MEAWW's Basement Tapes: Genre-blending extraordinaire Hua Li pays homage to hometown Wuhan in 'Four More Days'
The half-Chinese rapper/singer has already accrued an underground following and her smooth sound paired with her socially-relevant lyrics are all set to launch her to international fame
Hua Li is many things. She self identifies as "half-Chinese, half-militant, half-rapper" in addition to wearing the labels "music researcher and educator" as well as "mother of panels" with pride. Not content with just fitting a pre-existing mould, Li is an artist who pushes the boundaries, blending every genre thrown at her with ease, both sonically and lyrically, until it becomes a true representation of the multitudes that she embodies.
Whether she goes by Peggy Hogan or Wang Hua Li, this is an artist who has a lot to say. For Li, music isn't as simple as self-expression, it also happens to be the tool she employs to deliver powerful, hard-hitting messages about everything from personal pain to larger social issues. Her 2013 debut mixtape 'The Bound Feat Pt. 1' introduced Li to the world, but it was her 'Za Zhong' EP, released in 2015 with Art Not Love Records, that truly got her on people's radars and brought Li a significant amount of underground success. And with the rising fame came another interesting label: Neo-Soul Kawaii Hip-Hop. For Li, who dabbles in everything from electronica, hip-hop/trap, neo-soul, jazz, atmospheric sounds and beyond to lyrical themes that encompass a wide range of issues, this wide title is rather fitting.
Consequence of Sound once called Li "a rap label’s dream", adding that "her approach to rapping, a kind of early ’90s Lil Kim bravado mixed with the more insightful, emotionally resonant lyrics of a Jean Grae, would be menacing if it weren’t so raw and beguiling". Autostraddle once stated, "From feminism to taking a stab at a what society has deemed to be a male-only arena, Hua Li doesn’t mind pushing the envelope." Her own Facebook page refers to her sound as "hazy R&B and revolutionary rap" that "cuts to the bone and shakes your frail *ss to the ground". And despite so many different ways of classifying her music, they somehow all fit. And that, in itself, is probably the greatest testament to both Li's skill as an artist and musician as well as her ability to embrace her genre-blending style so wholly that it's hard to tell where one genre begins and another ends.
Her latest single, 'Four More Days', dropped on June 25. The song is off Li's latest EP, 'Yellow Crane', and Li has pledged 100% of her streaming and download shares for the track of "longing and distanced love" to benefit the Migrant Rights Network. Like much of new music being released now, Li's 'Four More Days' offers her own unique take on the experience of isolation. But it is also a love song, directly from Li to her listeners.
Speaking about the track Li states, "The threads of 'Four More Days' came together in late 2019 as I thought about how far I was from my family in Wuhan, combined with the sense of distance and longing I feel at all times in my romantic life. I am plagued by short, intense, whirlwind romances on the road and this song has to do with the feeling of wishing for more time in proximity with someone you feel strongly for in order to build a more substantial relationship." And these painful feelings only intensified as Li, like so many others, found herself staying away from her loved ones due to the ongoing pandemic. She says, "When the quarantine hit in March, these ideas crystallized very quickly and turned into the song you hear today."
But for Li, this song isn't meant to be about loneliness and longing, at least not entirely. It's still a love song, just one that reflects love in the time of isolation. She states, "Even when we miss someone and are sad about not being around them, that type of love and energy is special. We should feel good about having people to miss when we have to stay at home. I hope that when you listen to 'Four More Days', you are able to access the ways in which desire can be really uplifting."
The song was produced by Alexander Thibault (Gloze), with whom Li previously worked on her 'Za Zhong' EP. Their sounds and styles blend together perfectly, with Gloze adding luscious synths to the Kawai grand piano Li recorded during her residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. "We adapted the process due to social distancing guidelines," shares the rapper, "with Alex tracking the live drums and bass remotely, after which I recorded vocals in my Montreal home studio". For Li, this is one of the many songs she hopes can bridge the barrier that the ongoing pandemic has created, particularly the one that has painted her beloved hometown in a negative light. She states, "This song is part of an EP I began late last year and finished writing at the Banff Centre, dedicated to my mother’s hometown of Wuhan. I look forward to sharing more of the EP with you, a collection of songs which illuminate what has long been notable about this beautiful city outside of the current context."