Chinese-American Rapper Bohan Phoenix Talks Balancing East and West Hip-Hop

Bohan Phoenix
Courtesy of Billboard Radio China

Bohan Phoenix performs at Clockenflap Music Festival on Nov. 11, 2018, at Central Harbourfront in Hong Kong.

Chinese-born U.S.-based rapper Bohan Phoenix is making some noise in the global hip-hop scene with his bilingual rhymes and fine blend of East and West elements in his productions.

"JALA" was a phenomenal hit, and his collab with Chinese rap group Higher Brothers on "No Hook" has reached over 1.2 million views on YouTube. Billboard Radio China sat down with the rising rapper at our Hong Kong studio before his debut show at Clockenflap music festival in November to talk about his music, views on cultural hip-hop and upcoming plans in 2019.

Born in China and moved to New York at 11, Bohan was exposed to hip-hop early on and cites Eminem as his musical inspiration. "I was so inspired by the movie 8 Mile and impressed by how Eminem was able to stand out, especially in an all-black environment back then," Bohan shared. "He is the gateway for so many people."

Bohan also gave shoutouts to American rapper Vince Staples and Japanese rapper Kohh. "I like artists who are different and unique," he said. "You can't get their music anywhere else but from them."

Having spent half of his life in China and half in the States, Bohan's music is unique in its way of blending the two languages, culture, and music elements. "Certain things are expressed better in a certain language," he said.

"I'm always looking for ways to add fun Chinese elements to make sure my music is not just a New York beat with Chinese rhymes. But, at the same time, you don't want to overdose and make it too tacky."

In his more recent productions, such as "Overseas," the young artist demonstrates a fine touch in balancing East and West elements. In his words, "I don't want attention just because of diversity; I want my music fresh and tasty."

Witnessing the massively increasing popularity of hip-hop in China and rise of many local talents, Bohan believes that balance is also the key. "People are realizing there's a lot more outside the West. With better platforms and more awareness, the key next step for Chinese hip-hop is to make good-quality and differentiated music," he expressed.

"Some music is still at the imitation stage and needs to develop its own sauce. When people say we need more representation for Asian artists, the key is always good music."

Speaking about 2019 plans, Bohan is listening to D'Angelo lately and would like to release more groovy and funky rap tracks. He is also looking forward to his Asia tour starting March 2019.

Check out the full interview on Billboard Radio China.