There's hype, and then there's Kris Wu. The Chinese-Canadian actor, singer, model and now rapper, is phoning in from Beijing, China, although he rarely ventures into the city, because, he manages to say humbly, he doesn't want to "cause a scene." Born born Wu Yifan, the multi-hyphenate was raised in Vancouver, Canada, before joining a popular K-Pop boy band and kicking off his career in entertainment. He's since starred in various box office hits and modeled for Burberry, the West often compares his popularity to that of a Chinese Justin Bieber. It's casual.
Now, Wu has turned his attention to hip hop — a genre he fell in love with as a teen basketball prodigy (oh, by the way, was also selected for NBA All-Stars game alongside Drake). It was a natural move for a superstar with a long-held affinity for street culture, and now he wants to really introduce China to the culture. With a new collaboration with Travis Scott heating up the charts and a full-length project on the horizon, Kris Wu is bigger than ever. We caught up with Wu across hemispheres to talk crazed fans, mainstream appeal and overcoming barriers between the East and West.
Okay so you just hit number one on iTunes, like today.
It's unbelievable, I did not expect that.
How did that collaboration with Travis's camp come to be?
It was super organic, Travis was out of town but we had this idea for a collaboration, you know, East and West. Travis was immediately interested in the idea and we were in the studio just talking and vibing out a little bit. We just got the hook down and we'd made this record.
That's amazing that you got to be in the studio with him — that seems to happen so rarely.
Yeah it's so important, I think. Like emailing the track back and forth, it's just not the way I like to do things when it comes to music. I mean sometimes it's the only way you can, but it's just so much better when everyone's together. I really appreciate him coming through.
You came up on K-Pop, where did the attraction to hip hop come from?
I started really getting into hip hop culture around middle school. I was really into basketball when I was a kid and then I almost went pro, you know playing professional basketball in China. One of my earliest interests in my basketball culture was [Allen] Iverson, and he's all about the street culture and the hip hop culture. He was kind of a game changer when it came to fashion too, he was wearing street fashion and had the hairstyle. So basketball for me was like a gateway to hip hop.
I also feel like China, in particular, is really embracing hip hop right now, as a country it's really making it's mark in the culture. You've got Higher Brothers popping off...
Yeah you know the show Rap For China ? I was a judge, it's like American Idol but it's like a rap version. The show like blew up and had mad success. The show ended like a month ago, but the show really brought hip hop to the light in China. It was always underground, so, so far away from the mainstream, but that is probably why you now get the feeling that China is like, popping. It's popping right now for sure.
It's a global movement right now, isn't it? It's the wave.
For sure. I feel like hip hop really captures the moment. Nowadays with all the social media, hip hop has the chance to blow up. No one expected hip hop to blow up in China but it happened, and it happened for a reason. They wanted to be able to express themselves. Everyone wants to make hip hop music first.
You must feel like you got in ahead of the curve.
I've just always had faith in hip hop culture and knew it had huge potential in China — street fashion, all that stuff. Kids right now in China, they want to be unique and creative. For me, I want to be a pioneer for everything I do. I wanted to tell the youth in China, be the one to share the music.
So is there a full-length project on the horizon?
Yeah, I'm working on an album right now. That's the next move. I haven't decided when or whether I should put out a few singles — an EP or an album.
How do you fans differ across cultures?
I don't know, [in the West] I'm not that popping! I can't wait to let you know what the difference is. But China, it's a different story. I'm in Beijing and I can't really go out. I stay at home and eat takeout, it's gets crazy when I go out. It's so populated, so it's so hard for me. I don't want to cause a scene. I'm used to it though, you know? I really appreciate all the love.
In terms of hype, I've heard you described as the Chinese Justin Bieber. How accurate is that comparison?
I mean, there are fans that follow me around China so definitely yes, in that sense. But, of course, when it comes to music we're really different. If anything the stuff I'm doing is like what Travis is doing.
Yeah you both are on the melodic-rap vibe.
Totally, and growing up in the West Coast area, in Vancouver, there's a lot of that. So a lot of my stuff, I want to make sure I have that catchy melody-line.
Well you did the all-star basketball game with Drake, right? He must have had a massive impact on your music.
For sure, Drake is a game changer. I respect him. Like with hip hop, he blended it so well that people who don't even appreciate hip hop music are still listening to Drake. That's why he's a game changer, he's so catchy to any audience.
Genre-defying, right. Is that what you want? That mainstream appeal so that anyone, regardless of their taste, can connect? Or would you rather keep it more niche and really appeal to hip hop heads?
To be honest...the first one. That's what I lean towards. What I'm trying to do, I need to grab all the attention I can get. I want to make sure that my stuff always has some mainstream element in it, so that everyone can listen to it.
That's super admirable, because there are so many barriers between the East and West — especially with the firewall. I mean the world is probably waiting for an artist like you who can bridge the gap.
I'm trying. I'm really trying. In China, you can't go on SoundCloud. Even Spotify, they don't have Spotify in China. It's so, so hard for my fans in China to listen to me. They can't get it cos they don't have access. These sites are either not available in China or blocked in China.
That must be hugely frustrating for you as an artist.
I just feel bad, I feel bad for those fans. But eventually it will come out in China.
And Chinese audiences are so loyal too.
Super loyal. They support me in whatever I do, it's crazy. I so appreciate it.
You've modeled and acted and been a reality show judge, but is music the lane now?
I think music is it now. Like you say I've been doing so many things for so long, but if I break it down, I just want to stay focused. Right now for me its music, for sure. I want to be able to concentrate. It's all music.
Images courtesy, via Getty