Grime Music in Shanghai is Having a Moment

Grime scene in China

Since Drake got a Boy Better Know tattoo and started singing in slang like ‘Blem’ and calling his songs ‘Gyalchester’, grime music, previously the staple of a select few East London postcodes, is now going global. And as with anything that spreads worldwide, it’s once concentrated sound has taken on new influences, forms and ideas, as different countries and their respective cultures engage with the music in their own individual ways.

With China’s UK expat community stronger than ever, plus the emergence of a younger generation that are keener than ever to engage with current Western trends, it’s no surprise that grime has spread across to the clubs of Shanghai, Beijing and everywhere in between.

Although grime is heavily reliant on an MC’s lyrical personality to make the more prosaic beats more interesting, the Chinese scene hasn’t yet adapted their flows to the two step sound, but that lack of wordplay on tracks has, if anything, made them more diverse as a result.

 To introduce you to the heavily instrumental, sample based two step sounds coming out of China’s bedrooms and basements; we’ve collected the five producers making some of the best of what Chinese grime has to offer right now.

KiloVee

A regular at Shanghai’s influential Push&Pull label and club night, Kilo was originally into hip hop and funky, but fell in love with grime after hearing it on a night out. Although a lot of his beats are trap influenced and still retain an element of hip hop, when he plays out his sets are often packed with two step as shown on mixes for UK radio station Radar Radio, as well as experimental grime instrumentals released on Shanghai label SVBKVLT.

ZEAN

Another regular at Push&Pull, the Shanghai born producer is making more traditional grime instrumentals that have been picked up by UK radio stations like Rinse FM and Radar, the latter on which he has regular slots. His sound is heavily influenced by his native country, and he regularly uses samples from kung-fu films or Chinese wind instruments to layer his already rich sounding instrumentals. It’s getting him international attention, and ZEAN has had single releases on the American label Liquid Amber as well as Beijing label Dohits.

Swimful

A British expat currently based in China, Swimful is probably the most well known name in Grime on this list, regularly playing on Rinse FM and collaborating with international rappers like Lil B. His sound will be more recognizable to UK audiences as the classic grime sound that relies heavily on synths and simplistic yet catchy 4x4 rhythms. His last EP, Pearls, on SVBKVLT, is filled to the brim with the kind of grime instrumentals that sound incredibly reminiscent of UK grime legend Wiley’s original eski beats.

Naaah

A close friend of fellow grime producer ZANE, Naah brings a more melodic approach to Grime that relies heavily on Chinese vocal and classical instrument samples. Having started out doing trap remixes of 90’s era hip hop, the Shanghai resident has now developed his sound into something more forward thinking. As you can hear in tracks like Swim Air, he manages to create two step that sounds at once both traditionally Chinese as well as being quintessentially grime.

Howie Lee

Probably the most experimental name on this list, Howie Lee, a producer, visual artist and head of the Dohits label is something of a legend, not just in his hometown of Beijing but also nationwide. Like most of the names on this list, his earlier work, in the form of his ‘Mù Chè Shān Chū’ album, was more hip hop based, but his latest offering, ‘Homeless’, sees him dabbling with a much wider range of sonic experimentation, including dubstep and a stark, minimal grime sound. His reach is fully international, and he’s supported legends in the scene like Kode9 and Bok Bok, as well as performing his own Boiler Room set.