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Bohan Phoenix explains why Asian rappers owe Black culture and how he chose to work in China

BANGKOK (AP) — Chinese American rapper Bohan Phoenix has straddled both countries in his career. Working with Chinese rappers like the popular Higher Brothers, he has always interspersed English song lyrics with a catchy Chinese chorus.

Far from the flex-heavy culture of rap songs in the Top 40, his latest album “Make You Proud” is a heartfelt, bilingual exploration of the musician’s life. In it, Phoenix hits back at the haters who say his Chinese isn’t good, and speaks of his own naivety in the commercialized space that is the music industry, and what he’s most known for: the dual strands of his Chinese and American lives.

The album was a personal challenge, Phoenix said. He’s most proud of its eponymous first song, in which he raps about his average grades in China and moving to the U.S. at age 11, over a repeating series of piano chords.

“When I was posting on Douyin and Chinese social media, people were like … ‘his Chinese sounds weird,’” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. The comments got to him. “It just got to a point where I was like, I do feel like it’s time to challenge myself as an artist.”

Once he decided to take the challenge, the rhymes came naturally. His lyrics are different from Chinese rappers who try to compete in the complexity of their rhymes, often using chengyu, four-character literary proverbs. It’s straightforward, though critics say the vocabulary is simple, at the level of a third-grader.

Phoenix said he’s happy with the result, “I had never been able to tell my story so clearly in Chinese before,” he said.

For an artist who started rapping in English, Chinese was at first just an ornamentation in his music. But as he got older, Phoenix says he felt more compelled to use Chinese