Home Arts & Culture China’s Grassroots Hip-Hop Youth and the Power of “Abstract” Culture

China’s Grassroots Hip-Hop Youth and the Power of “Abstract” Culture

by cashonbank.com
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In March, a rapper known as Nuomi, or Lodmemo, captured the internet’s attention with his infectious track “Thank God, Thank Heaven.” Featuring the catchy refrain “Shady, Shady, I want to diss you” and showing Lodmemo lounging on fitness equipment, the song quickly went viral. As of the beginning of July, the music video has garnered approximately 1 million likes and has trended multiple times on social media, earning Nuomi more than 3 million followers on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok.

Nuomi is a grassroots rapper from a small town in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern Sichuan province. Before he found fame, he was representative of many in China’s overlooked corners of society: a left-behind child, a young man who grew up in a small town, and an urban migrant worker. Nevertheless, his drive to leave his hometown — sometimes with the help of his fans — and his search for success have helped him to realize his dream of becoming a rapper.

Determined to promote rap in his local Yi dialect, Nuomi entered to compete on the popular “The Rap of China” talent show earlier this year. However, during the audition, he was given a failing grade by his idol, Fat Shady, known for revolutionizing Mandarin rap with his use of Sichuan dialect. Dissatisfied with Shady’s judgment, Nuomi released “Thank God, Thank Heaven,” taking aim at China’s rap industry establishment.

The song’s online buzz sparked a surge of visitors to the accompanying music video’s modest filming location — a small outdoor gym in an old residential community in Sichuan — catapulting it to a must-see “check-in” spot among young netizens. In an added twist of the absurd, Lodmemo’s pronunciation of “diss you” in Chinese sounded to many like “Disney,” leading to the gym being humorously dubbed “Chengdu Disneyland,” after the province’s capital.

This playful moniker exemplifies the “chouxiang,” or abstract, vein of parodic, nonsensical, and ironic memes prevalent on the Chinese internet. Chouxiang culture provides an essential outlet for self-expression and solace, particularly for people like Nuomi, who may otherwise find themselves on the fringes of mainstream society.

Through conversations with Nuomi and his friends, we sought to understand their story and the online culture that has helped get them to where they are.

Contributions: Dong Kaiyan and Liu Zhuo’er.

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