Chinese rapper Feezy on ‘woke’ hip hop and his new album The Weatherman

Feezy met Jiang Zige, aka Chuckzigga, at school, before they both went to the US for college, the former studying applied mathematics and philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles; the latter obtaining a sociology degree from Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, then a master’s in international relations from the University of Chicago.

Feezy is part of one of the most skilled, educated and socially conscious rap groups in China. Photo: Feezy

The two later looped in Feezy’s coursemate Xie Zitong, or XZT, formed Straight Fire Gang, and the trio has been on a roll ever since their 2018 album, These Kids Climbing Wall – the title a reference to the “Great Firewall” – on which the group addressed the nuances they have felt as Chinese citizens abroad.

The song “udA” critiques the perceived prejudice of their American peers, who seem to assume that Chinese people are less astute or less worldly simply because their access to the internet is controlled.

The trio list stereotypes about their home country and rebut them with wit. For example, in addressing the accusation that “Chinese cars are not safe enough”, they point to the fact that Swedish manufacturer Volvo, known for the safety and design of its vehicles, makes them in China.

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“When you are in the US, say, in San Francisco, you see so much robbery and poor public order – at a scale that you will never see in China,” says Feezy. “Then when you go back to China for the summer holidays, you will have to log onto a [different network] just to do your homework.”

A member of UCLA’s entrepreneurship fraternity, Sigma Eta Pi, Feezy was curious about the world of technology start-ups, and when Tencent, which owns WeChat, visited the campus on a recruiting drive he leapt at the opportunity.

“To put it simply, the job was kind of boring,” says the dean’s list recipient, who spent two years working as a product engineer at the super-app’s Guangzhou office. “When I really started working there, I felt like a tool – there was limited space or scope of work where you could actually contribute to the app, so I had a lot of free time.”

And he used that time to make beats. That start-up mentality was also what prompted his group to plan their first show – from booking a venue to selling tickets – by themselves, half a decade ago.

The Straight Fire Gang in concert. The group recently completed a sold-out tour of the US. Photo: Feezy

In January, Feezy embarked on his first six-city solo tour in China. And this month, he and his group wrapped a sold-out US tour that took them to Irvine, Berkeley, Nashville and New York – where he Zoomed in for our chat.

His latest album, The Weatherman, takes on the idea of predicting the future, with each song corresponding to a weather condition.

“A lot of my fans describe my lyrics as apocalyptic – they feel like I am somewhat like a fortune-teller and can foresee things,” he says. “I found parallels between a fortune-teller and a weatherman, where your job is to forecast the weather – I thought that was a clever comparison to my career.”

And so, almost 60 years after Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, Feezy’s 17-track body of work can be seen as a more playful extension of his 2020 release, 2098: The Apocalypse.

Feezy offers his satirical and humorous commentary on the state of Chinese social media, which, despite being different to the West’s in many ways, is similarly populated with users that enjoy controversies and exhibit attention-grabbing personalities.

“In a huge part of The Weatherman, I talked about how the online ecosystem or the online world affects the actual world, such as the ways which things that would seem absurd to do in real life are normalised when they appear online,” he says.

“It’s just interesting to see how human interaction evolves, given new technology and new online platforms.”

In January, Feezy embarked on his first six-city solo tour in China. Photo: Feezy

And while Dylan’s warnings about state power seem as prescient as ever, Feezy continues with his prognosticatory persona while experimenting with more diverse sounds. The Weatherman will soon be available on vinyl, and his past releases will also be pressed and re-released.

“Rainman”, an upbeat tune meshing electronic elements with hip hop, was inspired by a chaotic scene he witnessed at Shanghai Fashion Week, where a heavy downpour caused the well-dressed attendees all rush to leave the venue.

“I just love to see people get caught off guard – a lot of these fancy people were trying to get into cabs – kind of resonating with how so many things we see on social media are for show.”

Now, with the record behind him, Feezy’s latest prophecy is that Chinese hip hop will be increasingly in sync with hip-hop cultures in other parts of the world.

“Right now, audiences are open-minded, educated and they know their tastes … [The market] is moving closer to a mature stage, with the audience not only saying, ‘I love hip hop’, but more so, what kind of hip hop. So it’s a good thing for artists, because you know what kind of people will listen to you.”

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