Drop what you’re doing and watch this, Beijingers. Mark Griffith, a photographer and videographer who used to live in Beijing, has just released the fruit of 15 months of work, “Beijing State of Mind,” set to Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind. The project was the brainchild of Andrew Dougherty, an expat who’d lived off and on here for five years. Rapping alongside Princess Fortier (in the role of Alicia Keys), the duo take us on a trip from the Forbidden City to the hutongs to the Great Wall to The Place, and so many other places in between that make our Beijing experience what it is.
Griffith details the project’s development on his blog:
Andrew mapped out a set of locations and he first recorded the track with a local artist so that when shooting he would be lip syncing to the same audio track in the video.
We set out on a Saturday in April 2012 with Helen and Stephanie from Andrew’s work and Peter as our driver. Peter was a friend who drove taxi in Beijing that Andrew had been using for years. That Saturday we shot at Temple of Heaven, The Birds Nest, Workers Stadium, the Hutongs, ZhongNanHai, Tiananmen Square, Andrew’s apartment outside of Central Park and then over at Andrew’s work at World Trade Center building. Andrew’s assistants would clear the area of people, hold a iPad with the track qued to the right point in the song and I would set up my camera on the tripod, get focus and exposure right and we shoot the scene a couple of times. I did virtually no direction, Andrew changed outfits and did his thing.
It’s a slightly long read because, again, the filming, production, and editing took 15 months, featuring more than a dozen versions, so perhaps you’d like these screenshots to speak for a bit:
The full lyrics are pasted below, via Griffith’s blog. If we have just one quibble, it’s that “concrete jungle” would seem like a more fitting description for Beijing than “commie jungle”; in fact, one could say Beijing is the world’s foremost concrete jungle, all ring roads considered.
But really, this is an inspired piece of work. It joins the ranks of other superb paeans to Beijing by folks such as Peter Laermans, Jake Fromer, and Jason Chu. (Matt Sheehan and Matt Allen, who wrote a rap about Xi’an, now live here, so maybe expect a follow-up from them in due time.) The bar keeps getting raised.
UPDATE, 11 pm: Is Beijing State of Mind the best China-related Empire State of Mind parody? The poll’s now open.
Beijing State of Mind
Yeah I’z up at Beida, now I’m down in Guomao,…
I started as a student, but I run the show now.
I’m the nouveau expat, livin’ in the CBD,
Ridin’ on my dianpingche, everybody stare at me.
It ain’t because I’m laowai, it’s probably cause I’m handsome,
Yeah I’m the only pimp wearing’ seer sucker pants, and,
Did my share of modelin, acted with Ge You,
I’m dropping mad tracks I be hotter than Jay Chou.
Cruisin’ down to Houhai, people drivin’ slow I,
Can’t believe the traffic or the awful drivin’ so I,
Hop onto the subway, the smell it ain’t so lovely,
But at just 2 kuai I don’t mind getting cuddly.
I say what up to Jintao, Hu defines the in crowd,
But don’t forget about Jiabao, when he gonna change his hairstyle.
My boys be chillin over there in Zhongnanhai
When I get the invite then I’ll know that I’ve arrived in…
In Beijing, commie jungle where dreams are made of,
There’s nothing you can do
Now you’re in Beijing.
Taiqi will make you feel brand new
The sites will inspire you, let’s here it for Beijing, Beijing, Beijing.
Catch me wid my boys at Gongti at a Guo’an game
I made the Guo’an shirt more famous than the Guo’an can
Yeah I watch the Dragons, I’m court side at the Ducks,
Even though the halftime dancing show really sucks.
But that ain’t important; that ain’t why I came here.
I came for the history, like the Tiananmen Square,
Forbidden City, hutongs always gritty,
Tiantan is hoppin’, dancin’ like P Diddy.
15 million people, half the dudes is naked,
Pullin’ up their shirts, cause the summers they can’t take it.
Long fingernail pinky on the right hand,
Cause the left won’t pick your ear as well as the right one can.
Babies on the prowl defacating on the pavement;
I just wanna scowl, sayin’ son why don’t you save it.
But that’s the way it is, that’s how we do it here,
If you don’t like it you’re welcome to steer clear of…
Migrants they come here, kids they are shunned here,
Can’t get a hukou, so out of pocket health care.
No fear. They leave their kids for the year;
Grandparents take care, no one sheds a tear.
Gaokao it’s over, pressure done abated,
So off to university to get edumacated.
But he becomes jaded after he’s graduated,
Cause he can’t find a job that’s well compensated.
So he hops on Weibo, he surfs kaixin wang,
And he gets on Baidu to download my son.
Head to Dongdan, hoop it up forget your problems.
A plate of hot jiaozi on the corner might solve them.
We come here with dreams, then reality hits us.
Bendi, waidi, laowai drifters.
But we love the energy, that’s why this city’s great,
So we all work late to “protect the Eight” in…
(H/T Mark Dreyer)