Produced by the F1ELD crew

It’s the early 2000’s and an American born Chinese teenage kid retreats to his bedroom in the suburbs of west coast America. Turning down the volume, he fires up Napster. He knows what he’s looking for: not pornography, not yet anyway, but music that he heard about from his friends.

It’s a Hong Kong music group called Lazy Mutha Fucka, or LMF for short, and he can’t believe what his friends have warned him about. To hear about a band that was more profane than Limp Bizkit, but in the Chinese world, was unheard of. Profanity is one of the first things you would associate LMF with but that is only at a surface level. Digging deeper into the lyrics, and the mind behind the lyrics, and you get to understand a deeper part about Hong Kong culture. One of the main minds behind LMF’s lyrics is MC Yan.

Meeting Yan in person is an almost bittersweet experience.

For those who are fans, there’s a part of you on the inside that wishes to see a hardcore hip-hop guy embody and represent the stereotypical hip-hop culture. Seeing him in person, you see baggy clothes, beads, unkempt hair, and weed in hand, except that his appearance isn’t inspired by hip-hop or its culture – it’s inspired by Buddhism. You see, Yan is a practicing Buddhist and his appearance and mindset represent this. If you saw Yan on the streets, you wouldn’t expect him to be one of the biggest influencers in history for Chinese hip-hop music, nor would you expect him to be one of the biggest influences for Chinese graffiti yet this is exactly who he is: Yan is a historical figure when it comes to hip-hop culture in Chinese Asia.

If you didn’t know who Yan is, you would be forgiven. After all, Cantonese hip-hop has such a small market that sales of this industry rarely transcend the small fragment of the 7 odd million people who make up Hong Kong’s population. Despite this, Yan still embodies the spirit of hip-hop and has a mind frame to suit.

The sweet part about meeting Yan is the conversation and the opportunity to hear his opinion – Yan’s opinion is definitive of his personality. Still, it’s difficult to truly understand who Yan is.

On the surface, Yan is opinionated – like a well-traveled veteran who has seen the world and come back to the pub, preaching to those who will listen. If you ask Yan about a topic, somehow, he’s an expert in it – from politics to education to poetry – and he’s ready and willing to share. This is what makes Yan, Yan. As one of his teammates at Clot Media Division put it, “You can just leave the recorder on and he will do the interview for you.”

When the F1ELD crew met Yan, it wasn’t the first time they had met him; they had met on a few separate occasions many years past. Once was even with his beloved dog which was absent for the most recent meet. Over the meeting, the F1ELD crew talked to Yan about him and his experiences in hip-hop in Hong Kong and his art.

“‘Don’t fucking do it! You want to die?’ They all said to me”

- MC Yan

Growing up in Hong Kong, literature was the rule in his family and his six siblings. Instead of TV, his family read books and like most Asian families, it was a culture of hand-me-downs: once one book was finished, it would get cycled down to the next sibling. Yan was somewhere in the middle – he had to wait his turn to read a book, and if he read too slow, the other siblings would complain about how he was taking too long. Instead of literature, Yan turned to a device his family had in his home: a turntable. Armed with a few records, Yan would sneak the turntable into his room and listen to music, escaping into the vinyl tunes instead of the printed words. However, this isn’t what Yan credits as what got him into music – it was his family. Yan’s family embraced his expression and interests, something that Yan feels is lacking in the society of Hong Kong today.

In Yan’s point of view, a large part of the culture in Hong Kong has been about fulfilling what was safe, what was acceptable to the parents’ point of view, and what fueled a system, which he describes as wholesome. Frequently, the music Yan put out would be regarded as too profane and wouldn’t be right for their channels, even though they haven’t heard of it before. The hardest part was that Yan even heard this feedback from kids still in their teens. With this in mind, Yan established that one of Hong Kong’s greatest enemies was the opinion of parents and how this diminishes creativity. His rebellion to this mindset lead Yan down a path that would further to cement him into the history of Hong Kong.

In his late teens, Yan decided that what he was seeking was not something that Hong Kong could provide so he ventured off to France to study visual arts and ended up staying in France for 7 years. It was in France which Yan started to dive into street culture.

In France, Yan’s landlord was a director for indie movies. During Yan’s time there, there was a protest and his landlord asked him to paint some material. Yan looked to the streets, grabbed some spray paint, and sprayed a few panels in his backyard. That was 1990 and it was since then that he wanted to do more and more graffiti but everyone was telling him not to.

“Back then, graffiti was really ghetto” Yan explains. “‘Don’t fucking do it! You want to die?’ they all said to me, including the art professors. I was left scratching my head at that point.”

Around the same time, Yan was starting to get into the music scene.

The part time jobs available to students like Yan had to be shared by two students, and at the time, Yan was working as a dishwasher and shared his job with another man from Hong Kong. According to Yan, the man was in a recording band which was decently famous but he decided to go to France to study. However, this was a front – Yan said the man was only there to find girls, as were majority of the foreigners there. Luckily for Yan, the man imparted his knowledge to Yan about the music industry in Hong Kong and how that system worked, but still felt that the artists in Hong Kong didn’t have a good sense of freedom to create what they really wanted to create. Instead, they had to fit into a mold.

Yan had a different idea for music. When Yan started, he joined a band and did heavy metal. Why heavy metal?
“When you’re a teenager and you want to be in a band, your objective is to be noisy,” Yan said. “There’s nothing noisier than heavy metal.”

Around mid 90’s, according to Yan, there was a small shift in music. People started to add all sorts of different sounds and styles together. Influencing Yan was a soundtrack from a movie Judgement Night which was all about mixing heavy metal and rap. Imagine songs with Ice-T x Slayer and Cypress Hill x Pearl Jam. Yan decided to buy this and bring it back to Hong Kong and show how genres could be mixed together.

In 1997, Yan returned to Hong Kong to experience the handover of Hong Kong back to China from England. After returning, Yan started to work more and more with musicians and eventually joined up to the the band known as LMF, or Lazy Mutha Fuckas.

Yan’s fame (and notoriety in the eyes of parents) really began with LMF.

As a hip-hop group, LMF’s music style was mixed with hip-hop and rock, true to the style Yan was yearning for since his days in France. Yan’s role with LMF was primarily in lyricism. During that time, he described his ability to truly reflect what people were feeling in Hong Kong, particularly about catering to the wishes of parents and societal classes. He credits his ability to do so by listening to the streets of his listeners.

Yan also describes how people were averse to the language used in the music him and LMF created. People often judged his music to be profane and not fit for radio play, at home, or for any good ears, but they didn’t realize that Yan was not attempting to add in any additional profanity – it was simply the way that people expressed themselves on the streets. In a sense, their music was the uncensored version of the word of the street.

Despite the judgement and the rejection from mainstream industry channels, Yan and LMF would see themselves to become one of the highest selling artists at that time. Other artists were selling large amounts but they also had big marketing machines behind them.

With LMF, they had a grassroots following that allowed them to further their success. The market was hungry for hip-hop and the system which Yan refers to prevented people from consuming it. Still, as a hustler, Yan and LMF persevered with their music and their culture.

While Yan’s days with LMF are more behind than ahead, music remains a core of his focus, as does art. Primarily, 4PK is a group he started and within it he mentors an aspiring artist. In addition to 4PK, another group which Yan heads, called NSBQ, allows Yan to experiment significantly with art and products. From silk screens to hats to briefs, Yan has the freedom to create according to his palette. Music and art will forever be an integral part of Yan’s identity.

Coming from his early days of inspiration, to chasing that inspiration all around the world, to returning to his roots, Yan is a man of balance – and many people don’t realize this. The first impression of Yan is often about his opinion and his eagerness to voice it, but looking past and finding the true driver of this behaviour, it’s understandable that it comes from a desire to find balance.

When he was younger, Yan had a mature take on the world, but now that he’s getting a bit older for the industry, he still is very much young in spirit. His lyrics could be viewed as rebellious and profane, but there’s a conscious reality to it. His art might seem cluttered but doesn’t fail to deliver a very clear point. He likes to speak a lot and express his opinion but he listens just as much, translating the true essence of what he’s heard. Finally, Yan might be a practicing Buddhist but he’s a hustler at heart. It’s this aspect of balance that makes Yan a consummate artist, still hungry for inspiration from all over the world.

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