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Today Yao Chung-jen is known as “The Godfather of Chinese Hip-Hop” and “The Dr. Dre of China.” But back in high school, he had a less grandiose nickname.
“I was so tall and skinny, they called me ‘Hot Dog,'” says Yao, through his manager and translator. The name is with him today, despite his rise to legendary status in the world of Mandarin hip-hop: meet MC Hot Dog.
In the late ’90s in Taiwan, he was one of a handful of people making hip-hop, but in the past few years, the genre has infiltrated mainstream Chinese culture. “It was underground until three years ago,” says Hot Dog. An American Idol-style competition show called The Rap of China launched the genre into the spotlight—and Hot Dog, who starred on the show as a mentor and judge, into the stratosphere. His notoriety is impressive, considering that his explicit lyrics have prevented his albums from being distributed in Mainland China; even when he won a Best Mandarin Album at the Golden Melody Awards, his performance of the winning tracks were not broadcast.
His biggest hit may be the poppy “I Love Taiwan Girls” from 2006 (sample translated lyric: “You are my Coca-Cola, ease my thirst / Look my clothes and then you see that I am a rapper”), but his latest album, Loser, released back in July, is poised for commercial and critical success too, incorporating ample pop-culture samples and his signature rapid-fire rhymes that have been honed over two decades of hustling.
Hip hop itself has evolved since Hot Dog started rapping 20 years ago—not so different from here in North America, really. “Back then it was really drums and bass, but now it’s more melodic, with different sounds,” he explains. Hot Dog writes for himself, heavily influenced by American sounds. “You’ll find elements of g-funk and soul, which is similar to what was happening in American hip hop, but I’m just doing it in Mandarin.” He’ll listen to indie artists on YouTube (“To be honest, I can’t remember all the kids”) and put on Eminem’s latest for inspiration. It’s a global melange of influences for one of the country’s biggest musical stars.
His current North American tour is his first since 2004—he’ll be at the Vogue on Friday, March 27. Why the 16-year break? Hot Dog turns to his manager and laughs. “Good question!”
Tickets available here.