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