In the realm of Taiwan’s hip hop community, PiNkChAiN emerges as a true maverick. His debut album, "How Old Are You?," also cleverly written to read as "Why is it always you?" in Chinese, captivates listeners with a staggering 38 tracks, crafting a hip hop saga.
With an ingenious fusion of puns and double entendres that effortlessly traverse Mandarin, Hokkien, and English, PiNkChAiN's mastery of infinite rhythmic flexibility remains unparalleled, drawing inspiration from an eclectic mix of free jazz, trap, trance, a cappella, sample collage, and audio snapshots of viral videos and everyday life.
This enigmatic artist not only defies expectations within the hip hop community but also challenges the entire music scene of today. In this exclusive interview, PiNkChAiN unveils the stories behind various tracks featured on his album, delving into the trials he faced while producing his debut record. From navigating the limitations of his environment to exploring the logic behind his seemingly irrational choices, PiNkChAiN's creative process takes center stage.
We had the pleasure to sit down with PiNkChAiN for a chat, sipping iced tea on a warm Monday afternoon at Kishibe Cafe.
—Could you please introduce yourself and talk a bit about your humble beginnings?
My name is PiNkChAiN, I’m from Taichill city. West side of Taiwan.
I started out with my party crew YellowHippy that often hung out at The Cave in Taichung. It all began when St.G sought us (TenderG and I) out to write the song Yup 15. TenderG came back to Taichung after dropping out from college. He was 20 and I was 18 at the time. We were more of a party collective in the early years and threw parties around Taiwan.
We played our debut show at Spring Scream 2016 to zero audience. The only audience was people from our gang haha. Because St.G was in Australia at the time we performed with Huang Tian Ba (Father of Yellow Hippy). He actually has a son named Yellow Hippy (Huang Xi Pi)!
—When mentioning “Taichill city”, what comes to mind?
I think about chill when I think of Taichung. Though chill can have many sides to it. Taichill city represents only a fraction. And the reason I said "Taichill city ain't nothing nice" in the track Fatigued Ass (黑眼圈屁屁) is because, a few years ago when I was striving to become a rockstar, Taichill city didn't really embrace that aspiration.
Unlike Trappei (Taipei being a city of traps), subculture wasn't flourishing there. Though Taichill city has its fair share of traps too. It’s a city run by gangsters. It’s not cool. Sometimes they not so chill.
—Is there a difference between making music in Taichung vs Taipei?
Yes! I feel that in order to make music in Taipei you’ve got to prepare in Taichung first. You have to be very prepared. Because when you are in Taipei you can easily get lost. Thats how I feel, because Taipei is filled with many fresh new things. I occasionally write in Taipei. I have a lot of fiends here. Sometimes you get funny moments and it becomes works of art. Thats mostly the spirit.
—Congratulations on the release of your debut album “How Old Are You?” with such an epic track list!! Were you intending on producing 38 tracks?
Initially I told my manager that I wanted 25 tracks and they responded saying it’s way too much!!! But when I sat on their response I got increasingly frustrated, thinking f***, Soft Lipa (my all time favourite) has 28 tracks!! I felt they just didn’t really respect some creative decisions. It’s a shame. So I wanted to teach them a lesson. You think 25 is too much? Then I’m gonna make more than Soft Lipa did!
I really don’t like how songs are becoming increasingly shorter in duration nowadays. The time we have for each other is diminishing. There’s less exchange happening. I feel that if the music is good, one should be able to immerse themselves for that period of time, but everyone nowadays say “I don’t have time”. It’s quite a shame. Spending time listening to music is the most basic. We can’t nor should we try to change that. I feel short songs also limit the expression of talent.
—Is there a main theme to this album?
Actually there is.
The whole album is formed around the concept of love and spirituality, made up of a storyline or a timeline. Some don’t really adhere to this, but overall, I arranged it to form a story. I actually have a means of arranging my track-list where I have written each song on an independent slip of paper and move it around in different orders to see what works best. Basically a visual collage of the tracks. It’s quite beautiful.
I started making this album from last august. But there’s a few demos that were made two or three years ago. So I feel quite pleased with the results because I compiled all my creations from the period of the last three years together.
It’s also worth mentioning that this album’s dedicated to Young B, the owner of Ghost Mode Ent.
—The album is stylistically eclectic with tracks in trap, psytrance, free jazz, spoken word, Rnb ballads and everything in between. I was personally quite taken by the traditional folk instrumentals in Interstellar Transition (星際過渡). Could you talk a bit about the collaborative process with the various producers featured on the album?
I tried to put the credits on each producer onto Spotify, but my manager said he had to “think about it”. He has to muthaf****** think about it…
We bought the tracks off each producer. Many in the past mailed me these beats or instrumentals for me to spit bars to. And when I got the funding, I payed each of them for their stems and for Mr Ginger.Duck (the producer of this album) to rearrange them.
Interstellar Transition is about the 12 zodiacs. It’s a rearrangement of the traditional tune Peach Blossom Takes the Ferry (桃花過渡). The track was produced by I-Shuo, the lead singer of Lilium. When he was recording that track, I was taking a dump most of the time, and listening from the toilet. It was great!
The instrumentals were arranged and recorded by I-Shuo (lead vocalist of Lilium, and the lyrics were written by both I-Shuo and I. I initially wanted to write a 40 minute track out of this. I wanted to gather all of my friends who had these 12 zodiacs to perform their part, using poetry, rap, singing, any form of vocalisation. But I ran out of time.
—A large portion of your album also featured production by Non-Confined Space, could you talk a bit about this collaboration?
Yea ChAiNMAN MUSIC!!! (PiNkChAiN’s own definitive genre characterised by rhythmically free improvised music akin to free jazz). There were 10 tracks in total. I wanted to call it the She Pure Beauty ChAiNMAN Big Band.
The members of the band included Joseph Mauro on drums, Ikeda Kinya on bass & cello, Minyen Hsieh on sax, Sonic Deadhorse on guitar and myself on the keys. For credits I intentionally didn’t put a hyphen or featuring artist because I felt we were all equal collaborators in this. But cause of some lame promotional reasons I couldn’t indicate this.
*The first time he cited his music as "ChainMan Music"
—Could you expand on the name “She Pure Beauty ChAiNMAN big band”?
Hsu Chun-mei (She Pure Beauty) was an artist that gained attention through variety shows, a revolutionist in my perspective. But the media portrayed her as a clown, cause she had depression and that she had a very Taiwanese accent. There’s a track called 許純美慈母手中線 (The wire in the kind mother She Pure Beauty’s hand) on the album. In the track title, the middle line refers to Jacky Wu (renowned variety show host) . It’s a double entendre. Jacky Wu once invited her onto his show because she sued him for ridiculing her as a psycho.
While I was working on this album, I happened to come across a video clip of her on Jacky Wu's show through a friend's phone, and it left me infuriated. So I decided to add music to the video’s audio clip as an act of solidarity and support. And to our surprise, that appointed recording day for this track happened to coincide with her birthday!
I wanted to name our band as the She Pure Beauty ChAiNMAN MUSIC Big Band. ChAiNMAN MUSIC. Thank you very much!
—Your flow is really a one of a kind. You seamlessly transition between Mandarin, Hokkien and English, delivering your lyrics with remarkable speed and precision. What were some of your musical influences and what role does language play in your lyrics?
From the beginning I’ve always enjoyed listening to rap with interesting flows. I was into artists like Bay areas’ Keak Da Sneak, E-40, T.I., Busta Rhymes, Kendrick Lamar, Dwagie, MC HotDog, Soft Lipa. They all have a flow unique to themselves. They are all somewhat eccentric and unique people.
Jazz music is also a huge influence!
Talking about language, I feel that Rap is Like a Bomb of Thought. Yesterday I strolled past a jazz venue and noticed a sign saying that to attain the status of a revered jazz classic, one must possess a readiness to strike when improvising. Like a ninja! Sneaky peeky! And I feel that rap is the same! It’s like a convergence of your thoughts. It takes you through many different places. How you deliver this is very important.
Lately, I've been studying Taiwan's traditional culture and exploring ways to incorporate it into my music. It has always been a challenging task, but also a crucial one. Unfortunately Hokkien is dying in our society. Cause the past government wanted to take this s*** away. You would even get punished if you spoke this in the past! Hokkien possesses unique tones that do not exist in Mandarin, and these tones create more interesting possibilities when rapping.
—Considering the amount of words you incorporate into your lyrics, it's astonishing to think that you manage to deliver them all in a single take. Do you ever make revisions to your lyrics, or are they fixed once they leave your mouth? Is there anything that doesn’t adhere to a logic?
Ahh I feel that revising is a bit of a pain in the ass. Like I try not to but…I would occasionally re-work the details of the flow. Like choosing which words to use so I am able to sync the words to a desired rhythm. I would run this over multiple times. But overall, I believe that what is expressed in the moment holds the greatest intuition. Once I release all the essence, I would respect it for what it is. Respect the first take!
Sometimes there doesn’t appear to be a logic, but I will try to look at it again to understand its logic. Like self discovery. It’s important because it’s infinite.
—Outside of music, what else influences you to create?
OG旁光嚴。OG Yan is a grandpa that sells stinky tofu who lives across from Mr. Ginger Duck’s studio. He’s a real adorable old man. He always tells me the phrase “there’s always a job opening for the homeless”. He always says this to me cause he thinks I’m always fooling around not doing anything. He tries to persuade me to get a job. He’s a very annoying guy, but very cute hahaha.
Recently he’s been researching social media, like dating platforms Omni. He playing on that shit very hard! We’ve actually been documenting him a lot lately. We’ve been filming him discreetly. Tracks OG Yan Hobo Lectures 1 and 2 (og 嚴論流浪漢 1 and 2) is audio recordings of him lecturing me.
—In a relatively young music community where many styles or forms of creativity have yet to be explored or accepted, share your challenges and rewards in trying to “stay real”?
The obstacles I often face is that people take my shit for granted. And they don’t appreciate it. They make a joke out of me, and don’t really respect the craft. So it sometimes gets ugly. I try to keep it to myself but eventually burst.
Recently I went back to Taichill city to reflect on my essence and s*** to think about what I wanna do, what I should do post-album. And the more I thought about this, the more fed up I got with the assigned manager and producer. I was pissed cause he constantly mocked me saying that I was very “shameless”, and I felt disrespected. It seems like he was doing it out of friendship, but I couldn’t take it as a joke. It’s like he doesn’t understand me.
Sure, we had some good moments. We’ve been working on this revolution together, but they complained too much. They not respecting the craft. That’s the hardest part of being myself. I have to justify for myself.
I always allow myself to be angry. I don’t know why people are scared of that? People are scared of their own and one another’s anger. They just want to create peace saying “chill man, chill man!”.
Why chill?! Its no chill round here man! Sometimes you have to be sad, you have to allow yourself to feel it. Crying is a kind of blessing!