UI student and rapper Nobi remains in the shadows of the hip-hop world

UI student Yusong Ju, stage name Nobi, compares Chinese hip-hop with American hip-hop as he pursues his passion in rapping.


Sid Peterson

Yusong Ju raps at the University of Iowa Chinese Music Club’s outdoor performance at the Iowa City Ped Mall on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018.

Adrian Enzastiga, Arts Reporter

Despite his obvious talent for throwing down mad lyrics and growing internet fame, UI student Yusong Ju stays humble regarding his skills as a hip-hop artist.

Ju is a first-year University of Iowa student from Beijing. He has been rapping for around two years, but he came to the UI to study psychology. Still, he pursues his passion for the spoken word by writing his own songs in Mandarin; he has around 20 originals written in Mandarin, all recorded and posted to Cloudmusic.

Ju is enrolled in the first-year seminar Great Stories in Classic Hip-Hop and hopes to connect his experiences in Chinese hip-hop to American hip-hop and compare the two genres.

“I take this class because I want to know more about the culture of hip hop in America,” he said. “I want to know the difference between them, and if I can learn something new, I would add it to my songs. I listen to Chinese hip-hop one day and American hip-hop the other day. I think the lyrics written by the Chinese rappers always make me have more feeling. For American hip-hop, I just hear a flow.”

Ju said Chinese hip-hop has been around for more than 20 years but has only become popular in the last year or so.

“The live show of hip-hop became popular in China nowadays,” he said. “They have a show called ‘The Rap of China,’ and this show became famous and hip-hop became famous last year in China. Lots of underground rappers came out and performed on very big stages.”

His stage name, Nobi, comes from a famous Japanese cartoon.

“One of my classmates said that I wore these glasses like a cartoon movie character called Nobita,” Ju said. “[Doraemon] is a very famous cartoon in Japan and also in China. The character called Nobita; I shortened him to be called Nobi.”

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Ju well remembers how he got into rap.

“A person I didn’t know posted his own song. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool that he had his own song, that’s awesome.’ I listened to it, and it was really bad,” Ju said. “If a person who has really bad skill is brave to write a song, I can, too. So I just started to write a song and record it. We became really great homies, and he became better.”

Back home, Ju has performed in the MAO Livehouse in Beijing around 15 times. He said it was very competitive.

“They had a very famous singer in a show. He performed before me, and after he performed, when I went to the stage, people in the first and second line were just gone,” he said. “I felt really disappointed about that because the people in those lines just wanted to listen to that singer. It really hurt.”

In Iowa, Ju is part of the Chinese Music Club and had a showcase with it this past weekend.

“It is a music club and also lots of people are from China, so I got interested in it,” Ju said. “It’s not just rappers; someone plays guitar, or lots of people play piano.”

Ju said that as of last week, his songs had more than 90,000 views, though that has not inflated his confidence.

“I have a lot of songs, and maybe some people hear not just once, so I think it is not too much,” Ju said.

In fact, he said he still has much room to grow in regards to fame.

If you’re famous, you may not be free to do something. I don’t like somebody controlling me. I want to do something I like to do.

— Yusong Ju, a.k.a. Nobi

“I thought that if I make great music, then everyone will like me, and I will get famous,” Ju said. “But I’m not famous, and I’m not good enough.”

He said he wants to remain a low-key rapper.

“I don’t really want to become famous sometimes, but I want more people to listen to my music,” Ju said. “Because if you’re famous, you may not be free to do something. I don’t like somebody controlling me. I want to do something I like to do.”

Ju said that rapping is more like a hobby for him.

“I think I cannot earn money by making music, so I need to do something else and earn some money,” he said.

Although hip-hop artistry is still something fun and unique to pursue, he said.

“It’s good. It’s really good,” Ju said. “The spotlight, and the people, and the stage, you see that it’s awesome.”