Before Bohan Phoenix, before Higher Brothers or GAI or PG One or any number of Chinese rappers, there was Miami-born MC Jin (real name Jin Au-Yeung 欧阳靖), whose rise to stardom in the rap world was stunning — and televised. As NBC News tells it:
For Jin’s fans, his meteoric rise to fame is legendary. A year after moving to New York City with his family in 2001, 19-year-old Jin found his way onto BET’s 106 & Park for the show’s weekly “Freestyle Friday” rap battle competition and faced off against reigning champion Hassan, who was well on his way to the show’s Hall of Fame.
Dressed in an oversized Enyce shirt and a red bucket hat, Jin filled his 30 seconds in the spotlight with confident rhymes (“You’ve got six victories? I wonder if this’ll hurt: the closest you’ll get to seven is the number on your shirt”) and quick jabs about his own ethnicity (“If you make one joke about rice or karate, NYPD be in Chinatown searchin’ for your body”).
Jin won the battle after Hassan failed to finish his rap, falling flat with references to wontons and sexual inexperience before throwing in the towel with 15 seconds left on the clock.
That fame led to a cameo in 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious and a record deal with the label Ruff Ryders. But Jin wasn’t quite ready for the limelight. His debut studio album, The Rest Is History, was a flop. The setback eventually led him to Hong Kong in 2008, where he would finally find long-overdue commercial success.
In 2014, 10 years after his debut album, MC Jin released XIV:LIX, whose lead single is embedded above. “Chinese New Year,” appropriately, is a paean to family; he raps:
I’m on a quest for love
That’s just part of my pursuits
No matter where I go
I’m always stickin’ to my roots
Show you my world
That’s all I’m tryin’ to do here
‘Cause for me
Every day is Chinese New Year
That message is in sharp contrast with “Learn Chinese,” the lead single in The Rest Is History, which features lines such as “Stop, the chinks be all over the game / This ain’t Bruce Lee, I watch too much TV / This is a game of death when I aim for your chest / Too much sex got me seeing slow motion…”
Perhaps because of his reformed image and his seeming desire to spit uplifting messages, MC Jin was introduced to a greater mainland Chinese audience with his appearance last year — as the masked “HipHopMan” — in the wildly popular reality TV show The Rap of China. Celebrity in the People’s Republic can have drawbacks, as both GAI and PG One can attest, but MC Jin seems determined to try to make it work. “Anything is possible,” he told Chinese media last September about hip-hop in China. “Hip-hop lives forever.”
We’d hate to think he was wrong.