Close-up: Dragon Tongue Squad

The Chinese hip-hop crew know what's needed to get a Communist Party rocking
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Hip-hop is not the first genre that springs to mind when thinking of Chinese music. But the Mandarin branch of the art form is growing, and Kirby Lee, an MC signed to Dragon Tongue Records (pictured far left with fellow Squad members Crazy Chef and J-Fever) is the genre's poster boy.

Lee, from China's Yunnan province, got his first taste of hip-hop eight years ago, at the age of 16, from a CD passed to him by a French journalist. "I loved the rhyme, the beat and the way the rappers expressed themselves," he says. "I used to be the kid on the subway with his headphones on, saying only a few words. But because of MCing I'm becoming more open. I've also had a few girlfriends because of hip-hop – I think rapping makes me a charming boy."

Although his parents did not approve of his chosen profession (they'd prefer that he, like them, work for the government), Lee pursued his dream to became a DJ and, in 2002, he signed to Dragon Tongue. "But I wasn't happy just standing behind the decks," he says. "So one night in a Beijing club I grabbed the mic and started to MC."

Lee's demo CD, however, was never released. "I have seen a lot of corruption in the government, so I rapped about that, about reality," he says. "My label couldn't release those kind of lyrics. In my released album I rap about a happy life, about girls, how to get money, sex and sneakers."

This week, when Lee performs in the UK for the first time, it's not just the freedom to say what he wants that he's looking forward to: "I'm going to do a lot of clothes shopping. I want to buy stuff that no one else has in Beijing."

T he Dragon Tongue Squad with DJ Phat and Suki Mok, Thursday and Friday, 8pm, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020 7304 4000, For other China Now events, visit