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Chinese rap music

The new wave of Chinese rap music: how can brands engage with it

The Chinese rap music trend started in the late 90s when Chinese people were heavily influenced by US hip-hop. The lyrics were originally written to send a message of social critique, a form of rebellion from oppressive censorship and the limitation on self-expression. Indeed, the first rap songs were shared through illegal sites and then publicized legally, creating what nowadays is one of the most influential music genres in China.

Rap in numbers – from its popularity among younger generations to TV contests

The music market in China is extremely wide and developed, with more than 727 million netizens who used at least one streaming platform as of December 2022. Starting in 2020, Chinese rap music has become the 2nd most streamed genre on Netease Cloud, a Chinese music streaming platform developed by Netease corporation and the alternative to Spotify in China. Its popularity is also shown by the multi-purpose app WeChat. In January 2023, the word rap was searched more than 10 million times per day, reaching a peak of 111 million on the 14th of the same month.

Chinese rap music
Source: Wenxin Index, the trend of the word “Rap” from 2022/1/26 to 2023/1/25

However, Chinese rappers still recognize the younger generations as their main target. In 2022, 37% of all Chinese youngsters from 15 to 25 years old, approximately 296 million people, listened to hip-hop. Rap is generally considered a music genre for young people, especially for the huge impact that social media have on it. Rappers such as “The higher brothers” and “VAVA” have millions of followers on their profiles, allowing them to enhance their connection with youngsters, since 70% of social media users in China are under 35 years old.

Chengdu, the rap capital of China

When it comes to cities of music, Chengdu is undoubtedly considered the rap capital of China. Especially because, in 2010, the Sichuan capital became the birthplace of the collective rapper group CDC, also known as Chengdu Rap House.

Chengdu Rap House (CDC)
Source: YouTube, Chengdu Rap House (CDC) logo

It’s also considered one of the most influential hip-hop labels in China and the main supporter of the famous Chinese rappers’ group “Higher Brothers” during its early days. The popularity of the “Higher Brothers” band increased the fame of the CDC. The unique characteristic of this group is the fusion between the Sichuanese dialect and mandarin in their lyrics. The main objective of the group is to underline the aspects of living in Chengdu and to share their culture with the world, also trying to avoid the strict censorship of the government caused by the topics of the lyrics.

“Rap of China”: the launchpad for Chinese rappers

The TV program “Rap of China” is one of the main causes which allowed rap to develop a huge fanbase across the country. The show was first aired in 2017 and registered more than 100 million viewers within 4 hours. In 2019, the Chinese government accused the show of objectifying women and promoting the use of drugs, thus tightening control over the program. As a response, the rap contest changed its Chinese name to “China New Rap” and incorporated more Chinese elements to avoid further problems with censorship.

As of the 25th of January 2023, the hashtag “rap of China” (#中国新说唱) has more than 25 billion views on the social media platform Weibo. Furthermore, starting from the 27th of December there were peaks of more than 540,000 searches daily.

China New Rap
Source:, daily searches on “China New Rap” from 2022/12/27 to 2023/1/25

Most known Chinese rapper: Higher Brothers is dominating the charts

“Higher Brothers” is one of the most famous hip-hop groups in China. Born in Chengdu, Chinese rappers accumulated up to 1.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify. In 2017, their fame crossed Chinese borders thanks to the hit “Made in China”, whose popularity rapidly grew worldwide. As of 2023, the song has more than 25 million views on YouTube.

The band is part of the Asian-American rap collaboration “88rising group”. The label was founded in 2015 by Sean Miyashiro and its main objective is to increase the popularity of Asian and Asian-American hip-hop artists. The Higher Brothers group represents the bridge to link Chinese and American rap. As a result, the lyrics in their videos have both English and Chinese subtitles.

Higher Brothers' Made in China Chinese rap music
Source: YouTube, an example of English and Chinese lyrics in the music video of “Made in China”

Source: YouTube, an example of English and Chinese lyrics in the music video of “Made in China”88rising also allowed the Chinese rappers to launch their album “Five Stars” in 2019, featuring some big names in the American rap scenes such as Denzel Curry and Soulja Boy.

The participants of “Rap of China” in the Chinese rap music market: the case of Gai Zhou and VAVA

The TV show “Rap of China” has contributed to launching some of the rappers who have become big names in the Chinese hip-hop scene. An example is Gai Zhou who is one of the most famous Chinese rappers. He was the artist who won the first “Rap of China” which was broadcast in 2017. In 2023, he is followed by more than 53,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

VAVA: the “Chinese Rihanna”

VAVA is one of the most famous female Chinese rappers. She has almost 150,000 monthly listeners on the platform Spotify. She has also participated in the first season of “Rap of China”, making it to the final round, but coming in 4th position. Born in a small town near Chengdu, she is labelled as the “Chinese Rihanna”. She began to produce and sing rap mainly because she wanted to prove that female rappers are as worthy as male ones. With more than 7 million followers on Weibo as of 2023, she is also actively engaged in activist movements such as “black lives matter”. However, due to her opinions on these topics, her social media profiles are under strict control by the Chinese government.

Chinese rappers outside the music market: how can brands collaborate with them

The success of rap music in China represents a huge opportunity for fashion brands to gain popularity in the wide Chinese market. Chinese rappers are launching collaborations with the most famous worldwide fashion labels. For instance, the hip-hop artist Jackson Wang and Fendi, an Italian fashion brand. In 2019, he announced a big collaboration with the label called “F is for fun”, which was promoted in the city of Chengdu. At the time, he was already a Fendi ambassador, but in 2021 he became one of the official Men’s collection spokespersons of the brand in China. His Weibo fanbase of more than 30 million followers also helps the brand to promote new outfits and products to the Chinese audience.

Not only luxury brands, but also streetwear

The streetwear market has also been influenced by the rap scene; an ever-increasing number of western brands are using Chinese rappers to gain recognition. The rising interest in streetwear products is enhanced by TV shows such as “Rap of China” and “Street dance of China”. The shows appeal to the younger generations, who are also promoting rap and streetwear fashion through social media.

Chinese rapper, Jackson Wang and Palm Angles collaboration
Source:, Jackson Wang and Palm Angles collaboration

Rappers are also collaborating with major fashion brands to create their products. In 2021, apart from the partnership with Fendi, the rapper Jackson Wang also announced his own streetwear collection in collaboration with Francesco Ragazzi, the designer behind the Italian brand Palm Angels. Their partnership has the main objective of uniting both Italian and Chinese cultures, as an example of the two worlds coming together.

“Why not!”: the Rap Alliance was created by the Danish beer brand Tuborg

The clothing brands are not the only ones to exploit the increasing popularity of Chinese rap music. In 2022, the Danish beer brand Tuborg announced the “Why Not!” rap alliance, which also features the famous Chinese Rapper VAVA. The collaboration aims to create a different interpretation of the street culture in big Chinese provinces such as Sichuan, Henan, Xinjiang and even in the metaverse. The group’s first single was published in August 2022 and was called “Wild West”. In 2023, the hashtag “Why Not rap league” had more than 1.4 billion views on Weibo.

“Why Not!” Chinese rap music alliance
Source:, “Why Not!” rap alliance created by Tuborg

To conquer the pool of young fans, the beer brand has also launched its own music festival starring the rap alliance. They also collaborated with the show “Rap of China” by organizing freestyle rap competitions.

Chinese rap music, the new frontier to conquer the Chinese market

  • Starting from the first years of the new millennium, Chinese rap music is increasingly gaining popularity.
  • Since 2017, the TV show “Rap of China” represents the way in which Chinese rappers gain popularity. The program’s fame is increasing year-on-year, especially among the younger generations.
  • Chengdu is commonly known as the rap capital of China. Not only for being the home of the Chengdu Rap House but also to be the birthplace of some of the most famous rappers in China.
  • Higher Brothers’ music crossed the Chinese borders and became popular worldwide. VAVA and Gai Zhou are only a few of the other Chinese rappers who made their own names in the foreign market.
  • Streetwear and luxury brands such as Fendi and Palm Angels are developing an increasing interest in Chinese rap music, considering the artists as the key to enhancing their profits in the Chinese market.
  • Tuborg also tried to collaborate with the most important names in Chinese rap music, especially after the launch of the “Why Not!” rap alliance.

Author: Lorenzo Linguerri

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