real by rapping strictly in Mandarin and mastering the bravado-inspired mannerisms of rappers across the world. Kirby Lee fits the mould of the ladies' man who's smoked a bit too much of his own machismo, Crazy Chef's got a mean mug (like Ice Cube in his heyday), and J-Fever is the tag-along hypeman who takes centre stage every now and again – with lots of hand-waving, finger-jabbing and clumsy dance steps.
But looking the part is never enough, and 15 minutes into the show, London's premier display of Chinese rappers (part of the Five Circles Arts Festival) turns out to be a rather underwhelming experience. In their small selection of songs, Dragon Tongue Squad focus on hip-hop, haters, relationships, and, er, Chinese food. This last is served with less self-deprecation and more pride, as the whimsical backing track and lyrics suggest: "We've prepared this song as the handy guide for your convenience to take you to the real Chinese food world!"
The threesome mix their delivery with occasional spots of English. Lee greets the audience with a "Wassup London!" in the best street-cockney accent he can muster, before launching into the bubbly "Dragon Tongue-ism", backed by beats reminiscent of the golden era of Nineties hip-hop.
His flow follows a predictable rhythm, but isn't half bad – and when he leads "Dope Kid Kirby Lee" with the gimmicky call and response "When I say Kirby, you say Lee!", the crowd are willing participants. Their freestyle collaboration with DJ Phat and the guitarist Suki Mok – "something fresh between real Chinese and British Chinese", Lee jokes – is enjoyable, and Phat slips in classics such as Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones Part 2" and Dizzee Rascal's "Fix Up, Look Sharp" to aid the group's raucous verses. But there are one too many banalities at this gig to make Dragon Tongue Squad capable of serving any more than a decent night of karaoke, worthy beats and all.Reuse content