Created by photographer Shen Yi, The Ganghood is an ongoing portrait series of notable figures in the Chinese hip-hop scene.
A conversation is what sparked the idea for the project. He and his friends—all diehard hip-hop heads—noted how there weren’t any professional photographers in China who truly understood hip-hop culture. In the US, individuals like Jonathan Mannion, who’s shot countless iconic hip-hop albums, and Chi Modu, whose photojournalistic works documented the golden era of American hip-hop, are both distinguished photographers in the hip-hop scene. So in 2016, full of ideas and ambition, Shen Yi began shooting hip-hop shows, and he’s been continuing the project ever since then.
这个项目的启发，源于沈易和几个同样喜欢 Hip-hop 文化的朋友的一次聊天。他们觉得那个时候国内十分缺少真正懂得 Hip-hop 的专业摄影人。而在美国，则既有类似 Jonathan Mannion 这样拍了很多出色说唱专辑封面的摄影师，也有类似 Chi Modu 这样用自己镜头记录了一个黄金时代的纪实摄影家。2016 年底，沈易有机会到一些说唱演出的现场进行拍摄，这一愿景终于得偿所愿，并且将一如既往地持续下去。
When I mentioned how much I loved the Chinese title he’d chosen, Jianghu (江湖), Shen’s eyes twinkled with delight. Coming up with a title isn’t particularly difficult, but finding one that’s easy to understand and captures the project’s spirit takes some thought. “Jianghu,” in fantasy martial arts novels, is the underworld of rogues and outlaws that exists on the fringes of society—China’s answer to the Wild West. Nowadays the term can refer to criminal gangs or to any scene or subculture outside the mainstream.
“I thought long and hard about what to name the project. Some titles seemed too plain, while others seemed too pretentious. However, one day when I rewatched Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster (2013), I had a eureka moment: China’s hip-hop scenes are just like different schools of martial arts! The stars of each faction have their own distinct styles, and they even do “battle” with their music. So why not call it ‘jianghu?'” He then pauses, taking a long drag from his cigarette, but he still can’t contain his excitement.
“想了挺多，要么觉得太俗，要么觉得太装，后来有一天复习这部电影的时候，心里突然一阵哆嗦——中国的 Hip-hop 圈子岂不就像是各个武林门派？不同门派的高手都有着自己独一无二的风格特点，甚至有时还会以写歌的形式 “火拼”，所以干脆就叫 《江湖》算了。” 说到这里，沈易深深吸了一口烟，却还是难掩他激动的神情。
“In this circle, there’s an old saying: You don’t choose hip-hop. Hip-hop chooses you,” he says.
Shen’s interest in hip-hop began in 2001, the year he turned 11, when he stumbled across the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Jam.” Having listened to Jackson’s music throughout his childhood, one particular moment in the song differentiated it from all of Jackson’s other works. Unannounced, a heavyset man appears in the music video, unleashing a flurry of words and busting moves across the screen. It was the coolest thing Shen had ever seen. He later learned that the man was Heavy D, a Jamaican-born American rapper. This marked the beginning of his relationship with hip-hop. Since then, hip-hop has been a faithful, inseparable companion.
“In my young, rebellious years, hip-hop culture was a pillar of support. If my love life was in shambles or if I was having a rough time in school, it had my back,” he says, pausing for a moment in thought. “Hip-hop is like a mirror. It reflects all my rough edges. And the world you see in the mirror is really just your own reflection.”
2001 年的沈易，刚过十一岁。喜欢迈克尔･杰克逊的他，一天正在观看《Jam》的 MV，只见唱着唱着，画面里突然跑进来一个胖哥们儿，嘴里叨叨叨叨，身体龙飞凤舞。当时的沈易觉得这哥们真是太酷了，一来二去，就知道了这胖哥们儿是已故的牙买加裔美国说唱歌手 Heavy D。从此，Hip-hop 便开始不离不弃的陪伴着他，直到现在。
The “hustle” mentality of hip-hop culture is what resonates the most with Shen today. “You can interpret the word as battling against hardship or as simply a way of getting money. Hustle is when the kid who grew up in a harsh environment gives it all he’s got to shake off poverty, to shake off people’s condescension. Hustle means never giving in, never accepting defeat, giving it all you’ve got.”
Shen’s own work ethos embodies the spirit of the hustle, and he’s stuck with the project despite running into his share of naysayers. Just as his series was getting off the ground, the reality show Rap of China turned hip-hop into a nationwide fad. Suddenly, haters came out of the woodwork, saying he was just jumping on the bandwagon and that certain rappers he shot weren’t “true” hip-hop artists.
To these accusations, he simply answers, “Trends are temporary, but the spirit of hip-hop endures.”
Shen’s response is simple, but I can tell it’s genuine.
现在的沈易，似乎更喜欢 Hip-hop 文化中的那种 “Hustle” 精神。“你可以理解为奋斗，也可以理解为挣钱。就像一个孩子生在一个不如人意的环境里，然后他拼了命地努力摆脱贫困，摆脱被人瞧不起的境遇。这个不服输不认命，靠自己打拼的过程，就是 Hustle。”
沈易自己的作品就结合了这种 “Hustle” 精神。在这个项目遭到质疑时，他选择与之直面。项目刚有起色的时候，正好赶上国内的一档综艺节目《中国有嘻哈》上线。一时间，冒出了一些的 Diss（轻视、不尊重）他的人，说他蹭热度、拍的某某饶舌歌手不够真，不算是 Hip-hop。
“热度是只是一时的，而 Hip-hop 内在的精神却是经久不衰的。”
In recent times, hip-hop has spread across China, and a new wave of talented musicians has emerged. As the quality of production, lyrics, and live performances continues to improve, Chinese hip-hop is reaching new heights.
Asked how Chinese and U.S. hip-hop differ, Shen says they’re “brothers from another mother.” The essence of the culture is the same, but the local context is different, and that means that hip-hop in China has developed in a radically different direction. Replicating American rap styles doesn’t quite cut it for today’s savvy listeners. As a result, more and more unique hip-hop music relevant to Chinese listeners is being produced.
As hip-hop’s popularity in China continues to grow, listeners and artists alike are still trying to figure out its place. It’s a thrilling time, with all the excitement of a martial arts novel. And Shen is here with his camera, capturing the hip-hop jianghu.
问及中美 Hip-hop 文化有何差异，他的回答是：“同一个妈生的，不同的爹养大。”其实本质上说来，嘻哈文化都是相同的，不同的只在于国情和制度，但正因这些不同，却导致文化发展的方向和深度有着天壤之别。越来越多人意识到，照搬美国地区的那套在中国行不通。同时，也有越来越多代表我们特色的优秀作品应运而生。