Higher Brothers rapper Masiwei on his solo album
Prince Charming and the unpredictable future of
hip-hop in China.
Hip-hop and China have always had an interesting relationship. While the musical genre has had a strong influence on budding artists and culture fans since its global inception, hip-hop has unfortunately always taken a backseat to the more mainstream sounds of pop, R&B and classic rock. Despite its position, those who are shaping China’s hip-hop landscape remain steadfast in progressing the seemingly still ‘underground’ genre.
One of the biggest names to come out of this ‘burgeoning’ scene is Chengdu-based rap group Higher Brothers, made popular on a global scale under the 88Rising banner. While each of the four members are worthy of their own stage, group leader Masiwei has made his own headlines on his recently-released, debut solo album Prince Charming. Not to be mistaken as a band break-up or ego-driven project, Masiwei and the other three Higher Brother members have amassed so much musical material that they each need their own avenue to let it all out. Prince Charming is Masiwei’s personal vessel, and it’s as telling of the artist as you would hope. Rich with personal ethos and messaging, the album is a candid exploration of where the artist currently is in his life, all with a little help from his brothers—all of which are featured throughout. In a conversation with GREATEST, we asked Ma Shi a.k.a. Masiwei about his reasons for going solo, why he strives to share positivity through his music, where hip-hop’s future lies with China and more.
What was the reason behind your solo album Prince Charming? Should we expect to see more solo projects from you now that this is out?
[I went solo] because I wanted to do something different from [Higher Brothers]. All four of us made albums that can better express our personalities, and we have too much music to not share with the world. There will definitely be more solo works in the future.
We read that the album’s name stems from Wong Jing’s classic 1999 film Prince Charming, and how you’re trying to spread positivity to Chinese teenagers as a homage to the film’s protagonist, a “low-level punk” with a big heart. Why is it important to you to spread positivity?
Music can give off energy and affect people emotionally, just like when I watch a movie or listen to a song, it makes me feel more positive. I think this is more important than just making good music and proving that I have some kind of skill because I don’t need to prove that I can rap or freestyle anymore. For the mixtape, I may seem more casual, but this is an official album that I hope will influence people on different levels.
Since first wanting to be a music artist, have you always had the idea of working on solo projects or has this naturally evolved through your experiences with Higher Brothers and being in the music industry in general?
I always wanted to do a solo project because I’ve produced a lot of music I want to share. We are the type of rappers who keep making music non-stop. When I started rapping, I had three solo mixtapes–and then we formed Higher Brothers.
How did you introduce the idea of dropping Prince Charming to your team? What were your thoughts on how members DZknow, Psy.P and Melo, and managers Sean and Lana would react compared to how they actually reacted when you told them? Take into about KnowKnow having also released his own solo LP Mr. Enjoy Da Money. (we heard the other members will be doing their own solo projects now too)
The four of us wanted to release our solo albums one-by-one. Before I told Sean this idea, I already knew he would support us. Even if we don’t release an album, we can make a mixtape. At the very beginning, when we first started talking about the solo project, we decided each of us would make one as an exercise or practice.
The extensive tracklist features Higher Brothers in every track on the album. What was the creative decision behind this?
We just like making music. It’s as casual as playing soccer together.
Which track was the most challenging for you as an artist and why?
Every song is actually challenging because you never know what kind of surprise it will be until all of the parts are finished.
Was it a challenge trying to make your solo project sound different from the typical Higher Brothers sound—like going autotune, for example?
I’m just being myself and made the style [of music] I like. I will typically imagine what it will be like during a performance and in a music video to determine the feeling of the music I need to make.
Going back to spreading positivity, with your previously released solo track,“The World Is Yours / 天生 我材必有用,” the lyrics come across as very inspirational. Why do you feel it is important to put that kind of message out there, and why is it relevant to where you’re at in life right now?
I wanted to make a song that can make people feel excited when they listen to it at the gym or while running. If people in the same situation hear this kind of music, it will probably make them feel encouraged. From my own personal experience, when I started out as a rapper, I was rejected by others. It seemed like no one had my back, but I walked my own path to prove myself. If I had a song like “The World Is Yours” during that difficult time, it would be very encouraging to me. And so, with that, I wanted to deliver this energy to those who felt like me at that time.
When I started out as
a rapper, I was rejected by others.
It seemed like no one had my back, but I walked my own path to
Where do you see the future of Chinese hip-hop going?
There are more and more people who are interested in hip-hop. There are various shows about hip-hop with mainstream stars involved. Mainstream music in China will definitely be affected by hip-hop a lot in the future.
What’s next for you now that the album has dropped? What are you looking forward to both in and outside of music?
I want to continue making music, both as a solo artist and as part of the Higher Brothers. For me, I will hope to continue to make better music and stay optimistic, kind and positive.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY T3
INTERVIEW BY ALEXANDER LENDRUM