The beautiful struggle in a word-sensitive world with MC YAN
“The truth is very powerful.”
Recently, our editorial staff named Asian Hip Hop OGs getting their flowers as one of the trends for 2023. To help us realize that prophecy, we’re kicking off the new year with Hong Kong’s trailblazing, multi-dimensional artist MC YAN.
This man is the Swiss army knife of Hip Hop culture in the 852 – plainly put, he does it all. Yan started rhyming and tagging the city’s walls in the early 1990s, way before it was fashionable or even fathomable. He is a founding member of the pioneering Rap Metal group LMF and became the voice of a generation of local kids looking for an alternative to Canto Pop culture and polite society. He became a local icon along the way - more Bruce Lee than Jackie Chan.
As an artist he evolved from tagging walls [and allegedly the Great Wall] to laser tagging the Tate Modern in London. He has shown his work in Paris, New York, and Shanghai, and done a groundbreaking art show with New York Hip Hop legend Fab 5 Freddy. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Canto Queen Sammi Cheng to local bad boy Edison Chen – with whom he shares a creative partnership with today, as lead designer for his streetwear brand CLOT. And MC YAN isn’t slowing down. He just released a new single, ‘未謝晒 多謝晒,’ with Hong Kong singer-songwriter SERRINI and delivery app Food Panda that’s blowing up, with more than two million YouTube views in the first month. The track is a wry farewell to 2022, with funny and cryptic meanings hiding behind every lyric, in typical MC YAN style. We caught up with him from London, where he’s been working on a new project.
Yo! Happy New Year Yan! Thanks for taking the time to kick it with us and get caught up. We saw you last collecting awards at the What’s Good Hip Hop honors in Hong Kong. How’s life?
Hey, thanks for having me. Well, to live in Hong Kong and see the changes is always the most beautiful struggle. Many local musicians have left us in the past few years.
Tell us about your new single ‘未謝晒 多謝晒’ with Serrini. It’s on fire right now! Is it even a single or is it a Food Panda ad? Either way, it's racking up YouTube views like crazy. What’s the meaning, for non-Cantonese speakers?
It’s really a commercial, and the agent was clever to line up Serrini with me. We both got started making music independently, and as writers, we use a lot of local slang - I like that style. The song is about summing up our feelings about 2022, as Hong Kong is becoming very ‘word-sensitive.’ So just talking about what’s going on could get us into trouble.
Can you tell me all the artists you’ve collab-ed with over the years? You always bring flavor and perspective to whoever you work with.
It’s hard to remember since there have been so many, but some of them are beyond the wildest imagination. Big props to all these places with good people and good recording studios I’ve worked with, HONG KONG, TAIPEI, TOKYO, NEW YORK, L.A., LONDON, PARIS, REYKJAVIK, BERLIN, BEIJING, BARCELONA…etc. etc.
Since the early 1990s you’ve been inspirational to fans from the entire Chinese diaspora through your work with LMF and beyond. How did that start and why do you think LMF struck such a chord with your generation?
Simply because we tell the truth and people understand and have strong feelings about that. That’s it really. The truth is very powerful.
Asian Hip Hop has really come a long way since then. This year for the first time ever, Hong Kong had a Hip Hop awards show, led by LMF and fellow OGs 24 Herbs. Did you ever think that would happen?
Well, I always thought it would happen eventually, as Taiwan and China have given us a lot of good examples recently, like how they use their networks to promote Hip Hop – at least the surface aspects. Hong Kong people finally got to see and hear it this year.
Your song ‘Hong Kong’ with Edison Chen and Hanjin Tan is cited by many locals as their favorite song about the city. How did you and Edison link up and how has your creative and musical partnership lasted so long?
Thanks to 2Pac who inspired us to write a song about the city, for the city. Oh yeah, with Edison we always wanted to introduce new cultural tastes and new musical dimensions to our listeners, and I think something new is coming up this year too…stay tuned.
You studied fine art in France when you were younger, did you also study music? What made you want to bring Hip Hop culture back to Hong Kong?
I started off as a graffiti writer in Europe and never studied music. I feel so bad about that, but luckily my art education was mostly about expression, and I loved youth cultures so I started having fun with a few friends in the Hong Kong streets and was lucky to have met others who loved street culture, like the other LMF members, skaters, DJs, and B-Boys in Hong Kong during the late 90s.
What’s your take on the new generation of Rap artists in Hong Kong? Who are your favorites?
I am very pleased to see so many different kinds of new rappers, battlers, and storytellers. Young Queenz, all the Wildstyle guys, Young Hysan, JB, and Novel Fergus are the ones you cannot miss.
Now that you’ve found success working with a major brand on music do you think you will do more projects like this? What new projects do you have lined up for 2023?
As a frequently banned musician, I have been trying to do a lot of acoustic projects. Actually, I’m more into Experimental Music and Sound Art, things that work directly with ambiance and the environment. In 2023 I expect to share some surprising Live shows with you guys and a lot of new art projects are in the works with upcoming events in Europe and elsewhere.
Check out MC Yan featuring Serrini on ‘未謝晒 多謝晒’ below.