"Since releasing 'Red Money' during Chinese New Year, Al Rocco has taken over Shanghai's hip hop scene. His tribute to renminbi topped Xiami's national charts and can be heard booming from Adidas stores cross the city.
Sitting at his Ace Life Studio in north Jing'an, the Hong Kong-born rhymer lays out his vision for his fifth mixtape, Raised in China, dropping on December 13th.
"Even though I grew up in the UK and Los Angeles, at the end of the day I'm Chinese," he says. "I embrace those roots and I love China. The music is very western, but I want to package it original with an Asian focus. Our goal is to go worldwide as a Chinese act."
Ignorant trap beats play in the background throughout the conversation. It's become the abrasive sonic blueprint for his music, since the admitted "old school head" teamed up with notorious Shanghai rap duo Busy Kidz on 2013's "Turnt Up."
He credits the single for bringing him performance offers from party promoters like Hip Hop Hijack, Yeti in the Basement and 1LoveShanghai. However, his earlier jazz-inflected material was poor fit with the club, leading to the "all trap shit" Raised in China.
The collab-heavy disc features guests from Hong Kong, California and the Mainland, with beats produced by Shanghai-based Boris Redwall and Jaeson Tsunano.
"Some people just listen to the beats now, so they have to be very hard," he explains. "When people listen to you rap, they're listening to the flow. They don't really listen to the lyrics until they buy the album."
It's a formula that's proven successful with the Busy Gang 800 mixtape he released in October with the Busy Kidz. Shanghai OGs Daddy Chang and Tang King cameo, and the disc has raced up the online charts and into the playlists of China's celebrities.
The crew has also been stealing shows at Arkham, where they routinely open for visiting underground faves like Hucci & Ozie, High Klassificed and Killa Kella.
"We're different from other shows because w'er bilingual," he notes. "I'm English and my boys are Chinese, so we really target everyone.""