Friday Song: Bohan Phoenix is the rapper we need - SupChina

Friday Song: Bohan Phoenix is the rapper we need

China-born, Brooklyn-bred Bohan Phoenix is an artist with true crossover potential, able to use the unlikeliest of mediums — rap — to bridge East and West.

妈妈说你是不是不要脸 
身上都是纹身所有人都看得见 
我说妈妈等你儿子赚了钱 
看你在不在乎这么一点点

— Bohan Phoenix, from “Product” (一模一样 yīmúyīyàng)

Bohan Phoenix is a product of his environment, as he tells us in “Product.” And what is his environment? Yichang, Hubei Province, where he was born as Bohan Leng; Chengdu, where his family lives now, “the root of me,” he says; Brooklyn, where he moved to at age 11, and grew up in while sporting a do-rag and listening to Eminem and 2Pac.

These aren’t questions. He is all of the above, which makes him one of the most interesting young rappers working today.

Bohan occupies a rarified and privileged — though very much earned — place among Chinese artists: He is able to use his medium to deliver messages guaranteed to be heard both in China — where hip-hop’s popularity is surging, with groups like Higher Brothers and shows like The Rap of China leading the way — and the U.S. — which desperately needs fresh Asian voices and influences in the mainstream. “Every day, I’m in the same boat as you trying to figure out what’s the best way I can use my voice,” he says in this interview with Bandcamp Daily. In response to a question about addressing stereotypes of Asian rappers, he says, emphatically, “I’ma talk about it. I’ll start a conversation. I think starting a conversation is the best way, rather than directly putting someone down.”

“I guess I had some struggles with my identity,” Bohan says in an interview with Magnetic Magazine. But despite changing his nationality — he holds an American passport — he never severed his Chinese connection. After releasing his EP Jala (加辣) in January this year, Bohan intensified his search for roots — 根 gēn, as the Chinese would say — even moving back to China to be with family. “As a teenager, I always thought my ethnicity would be a lifelong hindrance in the West, but now with grown eyes, I’ve realized if anything my ethnicity and my identity make me strong and proud.”

Bohan Phoenix fully embodies both his environments. Far from being a “Product” — the song’s Chinese name, by the way, 一模一样 (yīmúyīyàng), translates literally to “exactly the same” — Bohan is a producer. He is able to speak with both sides of his identity to both sides of his identity, and subvert expectations both home and abroad — wherever home and abroad might be. You should listen.

(Also give “No Hook” a try — one of Bohan’s collaborations with Higher Brothers. In China, home to cringeworthy hip-hop-as-propaganda, these guys are a necessary reminder of what is real.)


Friday Song is SupChina’s weekly sign-off. Let us know what you thought of the week that was in the comments below, or email editors@supchina.com.

The full lyrics to “Product” are here, on the rapper’s website. There are no translations to the Chinese parts, but we have you covered.

说我的中文不好
说我的风格奇怪
说我离开*的太早
到底是哪里的小孩
说我为什么不像所有其他的人做的一模一样
为什么要一模一样
到底什么叫 – 自由理想
到底什么叫 – 敢作敢当
到底什么叫 – 国际化用逻辑的话我来打个比方
不怕陌生 不怕实验
不怕尴尬 你的世界

say my chinese ain’t good
say my style is oddball
say i departed too soon
child where exactly you from
say why don’t i do exactly what all other people do
why should i be carbon copy
exactly what is freedom and ideals
exactly what is dare to act, dare to be
exactly what is internationalized, if speaking logically let me give an example
unafraid of unfamiliar, unafraid to experiment
unafraid of embarrassment, your world

i switch it back for the grand finale
mothafucker just so you don’t forget its lovelove 

妈妈说你是不是不要脸
身上都是纹身所有人都看得见
我说妈妈等你儿子赚了钱
看你在不在乎这么一点点

mama says so ya really don’t want face
tattoos all o’er yer body everybody can see
i say mama wait till your son makin’ money
see if you still care one bit bout this little bit

*离开 on the website is mistakenly written as 出国.

Anthony Tao

Anthony is the Asia managing editor of SupChina. Follow him @anthonytao

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *