Kris Wu on Burberry Collection, Working With Pharrell & Bringing Chinese Hip-Hop to America
Kris Wu, the multi-hyphenate entertainer, has had an active year in the States. In 2017, the Chinese-Canadian artist starred in xXx: Return of Xander Cage alongside Vin Diesel, and made an appearance in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets with Hollywood heavy hitters Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Cara Delevingne, and Rihanna. He’s balanced his music career with his silver screen ambitions, releasing catchy, melodic anthems like “Juice” and “Deserve” featuring Travis Scott to broaden his audience in America. As China continues to embrace hip-hop with the rise of Higher Brothers, Gai and his GO$H Music crew, Bohan Phoenix, and more, Wu wants to blaze a trail as a rapper who can become a star in both his homeland and in America.
Better known as Wú Yìfán (吴亦凡) in China, his early beginnings include a stint with the popular South Korean-Chinese boy band EXO. Once he decided to leave the pop group to pursue his solo endeavors, Wu tapped into his passion of hip-hop to create an experimental and futuristic sound, one that elevates his pop energy to new heights. His latest English single, “B.M.,” stands for Burberry made, a moody song that’s the sweet spot of rap’s popular tropes. It shows Wu has the talent and potential to really be a force in the game.
“B.M.” arrives as a promotional tool for his new winter collection with the luxury British brand. The 19-piece capsule collection, released this month, incorporates the 27-year-old’s personal style, featuring designs of his tattoos and lyrics from “B.M.” on each item. It’s the perfect way to share his story with new fans, building more momentum as he readies his debut album in America slated for next year.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Billboard in New York, Wu, who wore a combination of Burberry, AMBUSH, and AMIRI with a pair of Air Jordan 1 OFF-WHITE, talks about working with Burberry, meeting Pharrell and Dr. Dre, his thoughts on China’s burgeoning hip-hop scene, and more.
How did your Burberry collection come together?
I’ve been their ambassador for a year and a half now, close to two years. I’m super into fashion and I’ve been thinking it’d be kind of cool to have a collaboration. I was talking with them and they were down for it too. That’s just kind of what happened and we were like, ‘Let’s put this together.’ And I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’
They wanted this to be inspired by myself. We used some of my tattoos [on the pieces]. Some of the clothing will have lyrics on it too. For example, we’ll have a hoodie that’ll have lyrics printed on them from the song “B.M.”
What was like working with Christopher Bailey?
It was super dope. He’s just very creative and he’s very open to new ideas. For example, Burberry, they have a long history and it is a very classic brand. When I first sent the idea to him, [I asked him] ‘What type of song would you want for this campaign? Do you want like a classical, more like a slow jam, like a ballad?’ And he said just do whatever you want. Do what you feel like. And obviously I do hip-hop music so I said, ‘OK, then. I’ll probably make a hip-hop beat and make a hip-hop song.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, just do your thing.’
And he liked it?
Yeah, I sent over the track and he thought it was amazing. Just super creative, super open to new ideas. A very nice guy.
Was it a dream to always work with Burberry?
For sure. I’m super into their trench coats. I’ve been wearing them for a while. Even my mom, she loves them. Definitely working with Burberry is a dope collaboration, just a good opportunity.
Do you remember the first Burberry piece you bought?
Probably a navy blue trench coat from a couple of years ago. After I got into the industry, I got into fashion because before that I wasn’t really into fashion because I couldn’t really afford anything. After I got into this industry, and then I could start to afford them. I started to get into more of the high fashion stuff. Burberry was one of my favorites, too.
Let’s talk about your music. I see you in the same company as A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, Kanye, etc., but pushing this futuristic, hip-pop lane that’s new and innovative. You’re dropping an English album soon?
Yeah, it’s probably going to be English. Some songs I might have two versions. One in Chinese for people back home, and one version that’s English. I’m thinking about that. But for the album that’s releasing out here, it’s probably going to be all English.
Have you envisioned the direction yet? Have you defined what the sound is?
I’m still playing around with ideas. But also thinking about what else do I need. It’s close to being finished. I’m wrapping it up. I may need a couple more tracks to fill in there. In terms of the sound, it’s still going to be within the type of stuff that I’ve been doing. People are going to expect more melodic-style rapping. There might be a few, straight up rap songs too in there. It’ll be a nice blend.
Who have you worked with as far as producers?
In terms of this project, I’ve been doing a lot of work out here in the states. I have a few guys that I work closely with, so they are probably going to be on it. A lot of stuff I’m just doing myself too. I got an opportunity to work with Pharrell so maybe he’ll be able to produce a track for my album, too.
When did you guys link up?
This event in China, “Double Eleven Day.”
And you performed together?
Yeah, we performed together in China.
After that, he call you to do some work?
Before the performance, we cut the song in L.A. After I wrote the verse, he called me immediately the next day to show me a couple of beats and it just happened there.
Would you say we’re getting an introspective Kris Wu or a fun, party Kris Wu on the album?
I think both. It’s going to be something that really represents me as an artist first. This is the first album out so I want to make sure people get to know who I am and what type of sound [I’m bringing].
What do you think about China’s hip-hop scene right now? You have guys like Higher Brothers doing Chinese trap.
It’s dope. Hip-hop really blew up last year. I was doing The Rap of China, it’s like this auditioning program, and the show really blew up. A bunch of rappers blew up along with the show, and then there’s Higher Brothers, but they weren’t on the show. Yeah, just a bunch of groups and solo guys that blew up and really brought hip-hop to the next level in China. It’s good. I think as more people are doing it, it’ll make it better.
One thing about that scene is when you see Chinese artists with dreadlocks or tattoos, people think they’re imitating Americans. Do you see it as that or are they trying to modernize the sound?
I don’t see it as imitating. I think it’s more like appreciating the culture. It’s all about passion for this culture. It starts with that. Even for me, this is where hip-hop music started. If you wanted to do hip-hop music, you have to, at some level, have someone you look up to. I see it as a good thing. I think it’s dope what they’re doing or what kids are trying to do back home in China or Asia. They want to do it the right way.
You’ve talked about your passion for hip-hop and added to the conversation that basketball is the fifth element. Why do you think that comes after Mcing, DJing, B-Boying, and Graffiti?
I even think Fashion should be sixth now. They go side-by-side.
Did you get into hip-hop through Allen Iverson?
Yeah, just watching him. The way he dressed and all that. That really got me into hip-hop culture, and then I started listening to hip-hop all because of him.
You were in the studio with Dr. Dre recently. What was that about?
So I became the Beats [By Dre] ambassador, and I was at Jimmy Iovine’s party. And Dr. Dre was there so I got to meet him.
Did you guys get a chance to talk music?
Yeah, we did talk a little bit. Just briefly. I didn’t want to bother him. He looked like he was having a good time. [Laughs.] I just went to introduce myself and that was it.
You’ve talked about working with Joey Bada$$ and Desiigner. Has that happened yet?
Nah, I was going to. But that was a long time ago, so it didn’t happen. But Joey is super cool. I did talk to him. Sometimes I text him. I don’t know if there’s going to be any work in music coming up with them but Joey is a cool dude. You never know what’s going to happen in the future.
“Deserve” and “B.M.” are out now. As we head into 2018, what do you want people to take away from your music?
Just good vibes. This is something for people back home. What I’m trying to do out here, I think if I’m actually able to break through and do something out here and really be a musician and an artist that really reps China, it would mean so much to people back home. But overall, I just wanted to give people good vibes. Good music, something fresh for sure. You don’t get Asian artists making hip-hop often. All the sounds that I make, I want to make sure there are new stuff. I don’t want to follow anyone’s path or anything, I want to create my own sound.
What’s one piece of advice you would give a Chinese artist or a Chinese American artist who wants to follow in your footsteps?
I just think make good music to be honest. I think music is what makes it possible, and almost the only way to be honest. If you want to bridge the gap, if you want to break through, you just got to start with making good music and believing yourself too. Don’t try to be anyone, be yourself. If you’re Asian and want to copy anyone else’s style, people are not going to take you seriously. You’re trying to want to be something [you’re not]. But if you’re actually coming out of Asia and China, but coming out authentic with your own style and swagger, you have a better chance to work towards breaking through and I think people will actually respect what you’re doing.
It’s like when people say Higher Brothers are the Chinese Migos, but they actually got their own movement.
I’m fine with it. It’s just people enjoying and having passion for the culture. But yeah, there’s definitely a fine line between that though. You don’t want to go too much. It’s almost like you want to be black. That’s why for me, I just try to be myself. I don’t want people to see as I’m just trying to copy something or do whatever. I’m proud to be Asian and I’m proud of my music too. You just got to be real. You just gotta do it and follow your heart.