Behind Chinese rapper Psy.P’s musical and culinary quest in New York [Interview]

Behind Chinese rapper Psy.P’s musical and culinary quest in New York [Interview]
via Grace Chen
Michelle De Pacina
By Michelle De Pacina
December 29, 2023
After delivering an electrifying NBA half-time solo performance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Nov. 26, Chinese rapper
He was on a mission for something quintessentially American — the classic hot dog. Along with Grace Chen, founder of Graceful Media and producer of MetaMoon, we walked through the bustling corridors of the arena, weaving through excited fans and crew members. He had just sung his hit songs including “Lucy Liu” and “Chanel” for his first ever NBA performance. The 29-year-old rapper was invited by the Brooklyn Nets to perform for their annual Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Night. 
“When I go to different cities or countries, I treat myself to food after shows,” Psy.P, still riding the high of his performance, said with a grin. 
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Nets
However, as we scoured the arena, it seemed that fate had a different plan for his post-performance culinary adventure. The hot dog stands had closed, leading us to the Crown Club dining area instead, where the luxurious atmosphere contrasted with the high-energy performance we had just experienced. Here, we were welcomed with a lavish spread of veal, steak and pasta. Psy.P’s eyes lit up, and the anticipation returned, this time for a different kind of culinary experience. He took out his phone and handed it to Chen, who then filmed him as he tried each dish, commentating on its quality and flavors. Chen, who organized his half-time performance and his solo debut concert at Nebula New York on Dec. 3, had pretty much become his manager for the evening as well.
He loved the steak, but the pasta, which Chen thought was a bit spicy, was actually too sweet for his taste. “I’m from Chengdu, where food is very spicy, so this is nothing for me,” he says.
Although Psy.P travels the world for his career in music, he started creating short food vlogs in July 2022. He shows me his Douyin page as a food influencer, where he has racked up over 300,000 followers. 
“People say they can only see me on stage and on music videos acting all cool and playing the part of an artist. People said they wanted to see me eat food. They think it’s funny,” he smiles. 
He says that his food vlogs create a bond with fans, making him more accessible. Fans find it amusing to see a glimpse into his everyday lifestyle and environment. 
“He’s also quite funny, so when they see these videos of him enjoying the food and just being himself, they like it. He would make food recommendations to fans, and his followers would go and try those restaurants as well,” Chen adds. 
In the dimly lit restaurant, Psy.P shared with me his culinary preferences, noting his love for Korean and Japanese food and his dislike for cheese. He likes spicy foods, not sweets, but he would treat himself to unprocessed ice cream once in a while. Also, no soda nor alcohol for him. 
Photo courtesy of Chiu Pok Kwan
Psy.P started his music journey at the age of 22, inspired by the rap community in Chengdu City. Encouraged by a rapper friend to play around with some lyrics and beats, he initially thought his first song was “trash,” but he continued honing his skills. 
Psy.P, whose hip-hop artistry was influenced by American rappers T.I. and Lil Wayne, eventually joined the rap collective Chengdu Rap House in 2011 before teaming up with three artists — KnowKnow, Melo and MaSiWei — for the group “Higher Brothers.” 
“One day in the studio, we were trying to come up with a name. China has an electronic brand named Haier. And we wanted to be at the top, so we thought ‘Higher,’” he recalls.
His group rose to fame for their songs written in a mix of standard Mandarin, Sichuan dialect and English, such as “Made in China,” “Black Cab” and “WeChat.” Higher Brothers signed with 88rising in 2017 and later embarked on a tour through Asia alongside Joji and Rich Brian. Psy.P believes that the pronunciation of certain words in Sichuanese sounded similar to English, giving their flow a unique sound. 
Being a member of the Higher Brothers, which has gained international recognition, has motivated Psy.P to strive harder. Seeing that people worldwide are listening to his music, he feels a responsibility to represent Chinese pop culture globally. He tells me that he is propelled to work diligently and create better music to share his culture with a wider audience, noting that their listeners have learned the meaning of some Sichuanese words because of their music. He says Higher Brothers even became promotional ambassadors for the Sichuan province, helping spread their culture to other regions.
While the hip hop group has made three impactful albums as a group, they felt the urge to diversify and express themselves individually. Although they plan to reunite again, for now, they want to pursue different interests and explore their own unique styles.
Photo courtesy of MetaMoon Festival
Psy.P, for instance, is considering experimenting with punk, aiming to try various music genres and continually share new sounds with fans. He draws inspiration for his solo projects from movies, friends’ stories and personal experiences like breakups. For example, the song “Lucy Liu” was inspired by the Hollywood movie “Charlie’s Angels,” which stars the actor of the same name. Witnessing Asian representation on the big screen had a profound impact on him, leading to the creation of a song that celebrates women empowerment and Asian representation. He says he’s never met Liu, but she knows about the song and follows him on Instagram now. 
“Please call us for a collaboration,” Chen says while Psy.P enthusiastically laughs and agrees.
Looking ahead, Psy.P also dreams of collaborating with American and Asian artists such as Lil Wayne, Drake, Travis Scott and MC Hotdog. He reveals that he is currently working on new music, where he is incorporating “interesting topics and themes,” with the hopes of intriguing new fans. In navigating the global music landscape, he believes good music transcends language barriers. He feels that expressing Chinese heritage in music extends beyond traditional instruments, emphasizing that lyrics can also convey elements of Chinese culture.
Photo courtesy of Nebula
A week later, I met with Psy.P and Chen once again for his solo debut concert in the city. Although he was nervous, I knew once I heard the crowd buzz with anticipation and excitement that he was yet again going to deliver another electrifying performance. I watched him hype up what seemed like a tired crowd at about 11:30 p.m. on a Sunday night at the Nebula night club, amazed by his effortless power to pulsate his energy through the crowd. Through his show, I realized his popularity is not solely propelled by his musical prowess but is equally attributed to the genuine passion that radiates from him. His real self shines through the authentic connection he establishes with his audience, whether that may be a connection forged by his sincere love for music or for food. 
From his food vlogs to taking the stage, Psy.P’s authenticity becomes the catalyst for his success. Fans are drawn not only to the beats and rhymes but to the person behind the music — someone passionate, relatable, humble and unwaveringly real. When I asked him what he hopes to accomplish in his career, Psy.P says, “I want to be the top rap star in China.” And I don’t doubt that he will achieve that. 
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