In Conversation with MC HotDog, a Hip-hop Artist and Producer

Yao Zhongren, a.k.a. MC HotDog, is an award-winning Hip-hop artist from Taiwan and has been in the music business for over 20 years. MC HotDog has a unique flow and delivery, setting him apart from other Taiwanese rappers. Not only does he have a distinctive voice, but he also knows how to use it to deliver his rhymes with precision and style. 

MC HotDog began releasing music in 1996. In 2001, he released four mini-CDs that sold almost a quarter of a million copies. After serving mandatory military service, the rapper returned to music in 2004 and went on tour with Chang Chen-yue in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the US. Throughout the years, MC HotDog released several EPs, singles, and nine studio albums, including his latest one, Yao Zhong Er.   

MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image - Courtesy of Onion Production
MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image – Courtesy of Onion Production

Those who are familiar with MC HotDog’s artistry know that he doesn’t shy away from being brutally honest in his lyrics, which often deal with social and political issues. On top of that, the rapper is known for his sharp and insightful commentary on Taiwanese society. His lyrics are often thoughtful, intelligent, and engaging, and he has a gift for storytelling that draws listeners in. Yes, it’s all in Mandarin, but thanks to the power of the internet, you can find some of his songs translated into English.

MC HotDog is considered a pioneer of the Taiwanese Hip-hop scene and has been instrumental in shaping and defining the genre in his country. He has introduced new sounds, styles, and techniques to the Taiwanese music scene, and his influence can be heard in the work of many other artists.

Prior to the rapper’s UK tour and his show in London, we sat down with MC HotDog for a quick chat, discussing his career, his latest album, and his plans for the future.

You’ve been in the game for a long while. You have lived through the Golden Age of Hip-hop and created your own memorable repertoire in Mandarin. But before we chat about your career, what were your early experiences with music that made you want to become an artist?

There’s actually no particular reason, I just liked it and wanted to try it out. When I first started writing songs, I don’t know how it started, there wasn’t any particular reason. I thought it was interesting, that’s all.

Which artists, albums, or performances of the same genre captured your imagination at the beginning of your music career, and who is your current inspiration?

In the beginning, I listened to the most popular rap songs at the time, which was Notorious BIG – he is the rapper I like and admire most. 2PAC, Coolio, Nas, Jay Z…

I listened to their music and watched their performance and thought, “How cool is that?”. I think they’re the ones who might have influenced me.

MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image - Courtesy of Onion Production
MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image – Courtesy of Onion Production

Not long ago, you released Yao Zhong Er, a full-length album consisting of 11 songs. This aforementioned album is a beautiful nod to old skool Hip-hop. What was the creative process behind this particular release? And when you wrote lyrics for this album, how did you get into a creative mindset? What kind of approach do you use to write your lyrics in general?

I get inspired from daily, real life. I think that’s also how I’m different from [other] Asian rappers. I like to write real stories, things that happened to me or to others. I like to write things that connect to others, where people think, “Yes, that’s exactly what’s happening” when they listen to my songs. I also think these types of songs can become classics. Coincidentally, this album was written during COVID, so there are also songs about feelings regarding COVID. Quite simply put, this album is about my experiences during the past few years. Every album is a record of how I feel, and my thoughts at that moment.

On top of being a rapper and a producer, you are also a songwriter, so you probably write lyrics non-stop. What do you start with? How difficult is it to write that first line of text, the first note? And how do you generally choose what song to record and release?

I think writing the first line of the lyrics is the easiest, but continuing is harder. I usually start by thinking of a specific topic. When you write about a particular topic, it means you have a lot of opinions on that subject, and that’s how I was able to continue writing. Also, I accumulate a lot of lyrics. I just write them down when an idea pops up. I discuss with my team when I choose what song to record and release – I produce a demo and filter which song to release.

You worked with various producers on your latest album, including Anabolic Beatz, HARAKIRI, Nienhsien Ma, and Starr Chen. Have you experienced any creative differences while making Yao Zhong Er.?

I actually really enjoy working with different producers. Every producer has their own style and a different way of mastering music. I really trust their professionalism and just focus on my own vocals and rap. I don’t have a set of rules and give them free reign. I like this kind of collaboration and the feedback they give me.

MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image - Courtesy of Onion Production
MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image – Courtesy of Onion Production

Looking at your entire repertoire, I cannot decide which song is my favourite as each of your releases evokes different emotions. However, on which of your songs do you think you’ve delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?

I think that song hasn’t been released yet. I think the “song” changes in different stages. It was Mr. Almost (差不多先生) for a while, then Ghetto Superstar (貧民百萬歌星), then another song. But the song that truly represents the now and the future hasn’t been released yet. It might be on my next album, or maybe the album after that. There are no songs that can truly represent me.

You do not shy away from being lyrically brutal when it comes to describing your feelings and opinions. Have you ever experienced resistance within the music industry for being vocal about issues that many experience, whether in the past or present?

I try not to care so much and just do my own thing. I actually didn’t do any marketing for my album Yao Zhong Er as an experiment, I didn’t go on TV or the radio and do any interviews, etc. I just posted on my social media. The album still did great. I think I’m a “weirdo” in this industry. I don’t think my music is mainstream, nor do I like to make connections with the media. I think everyone has pressure from various things. Of course, I have pressure, and there are things to which I need to conform, but that’s just life. I don’t think that kind of stress is worth mentioning, and it can’t be compared to the stress of ordinary people with real hardships.

How does it feel when you release music in general? Personally, I feel like when an artist exposes their work, it’s like revealing their soul to the public. I have major respect for that, and I’m curious, how do you feel when you put your music out there for people to judge?

Yes, I agree with you, it’s completely bare. In this industry, being a rapper is very subjective, and we use our own perspectives to write about a lot of things. My music is all about facing my own weaknesses and feelings. We are baring our souls and being honest. Ultimately, I hope the audience can connect to my music.

MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image - Courtesy of Onion Production
MC HotDog / Taiwanese Rapper / Image – Courtesy of Onion Production

When you’re not writing songs or working in a studio, what do you like to do in your free time?

I like to play Texas Poker while I have time, and buy toys. I like to collect toys from around the world. I like vintage toys. Of course, I have a family now, and most of my time is devoted to taking care of my kid. Family always comes first.

You are about to play in London, and two more cities in the UK, what do you expect from the UK crowd?

I think it’ll be crazy. I remember the last time I performed in the UK with my other bros, it was a wild experience. The fans in the UK don’t get to see me often, so they’re very excited, and anticipation is high compared to my other fans, who get to see me more often. I’m pretty sure it will be full of energy, and I will also do my utmost to give everyone a memorable night.

Apart from touring, what are your upcoming plans? Are there any other projects that you have planned for this year

Actually, I’m already in the process of making my next album. In the past, it usually took 3 or 4 years before I could release another album. But I’m able to release another album so soon mainly because of COVID. It might not be very serious in the UK, but it was very serious in Asia, and Asians were deeply affected by it, not for a few weeks, but for years. So, most of the time, we were at home in quarantine. In the past, I didn’t have a lot of time to write songs. But because of the pandemic, I got to stay at home and spend time with my family, and I had the opportunity to write songs. I’ve accumulated a lot of songs during this time, which is why I’m able to release an album a year after Yao Zhong Er. The new album will be released this summer. I hope everyone will look forward to it.

Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler

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