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Unlike South Korea and Japan, he says hip-hop may have never taken root in Hong Kong because there has been less influence from American culture. South Korea and Japan both have American military bases with military personnel stationed there. In contrast, he says Hong Kong was a British colony and has been more influenced by British and European art and culture.

Making music in Hong Kong is one thing; making a living from making music in Hong Kong is another. MastaMic works with other artists and for commercial clients. He says clients put many constraints on the work, such as the content and length. While fulfilling his clients’ demands, MastaMic insists on keeping his style in every product. “Why are a lot of raps in other advertisements screwed up? Because they only listen to the client.”

MastaMic is perhaps best known to general audiences for his popular annual music series, Rap Up, which he started in 2008. It consists of a “wrap-up” track that summarises the key news and developments of the year. Rap Up has been well-received but also attracted criticism for being a bit stale in recent years. He dismisses such barbs, explaining that outsiders cannot understand the difficulties and limitations as they are not involved in the process.

It takes MastaMic a month to complete his opus. He has to sift through a mountain of news and decide what to include. Then he has to describe each item in around two sentences – including the what?, where?, when?, who? and why? , as well as adding his own comments. On top of that he has to keep tabs on the speed and length of the track, and how that will be perceived by listeners. There is a lot of work involved in each Rap Up and next year will probably see the last in the series.

16 HK Rap Up’s cover
16 HK Rap Up’s cover

“I decided a few years ago that I would do 10 of them … to be honest I’m beginning to feel a bit bored and well, I think I’ve achieved something in looking at the changes in Hong Kong over 10 years,” he says. “I feel I shouldn’t let it become my own comfort zone.”

He adds that Rap Up is not produced with a hip-hop audience in mind, or any particular age group, and that for MastaMic is the point. For him, hip-hop is many things to different people – it can be gangsta rap, it can be socially conscious, it can be about love and peace. He says hip-hop is a culture that can be expressed in different ways depending on the creator of the words and music.

In his upcoming album, he wants to put a popular spin on rap music, make it easier to listen to for the non-purists. “In the past, I tried make popular music ‘hip-hop-ised’, now I want to make hip-hop as a kind of music more popular,” he says. He reveals there will be some gospel elements as well as tropical house.

MastaMic gets his inspirations from everywhere. He says he has always loved to think deeply about a variety of subjects since he was young. For instance, he used to question why you have to pay for textbooks when the authors did not discover or invent the knowledge in them.

Even now, he is enthusiastic about exploring new things. He started reading books that analyse the Bible, which is the inspiration for so much art and music. “I followed hip hop, then soul, funk, jazz, classical and I eventually came across the Bible,” he says.

Two books MastaMic are reading for pleasure and inspiration.
Two books MastaMic are reading for pleasure and inspiration.

He says he is currently reading the Japanese sci-fi manga Hellstar Remina by Junji Ito and What Are You Looking at? 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye by Will Gompertz. The two works are completely different but MastaMic says he cannot say which is better; he believes the combination of the two creates space for new ideas.

He is also interested in philosophy and has put some philosophical elements in his music. He has a song called Yin Guo, which refers to cause and effect or karma in Buddhism.

But he says this kind of song is not as popular with listeners. “People do not listen to this kind of song with deeper meanings,” he says.

Apart from showing his intellectual and spiritual rapper side, MastaMic also humorously plays up the materialist rapper side. He says he is looking forward to his upcoming concert in August and hopes to put on a good show with strong hip-hop elements.

“The idea is that people enjoy it and also that they buy lots of tickets and merchandise, so I can buy more sneakers. Coming up I want to buy a car, I want to buy a flat. I hope to crowdfund through my concert,” he jokes. After all, he adds, “if John Tsang can crowdfund millions of dollars to support Article 23, then I should be able to crowdfund a little bit after all my hard work in producing music.”

Edited by Eunice Ip