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Indie Rapper, Bohan Phoenix

Mar 30, 2018

I’m Bohan Phoenix and I make hip hop and R&B music. I was born in Hubei but moved to the States to live with my mother when I was 11, and in the process of learning English I fell in love with music, especially hip hop. After spending some time in a gospel choir in High School, I decided that New York City was where I needed to be and that’s where I spent the last 7 years diving into the scene. Before 2015, I had never been to Shanghai, but since 2015 I’ve been here 8 times. Pretty much every time was for music, whether on tour or going to do a show, like for my project release party at Hilo. One of my favorite shows in China was the 2017-2018 NYE show at Arkham, so much love amongst the youth of Shanghai.


Honestly, rapping was at first a fascination. It started with watching 8 Mile and witnessing how hip hop transformed Eminem's world. Having just moved to the US, I really was having trouble finding friends, finding a place for myself, I thought hip hop music would also help me break down the barrier that was between me and the world I was thrown into.

New York is pretty much the home of hip hop and I knew I had to be there to gain the respect I was looking for, at first rapping all in English and trying to impress the listeners. People would pay attention to me because I was Chinese and rapping, but I wasn’t doing anything different than every other rapper, black or white, just trying to write the most complex and hard hitting punchlines. Then I met Howie Lee, a producer from China, he started bringing me back overseas to China for shows, and this is when I started to really ask myself why I was solely rapping in English, why was I trying to fit in when hip hop is all about individuality, doing YOU, being different…

So, I started to add Chinese to my songs, and even though in New York most people wouldn’t know what I’m saying, they thought it was the freshest and coolest thing. So, that became part of me, I started to share my own identity with the world through hip hop, telling bits and pieces of my life along with the mixed language, and it just clicked, it felt right. And although I love New York, I knew that China had something special happening right now. I wanted to be closer to my family in Chengdu, and also contribute to the growing and vibrant music scene that's taking off in China. Since moving back last July, I’ve gone back to the States twice to tour and do shows. There’s definitely still a lot for me to accomplish on both sides of the world.


What I'm most proud of changes quite often, but right now I’m honestly most proud of my move back to China.

Here, even in cities like Shanghai, you only get so many acts coming through every month, and even less for smaller cities like Chengdu, so people are excited to go out, to see shows, to be a part of it all. Without tastemakers like Pitchfork, Fader, the likes of publications that really dictate who gets what in the West, in China everything is mobile, in a way the music scene in China is much more democratic. For underground and up and coming artists like myself, this is an environment we can thrive in because music speaks for itself.

My favorite thing about Shanghai… honestly, the diversity is dope. I’ve seen it in a city like New York, but to see it in a city in China it just feels like a whole other story. Just the way of living and interacting is very different, there are Western influences everywhere you go but the city is unmistakably Chinese. Even the foreigners here talk about how fresh and new things are out here, there is a feeling that out here it’s just getting started. I guess if I had to say something I didn’t like about Shanghai, it’s probably the traffic… or how far Pudong Airport is from literally everything I care about [laughs].


I like Beverly, the bar on top of Le Baron. They make a really good Gin and Tonic which I love. I’m kinda basic like that. Also I’m always at Le Baron to perform or see friends DJ, it's just a nice “other area” to escape to. Another bar I really like is Botanist, the drinks are a bit more expensive here but it's so fucking delicious. Restaurant-wise though, I don't know. I like anything Sichuan, there's Sichuan Citizen right under Le Baron, the Yeti boys took me there one time and I was pretty impressed with the spice levels. I love soup dumplings as well, I try to hit up 佳家汤包 every time I’m in town, although for them the location does matter, I’ve gone to locations where it’s significantly better than others.


When I’m in Shanghai I visit a lot of friends, I think it’s like when I’m back in New York I just feel I got to catch up with everybody. It’s a good time and place to get filled in on everything that’s happening, things I might not have heard about or knew about. Also there’re always shows happening in Shanghai, so I find myself out and about a lot when I’m here. It’s a reminder that China has its own to offer.

Will I live in China forever? I don’t know about doing anything forever [laughs] so it’s hard to say, I definitely will move back to the States at some point, I still haven’t been to Europe yet so I’d love to see that before I decide where I’ll live forever. China just feels right to me at the moment, it’s not exciting every minute of the day, there’s a lot of downtime for me actually… but it’s nice, the change of pace gives me a lot of new insights.


If you missed the last one don't worry, Bohan plans on more Shanghai shows and will be back sippin' Gin and Tonics at Beverly in April... stay tuned for details.

Photo Cred (in order): Cover by Cheuk-Yin To, Bryan Zawlocki, David Yen (Neocha), Jedi Zhou, Guan Han



  • Arkham

    • Address
      B1/F, 168 Julu Lu, near Ruijin Yi Lu
      巨鹿路168号B1楼, 近瑞金一路
    • Phone
      6258 0355

    Arkham is picking up right where it left off. The total area of the new Arkham is about 1/3 bigger than the old one, including two VIP rooms on both sides of the main area (one has its own bar and toilets), a VIP artist room, and another separate VIP bar with its own... Read more

  • Jia Jia Tangbao

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    • Address
      90 Huanghe Lu, near Beijing Lu
      黄河路90号, 近北京路
    • Phone
      6327 6878

    Jia Jia Tangbao is an institution for Shanghai's own steamed soup dumpling, the xiaolongbao. Hole-in-the-wall location, plastic-stool ambiance, long lines, and an impeccable reputation for their made-to-order soup dumplings. Closing time is arbitrary -- when they... Read more

  • Botanist

    • Address
      17-2 Xiangyang Bei Lu, near Changle Lu
      襄阳北路17-2号, 近长乐路
    • Phone
      6433 0538

    Luxury spa vibes at this hypermodern, herb-themed cocktail bar on Xiangyang Lu. This one is from the same Taiwanese peeps who brought us the overpriced and overrated Flask (the Coke machine bar) and the excellent Fumi coffee shop. While the decor is nice, especially... Read more

  • Sichuan Citizen (Donghu Lu)

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    • Address
      30 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Lu
      东湖路30号, 近淮海中路
    • Phone
      5404 1235

    Sichuan Citizen is the Sichuanese restaurant/ cocktail bar/ tea house expansion of the popular Citizen Cafe. A sizeable Sichuanese menu accompanies this sizeable restaurant, and they offer everything from simple "twice-cooked" stir fry and diced dishes, to steamed... Read more

  • HILO Shanghai

    • Address
      B1/F, 158 Julu Lu, near Ruijin Yi Lu
      巨鹿路158号B1楼, 近瑞金一路
    • Phone
      136 6163 8607

    Read more

  • Le Baron

    • Address
      7F, 20 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Lu
      东湖路20号7楼, 近淮海中路
    • Phone
      5424 5181

    Popular outpost of a Parisian club that also has venues in New York, Tokyo, and London. Crowd is mixed Chinese and foreign, and tends to be fashion, music, or other industry peeps. Music is generally decent; they play mostly old school disco, classics, and hip hop,... Read more

[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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