For Chinese American rapper Bohan Phoenix, the subject of identity is thematically central to his music. Having spent his formative years in the U.S., the Hubei-born rapper has gained a sharp insight into both cultures that he channels through his bilingual lyrics. Bohan’s music – which often touches on positive, universal messages of love, acceptance, and pride – is a way for him to reconcile his Eastern and Western identities as well as narrow the cultural divide between the two different worlds.
Take a listen to select tracks from Bohan Phoenix below:
This cross-culture pollination has gifted Bohan a versatility and open-mindedness that’s abundantly evident on the JALA EP released earlier this year. From “EASTSIDE,” an AutoTuned R&B song with Bohan singing instead of rapping, to “NO HOOK,” a trapped out collaboration with Chengdu’s Higher Brothers, Bohan’s sound is not only reflective of his cultural influences but also of the diverse musicians who have inspired him over the years, a list that includes the likes of Jay Chou, Eminem, 2Pac, and D’Angelo. The final song of the EP, “3 Days in Chengdu,” introduces listeners to an introspective side of Bohan. Delivering the opening verse completely in Chinese, Bohan speaks of missing his late grandmother and shares an apologetic confession for not finding the time to call his mom more often. But it’s not just the intro, Chinese lyrics throughout the song display a sense of emotional vulnerability that has often been avoided in the Western mainstream hip-hop of recent years. “Being a rapper in America, there are certain things that come with it,” Bohan says. “You have to act or look a certain way and it can’t be compromised all that much. There’s less emphasis on some of the macho parts of Western hip-hop in China. But stereotypes within the genre are starting to change now in the West as well.”
在今年早些时候发布的《加辣》EP中，Bohan借助自己的跨文化背景大玩了一番。从大量Auto-Tune处理的R&B歌曲《东边》，到与成都说唱组合Higher Brothers合作的《NO HOOK》，你能感受到他的音乐受到不同类型的音乐人影响，包括周杰伦、Eminem、2Pac和D’Angelo。而EP的最后一首歌曲《回到成都》，Bohan放慢了节奏。歌曲开头以中文演绎，讲述Bohan对自己已故姥姥的思念，以及对于太少抽时间给母亲打电话的歉意。这段歌词所透露的脆弱情感，在近年来的西方主流嘻哈文化中难得一见。Bohan表示：“美国的说唱歌手，有时候会有一些不言而喻的要求，你的行为和造型似乎都要遵循某种标准，这一点你不能有太多的自由。但中国嘻哈不一样，没有像西方嘻哈中那样非要强调这种男子气概。当然，在现在的西方嘻哈，这种现象也开始改变了。”
With the recent conclusion of his JALA Asia Tour, Bohan has now officially moved back to China, and joining him is his DJ, longtime collaborator, and close friend Allyson Toy. For Bohan, this move was first and foremost about being closer to family. Secondary to that, both him and Allyson want to be involved in China’s music scene, seeing it to be a refreshing change of pace from the oversaturated music scene that left them feeling jaded in New York. “Having the courage to move back to China and experience a different side of things has been a big milestone for me,” Bohan tells us. “Howie Lee has talked to me about the Chinese Dream a lot. I feel like there have always been opportunities for creatives in China, but now there’s a bigger audience. The equivalent of the ‘American Dream’ has always existed here and right now it’s more alive and well than ever. There seems to be more opportunities now in China for young creatives.”
随着JALA在亚洲巡回演出结束，Bohan也正式回归了中国。和他一起搬过来的还有他的DJ，也是他长期合作的好友Allyson Toy。对于Bohan来说，这是一个让他拉近与家人距离的机会。除此之外，他和Allyson都看好这里的前景，可以一同来推动中国音乐的发展。与之前在过度饱和的纽约那种被慢慢淹没的感觉不一样，这里有一种耳目一新的感觉。Bohan告诉我们：“鼓足勇气回到中国，体验不同的世界，这对我来说是人生的一个重要里程碑。Howie Lee（北京的电子音乐制作人/DJ）已经跟我提过很多次‘中国梦’。我以前一直觉得在中国是有机会去发挥创意的，不同的是，现在这里有了更多的观众。‘中国梦’一直存在，但现在它比以往任何时候都更好、更旺盛。现在的中国可能会给年轻创意人才提供更多的机会。”
In a time where much of mainstream rap has become predictable and formulaic, Bohan stands out by being a rapper who can fully and unapologetically be himself, an outspoken third culture kid unafraid of challenging conventional hip-hop archetypes. “It took me a while to get over my fear of not being understood, but then I realized that I could create and didn’t have to just imitate,” he shares.”Now, I understand my music to be a reflection of self. It’s all of my emotions – when I’m happy, when I’m upset, all of my insecurities and my possibilities. My music is me.”
在当今许多主流说唱方式变得过于公式化的时候，Bohan脱颖而出，无所谓地做着真正的自己，一名不怕挑战传统Hip-hop的第三文化小孩（third culture kid）。他说：“我花了很长一段时间来克服自己对于不被理解的恐惧，但后来我发现，我也可以创造，而不只是模仿。现在，我明白到，我的音乐就是自我的写照，是我的情绪，高兴、不高兴、所有的不安全感和可能性。我的音乐就是我。”