We Sit down with Rapper Al Rocco and Zhong TV Founder Stanley Yang

Hip Hop. Rap. A subculture movement and music that spawned from black culture and originated in the 1970’s South Bronx is now global.  I got the chance to catch up with one of Shanghai’s biggest rappers, Al Rocco, and the man behind the number one provider of Hip-hop in China, founder of Zhong TV, Stanley Yang to find out a little more about the rap scene in China.

Both Stanley Yang and Al Rocco have had extreme success in their careers. Rocco is a hip hop/trap artist who has been featured on the New York Times, Worldstarhiphop, Vice China, ICS TV, Hit FM Radio, TVB, Beats by Dre “Straight Outta” and has opened and shared the stage with the likes of OT Genasis, OG Maco, and Keith Ape. He has also worked with brands like Adidas Originals, SSUR, Jamesons, Marlboro, Redbull, Jagermesiter, American Apparel, Budweiser. His biography notes, “With over a million “over-all” plays towards the end of 2015, two of his latest projects “Raised in China” & “Red Money” have been nominated top 50 albums of China by That’s Shanghai & Smart Shanghai. He was ranked top 2 artist nationwide China on the Hip-Hop charts with his single “Red Money” ranking number one on China’s Spotify and Soundcloud, Xiami, in January 2015.”

Stanley Yang runs and operates Zhong Tv. China’s 1st ever hip hop / r&b / pop entertainment division, which facilitates audio and video content to the public and is credited for bringing the digital music video wave back in 2010, to China’s hip hop community. Producing over 50 original videos and having over 60 million total views on Youku  ( Chinese version of Youtube), Zhong TV has also worked with the likes of WESC, Beats by Dre, Oakley, Nixon, Vans, Jordan Brand, Marshall Headphones, Urbanears and is responsible for discovering many up and coming artist.

My Sit down with Al Rocco

On Heroes and Inspiration:

“I fell in love with Hip-Hop in the summer of 99. I remember the day when I first heard Wu-Tang Clan’s “Ain’t Nothing to Fuck with” and I just couldn’t stop rapping the lyrics. Growing up as a troubled kid in Hong Kong, Hip-Hop was my channel to expressed the unstable and confusing pubescent emotions at the time. From rapping classics like the Chronic 2001, Illmatic to the Blue Print, I started to freestyle almost every hour of everyday with my friends and in my head. In 2003, we ran into some trouble with the law and had to leave Hong Kong. Alone in the UK at 13 was a scary experience but also one of my best experiences that changed my life. At the time Tupac was a major influence to me, that’s when I started to write poetry and learnt how to produce my own music.”

 

Origins of his stage name: “The clubs played Hip-Hop and everybody knew the legends; Dre Snoop Pac Biggie etc. When I came to Shanghai in 2012, the EDM and house wave took over all the major clubs, but since then, Trap music has steadily became more popular with other upcoming genres in new alternative venues like Arkham to support the growing underground culture. There’s definitely a growing niche group of people now in Shanghai who’s strongly in tune with the art, especially the young generation.”

 

What aspect of your life inspires your music:
“Everything. I rely heavily on my own experiences and the roller coasting emotions that I feel at the different situations in my life. Not long ago I use to talk a lot about girls, parties and getting turnt but now getting to an older age, I really appreciate real friends and providing my family with a better life more so than I used to”

Getting started in the game and setbacks:
“It’s been a long journey, even though I’ve only seriously started to pursue my career professionally less than 5 years ago, but from the very very beginning, it wasn’t easy at all. Most thought that I was crazy

Life Motto:
“You were born an original, don’t die a copy.”

Stay up on hot new music: Find him on  Instagram, Facebook, Weibo, Wechat etc @alrocco and alrocco.com


My Sit Down with Stanley Yang of Zhong TV

On growing up:

“I was born in Taiwan. My mom is Taiwanese and dad is from Chengdu Sichuan. I lived in Singapore then immigrated to Vancouver when I was around 7 years old. Vancouver back then was different. It wasn’t until Mainland’s take over of Hong Kong in 1997 did we see in insurgence of Chinese immigrants relocating to Vancouver. Prior to that there was only a hand full of Asians in our school and community. So until this day I still consider myself pretty white washed and anglicized but I’m glad we spoke mandarin at home so at least I could still say English to me was a second language.” 

On what got him interested in hip hop:

“Sports was my thing throughout elementary and high school. Played a lot of different sports including soccer, football and volleyball. But basketball was that one obsession. It was also because of my love for basketball that I started to listen to hip hop. From then the culture got me hooked. Academically I was a terrible student that just did enough to get by. Bounced around from different post secondary institutions but lost interest quick. Ultimately I enrolled in Vancouver Film School and graduated with a Digital Media degree.”

The origins of Zhong Tv:

“I initially came to Shanghai China in 2006 to work on the film Mission Impossible 3. It was a 6 month gig and I was working in the art department. Fell head over heels with Shanghai and decided to stay.  After 4 years of freelancing I was tired and felt unfilled. I knew I wanted to start something that I was passionate about but also could call my own. Took a year off, traveled around and did some soul searching. Took on a couple passion projects shooting music videos for Chinese rappers that I thought were dope. At that time hip hop was still mainly underground but I could see it growing. I knew as with any industry in China, once something catches on it, even a niche market can potentially be huge. That was when ZHONG.TV was born. The first online platform that specialized in Chinese Hip Hop Videos. Didn’t think much of how I was going to monetize or sustain. Just knew there was need in the market.”

Zhong TV is credited for starting the 2010 digital music wave in China. On rise to fame:

“Shot my first rap video for a Beijing rapper called Young Kin in 2008. Pro bono. Zero Budget. Just couple friends running and gunning throughout the streets of Beijing. Intrigued with the whole guerrilla filmmaking experience to say the least.  When I finally decided to go full throttle with ZHONG.TV in 2010 there were less than a dozen hip hop videos online at that time. It was a poor mans hustle. There was no way to eat off the game hence there were no budgets for video. Fortunately, that was when the SLR movement revolutionized the game. You could shoot high quality video with different lens for a fraction of the cost. That is the wave I am referring to. Once we popped off around 3-4 videos we started to see other rappers follow suit throughout China. They were asking us for tips and filmmaking advice. It was all love. all for the movement. Eventually we also started shooting for rappers in other cities as well. Eventually our platform was gaining so much traction and views that other rappers started to send in their indie videos for us to promote. That was the start of the curation process for ZHONG.TV.”

On inspiration to create Zhong TV:

“Everything I do spawns off my passions. Sound cliché as hell but I truly hell but I truly feel one needs to do what they love. It was just my love for the music and culture that set it off. Seeing the movement grow in places like Taiwan and Korea I knew It was only a matter of time that China caught on. Like I said before there was a need in the market online for kids to visit to views, discuss and interact. Again not a lot of thought went into the planning of ZHONG.TV. It was actually very organic. Just had this innate feeling that someone that to do this for the sake of the movement. “

On Zhong TV’s slogan, “Representing China’s Urban Youth Culture”:

“Me Urban or Hip Hop means means being creative and individualistic. Against the social norm. Following your heart’s desires. Especially in Asia / China where culturally you need to stay within the confines of what is normal. The youth movement I feel now is spontaneous, sporadic and still very much a contradiction. China is growing so fast but out of this chaos I can actually see structure or at least the beginnings of a mindset that they can call their own. In terms of Hip-Hop the message is universal. Express yourself through the culture and just do what you want to do in life. Be positive and optimistic and everything will always work out. Money can’t be the end goal or else life can get pretty damn dormant.”

On the relationship between Hip-Hop and Asian culture:

“Globally, Hip Hop has penetrated,  in some way and form every culture out there, why? I feel all the core values of hip hop connects with youths no matter where you reside. Its about the struggle, the come up, the creativity, the expression. China isn’t that closed off communists society anymore. Political rap is played out. Now its about real expression, real emotions and real talent. Thats why its so exciting. 10 years ago kids would just be into “anger rap” talking about the unjust views of the government. Now though, China has risen up. Views has broaden. There’s just so much more to talk about so much more to discuss and so much more to share.”

On being the middle man between the public and new underground hip artist:

“On Youtube if you search Chinese hip hop or china rap, ZHONG.TV dominates the search engines. I’m glad we are ranked as high as we are. I think what we do is relevant especially now because we are not only focusing on Mainland Chinese artist but also artists from Taiwan, HK and overseas Chinese. That was the goal bring all Chinese Hip Hop onto one platform. We don’t discriminate. If you put in the effort it shows and we will put you on. In terms of content, we get a lot of submissions. From videos, to mp3s to even lyrics. I personally know most of the Chinese hip hop artist in China so its not hard to see their latest works to curate through our social accounts. We also have a couple old faithfuls that scour the internet for the newest up and coming talent.”

 

Is hip hop considered main stream in China:

“Depends what you see as mainstream. Digital nowadays in mainstream. Social media is mainstream. Good music is good music and the kids nowadays can tell. If anything, whack music that gets promoted through mainstream avenues or tv channels are shunned and looked down upon within the community. Money still buys P.R which is true in any country with big media institutions. Is hip hop considered mainstream though? I can honestly say 2016 is the break out year. Just look at the all the pop stars trying to rap or changing their whole brand to HIP HOP. It’s only going to keep growing.”

Hip Hop on the rise in China:

“There has been a grass roots movement bubbling in China for roughly 15 years now. It has just recently been validated as a mainstream genre. Give it some time for maturity and it will be become the biggest youth movements in the world.  We’re not only talking about the music industry but also complimentary industries like fashion, dance, tech and entertainment as a whole.”

Up and Coming for Zhong TV:

“We are growing fast and actively seeking our 2nd round of financing. We plan to one day have offices around the world creating content on everything relating to Chinese youth culture ( not just hip hop or music ) Think VICE, MTV and COMPLEX all rolled into one. Go big or go home right?”

Be on the lookout:

“I just co-founded an entertainment company called Hot Sauce Music Group consisting of a collection of creatives ranging from veteran music producers, videographers, key opinion leaders and entertainment leaders. Our first artist is a super talented 17 yr old Chinese singer/songwriter called LEXIE who just came in top 4 on the nationwide broadcasted show KPOP STAR. Declining major record deal offers she decided control her own destiny in terms of musical taste and identity. She will debut singles and music videos late summer of 2016.”

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