After the Hip Hop variety show Rap of China season 1 went viral in China, the second season was surprisingly hard to come by.
On July 14th, the day Rap of China premiered, PG ONE posted a freestyle audio on his personal WeChat official account.
On June 24th, he posted a picture of his back with caption “DENOVO,” meaning “a fresh start.” He also commented on this post a secret code, MSYKGZHL, which means “Wechat official account coming soon.”
Prior to these two posts, PG ONE shared his WeChat official account QR code on his Weibo Story. The name of the account is “D1NOVO” and was registered under PG Dragon Culture Communication Company (Hei Pa Bu Pa Hei). Now, PG ONE has deleted all of his Weibo posts and since exited the platform, losing the single most important channel to communicate with fans.
Recently, PG ONE also posted a picture on his WeChat official account promoting his new-found fashion brand, DeeVan. DeeVan has a Weibo official account and a Taobao online store. After the Rap of China season 1 star’s sudden rise and sudden fall in popularity, it’s been really difficult for him to make a comeback.
His friend, Bi Ran, from “Red Flower Society” (Hong Hua Hui), had to obscure his association with the Hip Pop society in order to compete in the show The Coming One (Ming Ri Zhi Zi) Season 2 and deleted “Red Flower Society” (Hong Hua Hui) member tag on his Weibo self-identification. But he still drew a lot of attention from the public and was seen as a key person for a potential Red Flower Society comeback. Another rapper, Jony J, who gained popularity participating in the Rap of China last year, joined an idol variety show Chao Yin Zhan Ji only to quit the show a couple episodes in citing the reason as “my purpose for making music is too different from everyone else.”
In 2018, many rappers in China are facing hard choices.
On July 14th, after the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China posed stricter regulations on variety shows than ever before, the Rap of China was still broadcasted on schedule. This is actually great news for a lot of people, especially Chen Wei, the vice president of iQIYI and producer of the Rap of China. To him, every minute of his show delivered to the audience is even better than billions in sponsorship money.
Rap of China season 2 and The Coming One season 2 was broadcasted yesterday, proven the cancellation rumors wrong with only minor adjustments such as Li Erxin being pixelated every time he shows up. These two heavily Hip-Hop influenced shows seamlessly filled in after the World Cup ended.
After Idol Producer and Produce 101 went viral in China, the variety show market made a sudden shift towards the idol industry. Rap of China of iQIYI, The Coming One season 2 and Chao Yin Zhan Ji of Tencent Entertainment represents the competition for market share of these two video streaming platforms and the fight between Hip Hop culture and idol culture. Rap of China 2 made a huge effort to survive the regulations, the damage of the Hip Pop brand by recent drug scandals, and the market shift.
“China” became the central theme of the show
iQIYI repeatedly said that Rap of China 2 (Xin Shuo Chang) is not the second season of Rap of China (You Xi Ha).
It doesn’t matter whether Rap of China 2 (Xin Shuo Chang) is the second season of the Rap of China (You Xi Ha). There’s no doubt that the purpose of the show has shifted from bring underground Hip Hop culture into the public eye to exploring the survival tactics of Hip Hop culture in Chinese market, making Rap of China 2 a very different show. And that survival tactic is to put “China” in front of Hip Pop.
Kris Wu opened the show with a live performance of his new song “Tiandi”, the show started officially yesterday. Kris wrote it specifically for Rap of China 2 last month. And two days before its premiere, another promotion song of the show “Chinese Soul” (Zhong Guo Hun) was released as well.
Chen Wei said that the biggest differences between Rap of China 2 and Rap of China 1 is that the production team wants to showcase the hip hop culture that exclusively belongs to China in the new season, especially the spirit of these young Chinese rappers.
The word “Skr” has become popular after the show broadcasted. However, the production team emphasized that “China” is actually the key to this show. A Chinese rapper named Al Rocco, who was eliminated by Chang Chen-yue and MC HotDog because he couldn’t rap in Chinese. Whether he can advance into the second round this season also hinged on whether he can rap in Chinese this year. And that was the suspense the show left us with at the end of its first episode.
Gai, the champion of Rap of China last year, released two Chinese themed songs called <Long River> (Chang He) and <Great Wall> (Wan Li Chang Cheng) recently in March and May. It seems like “China” would not only be the keyword for Rap of China 2, but also the key to survival for hip hop culture in China.
Less “drama”, more “talent”
Besides promoting patriotism, appealing to the general public is another main goal of Rap of China 2.
Comparing to the quietness of the audition process last year, this year’s audition drew much more attention. The audition process started all over the world on April 13th. Besides Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xi’an auditions and college specific auditions, the production team also went to North America, Australia, Malaysia and other countries in search of talents. A total of10725 rappers signed up for the auditions.
The contestants this year are way more diverse than last year’s. There are not only underground rappers or idols, but also college students, lawyers, actors and chefs.
The first contestant was Duo Lei, a Tsinghua University student majoring in engineering. This rapper said in the show, “My first MV <Shui Mu Dao> was recorded and produced by Tsinghua University. I think Tsinghua is the most Hip-Hop University in China. Don’t apply to Peking University! Come to Tsinghua!”
Unlike other iQIYI produced shows, such as Rap of China 1 (You Xi Ha), Hot Blood Dance Crew, and Clash Bots (Ji Qi Ren Zheng Ba), Rap of China 2 focuses on contestants’ personalities, occupations and experiences instead of the drama between them.
During an interview by Gu Duo media, Chen Wei said “what the audience wants to see is still the competition itself and too much drama would sidetrack the show.”
The most obvious change comparing to last year is the message that no matter where you come from, who you are and what you do, you can be a rapper. However, netizens are complaining that this season is not as exciting as the last one and it’s starting to look a lot like Voice of China.
Too many familiar faces could be one of the reasons that the audience feel a little bored this season. Cyan Dragon, Al Rocco, Xin Ba are all from last season. Xu Shengen, Chen Zitong, Yang Hesu and Chen Zexi appeared in many other variety shows, such as Idol Producer, Voice of China and X-Fire.
However, as the definition of Rapper become more and more blurry, refocusing on the competition is an important and necessary step for Rap of China 2.
One-year management contract with artists
iQIYI got into the business of artist management and hoped to use Rap of China 2 as a talent discovery and promotional tool because good rappers are in high demand.
In The Coming One 2, We can’t help but notice that Hua Chenyu placed 4 rappers in his 9-member team. “I want rappers,” he kept emphasizing in the show.
The popularity of the first season of Rap of China brought hip hop culture into a whole new level. It also makes the competition much fiercer in this area. As hip hop culture become more and more popular in China, the definition of “Rapper” would become broader and broader.
Rappers have become music-related variety shows’ new favorite. Alien Huang, who participated in Rap of China last year, took part in Idol Producer this year and won one of the nine spots to debuted as a member of boy band NINE PERCENT. Another Rap of China veteran, Yamy, won 4th place in Produce 101 and debuted as member of Rocket Girls 101. Jony J was invited to join variety show Chao Yin Zhan Ji this year. The commercial value of rappers has been increasing rapidly.
According to Chen Wei, all 71 rappers who were chosen for the show have signed a one-year management contract with Hedgehog brothers, a joint venture by iQIYI and Wang Tiantian, artist director of Rap of China 2. They will be responsible for the artists’ schedules and commercial activities and share the profits with their original agency.
iQIYI planned to schedule song writing sessions for all the artists and train them in how to present themselves appropriately in public and how to promote themselves using social media. They even provide counseling for the artists.
We don’t know exactly why the contract is only for one year. Chen Wei said in an interview that they are not expecting to make much money from managing the artist for only one year. The contracts are more about having more control over the contestants and the production process. “The one-year contract gave us more confidence in the show and the aftermath of the show,” said Chen Wei.
Short-term, co-management contract is not a new territory for iQIYI. NINE PERCENT, the one-year limited edition idol group co-managed by iQIYI, haven’t had the easiest year.
Unlike contestants in Idol Producer, most contestants in Rap of China 2 don’t have a strong agency behind them, which give iQIYI an edge in bargaining power. However, many artists quit the show because of the management contract. So, we can safely assume that the one-year term limit is a compromise.
Even though the viewership is far from ideal, Rap of China 2 made it rain
As of the publishing date of this article, the first episode of Rap of China 2 has been viewed 120 million times, comparable to the first episode of the Voice of China, but far behind The Coming One 2, which was played 240 million times.
However, the popularity explosion of the Rap of China 1 made the financing process incredibly smooth for the second season, attracting twice the sponsorship investment of last year.
iQIYI didn’t disclose the total sponsorship and advertising revenue from the show but VIVO, Guazi second-hand car, Meituan, Baidu app, Darlie(toothpaste company), Toyota, Sina Weibo was advertised in it.
Up until now, Tebu, Chow Sang Sang, NAUTICA, SMFK, NBA, Debrand, Beats, RICHING drinks, Mei Wei Xing lollipop, JustPop popcorn all signed merchandizing agreement with iQIYI.
Even before the show premiered, merchandise including clothes, digital products, food, medicine etc. has already went on sale. Hip hop headphone for rappers, iREAL is on sale in JD, Tmall and iQIYI’s online store. The necklace “R!ch” is expected to go on sale in Chow Sang Sang’s jewelry stores.
Gong Yu, the CEO of iQIYI said revenues from advertisement alone can cover the lost from last season. They have no problem breaking even this year.
Besides traditional revenue streams, iQIYI is also exploring more innovative business models like streaming and membership. Also, the VIP department of iQIYI developed new program called Watching Hip Hop with You (Pei Ni Kan Shuo Chang), a commentary program of Rap of China 2 designed to make audiences feel like celebrities are watching the show with them. Another thing is that iQIYI launched iQIYI Mall and made a lot of merchandise ready for sale.
Rap of China 2 successfully navigated the tricky market condition by a series of carefully calculated steps. Individual rappers would need to do the same, because hip hop can make you famous over night and it can destroy you equally fast.
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