It's not an exaggeration to say that MC Yan is the godfather of Chinese hip hop. When he returned to Hong Kong in the early 1990s, after living for seven years in Paris, he became one of the first people to rap in Cantonese, taking advantage of the language's natural richness and capacity for wordplay.
In 1993, he joined LMF, a group of musicians and MCs whose hard-edged lyrics excoriated Hong Kong's government and raised questions about the city's post-colonial identity. In 1998, LMF released its first album, which went on to sell more than 100,000 copies, a rare feat in a music industry dominated by major-label Cantopop idols.
After LMF disbanded in 2003, MC Yan followed his own path, working on conceptual art projects and music in his studio near Sha Tau Kok. He's still deeply involved in Hong Kong's fledgling hip hop scene, collaborating with underground MCs like Ghost Style. Mainstream hip hop groups like FAMA give MC Yan and LMF credit for inspiring them.
Slam Poetry by MC Yan
English Translation by Thomas Lee
// CAUSEWAY BAY
I greet the beats of this hectic street.
They say drop the cars and use your feet.
Archaic trams meet chaotic vans.
They cram the roads into sardine cans.
Thieves fill these streets; they say buy,
just buy, even if your wallet is dry.
That's what this store represents.
It pays the world's highest rents.
So small it looks more like a stall
selling snacks - nothing more.
Nothing halts this human stream.
Unless the red man blinks red beam.
To top the race you've got to plot
with the market and don't get caught
cheating at the top spot. You've got
to go rogue and let your soul rot.
So buy a lot and you'll help stop
all problems because, forget not,
to buy is to solve all problems.
We buy so we have no problems.
This is Central, Hong Kong's heart,
the gold mine where dollars start.
See how busy it is here? Stay clear
of sharp stares, of steps hurrying near.
In this gold mine, you'll be fine
if you take hits, learn to cut in line.
Everything here is well designed
by the British, so refined,
like the opium sliced at the time
when the Chinese smoked the grind
till we lost our mind, and signed
two treaties to leave Hong Kong behind.
Life happens; life changed fast.
As the two world wars passed,
We had a new boss; we had a blast.
Riding ups and downs we amassed
wealth and western pride at last.
Then a new boss came with a new cast.
Now we are lost. Our kids call quits.
What's next? Who has the foresight wits?
Our rights to speak - don't breach.
The people's view - don't bleach.
Hong Kong lives free by our freedom of speech.
// WEST KOWLOON
Where I am used to be the sea
which old luxury condos used to see.
Now the sea has no place to be.
It turns to land, then the gold runs free.
And what comes next shocks this emcee:
A Cultural District building spree.
As if arts can be built on a spending spree.
How can culture trickle down to us?
We buy culture but we own a fuss.
Arts will rise, the officials claim,
but with the odor of money shame.
You starve, or you sell out at this game.
Where is Hong Kong going in art's name?
Polluted air, water and earth.
What we need is a total rebirth.
Lose the lies that wrong our worth.
Reclaim our flavor, reclaim our turf.
I ask you to self-deceive no further.
Copy no other, then we will prosper.
Hong-Konger is Hong Kong's own savior.