A YouTuber posted a Beijing music video on July 10 paralleling Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ iconic East Coast anthem “Empire State of Mind” while sprinkling through the lyrics a milieu of cultural references and Chinese phrases.
A rapping American expatriate economic analyst living in Beijing, a singer named Princess Fortier from a band playing at a Beijing hotel bar, and a photographer came together to create the rap video.
The chorus of the song makes reference to the original chorus when Keys sang, “New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothin’ you can’t do,” by paralleling that with the lyrics, “In Beijing, commie jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can do.”
In the third verse, the expatriate rapper rhymes about the kids of migrant workers being shunned, having to pay out of pocket for health care, and having their grandparents take care of their kids instead.
The rapper also mentions how a student might work hard for the gaokao, the national exam to get into university, but “he becomes jaded after he’s graduated, ’cause he can’t find a job that’s well compensated” so he starts surfing Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, and other media sites.
While filming the video, the photographer, Mark Griffith, was nervous about shooting at Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party’s leadership compound, he later wrote on his blog. When they saw a guard approaching them, they decided to just use the one, out-of-focus shot they had captured and walk away. “Arrest or detainment avoided!” Griffith wrote.
However, a worker at the rapper’s apartment complex scolded them for filming in the building and later brought a plainclothes policeman in to threaten them.
The video was filmed in a variety of tourist hotspots including the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and the Great Wall of China. Work on the video began in April 2012 and took over a year to complete.