Few people, let alone rappers, can say they are the Rakim of their particular field. Young Thug is the Rakim of off-kilter Southern hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar is the Rakim of contemporary hip-hop at large, and J. Cole is the Rakim of going platinum without no features. You can add Big Daddy Dough to the list of rappers who are the Rakim of a thing, for he is the Rakim of white dudes living in Beijing rewriting pop songs to be about economics in China. And before you scoff and say that it’s easy for him to be the Rakim of white dudes living in Beijing rewriting pop songs to be about economics in China because nobody else has ever attempted to do the same thing, just remember that unlike Big Daddy Dough, you are the Rakim of absolutely zilch.
As it stands, Big Daddy Dough’s The Redprint is the best 21-song collection of China-themed hip-hop parodies ever recorded. The rapper discusses the Chinese nouveau-riche over the beat for Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars’s “Billionaire,” flips Eminem and Rihanna’s “Love the Way You Lie” into a critique of China’s over-reliance upon investments for its economic growth, and rewrites Jay Z’s “Young Forever” explains the issues facing young people in contemporary China. He turns Dre and Snoop’s “Next Episode” into a song about the transition from Hu Jintao’s administration to Xi Jinping’s, and mocks Chinese President Xi Jinping’s cult of personality over Meaghan Trainor’s “I Love Me.” “Big Pimpin'” becomes an extended musing on the nation’s penchant for overseas investment and includes Dougherty rapping the lyric, “Diversify our RMBs, AUDs, GBPs / We even buy from Japanese” in a passable imitation of Pimp C’s Texas drawl. Unorthodox and unabashedly goofy as The Redprint might be, the record serves a serious function as a non-headache-inducing survey of the socioeconomic issues facing contemporary China.
“The primary purpose of this thing is to make learning about China fun and memorable,” says Big Daddy Dough, real name Andrew Dougherty, calling me from his office in Beijing. “You can listen to [The Redprint] and get a sense of the key issues confronting Chinese policymakers as well as other countries that are dealing with China without reading a white paper.” Dougherty’s the type of guy who you’d hit up for this sort of information even when he’s not presenting it in rap form––he’s got degrees in economics from both the US Naval Academy and George Washington University, as well as a Master’s in Contemporary China Studies from Cambridge, and he currently works as an economist for a well-regarded mutual fund firm. He speaks with the authority of an academic when providing context for the current state of Chinese economic affairs, explaining that after Mao Zedong presided over a nation-crippling famine followed by the “social chaos” of the bloody Cultural Revolution period, Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy to capitalist-leaning policies.
“All of a sudden, agricultural yields went through the roof, which led to 30 or 40 years of GDP growth averaging around 9 percent per year. That’s an astounding accomplishment,” Dougherty tells me. (For context, the US GDP has hovered around 2 percent growth for the last half-decade, and Donald Trump’s prediction that America’s economy will jump to a 4 percent growth rate during his presidency has been dismissed by most economists as unfeasible.) The sudden spike of China’s economy has led to China’s relatively recent re-emergence on the world stage, an entirely new paradigm for the country’s young people, and a government-wide struggle to maintain stable economic growth while scaling back its unpleasant side-effects such as pollution and corruption. All this stuff is extremely complicated and, in the right context, undeniably fascinating. Something like China’s potentially unsustainable tendency to inflate its GDP by issuing credit can have far-reaching global consequences, and if Dougherty wasn’t willing to speed-rap about such an issue over Weezer’s “Magic,” then learning about it would probably bore your eyes out.
For all of Dougherty’s vast and valuable knowledge about China, The Redprint would fall flat on its face if the dude couldn’t actually rap––which he undoubtedly can. It turns out Dougherty is extremely adept at stringing together complicated economic terms into nimble, coherent verses, and the fact that he’s doing it over well-known pop-rap songs gives his entire project a Party Fun Action Committee vibe. Dougherty says that his favorite artist when he was a kid was “Weird Al” Yankovic, whose song parodies inspired him to write his own takes on popular songs as a teen. He didn’t start actually rapping until he was about 20, when he went to Moscow as a missionary for the Church of Latter-Day Saints. “I didn’t have a guitar, but my roommate could beatbox,” he says. He found he had a knack for it, and as his passion for China and its issues grew, he combined his hobby with his area of professional expertise. He began work on The Redprint back in 2010 and released it for free online earlier this year, asking listeners to donate whatever money they would have spent to buy the album to a pair of charities dedicated to promoting the arts in China.
From listening to The Redprint and then speaking with Dougherty personally, it’s clear that the album could only be a product of someone who loves China deeply and wants to see the nation become the best version of itself that it can possibly be. So far, Dougherty’s biggest song is “Beijing State of Mind,” his parody of Jay Z and Alicia Keys’s “Empire State of Mind,” which since its 2013 release on YouTube has racked up over 230,000 views on YouTube. “It’s meant to be an ode to Beijing,” he says, though it features “subtle critiques” of the Chinese government. “I changed the original song’s chorus from ‘There’s nothing you can’t do’ to ‘There’s nothing you can do,’ alluding to some of the [governmental] controls here.” But when a reporter for a state-sponsored media outlet interviewed Dougherty about the track, he says, “She didn’t read it that way. She was like, ‘There’s so many opportunities in Beijing, tell me about them!’ I just ran with it.”
So far, Dougherty’s work has found an audience among both American expats living in China as well as Chinese nationals who speak English and possess some familiarity with American pop culture. But given China’s increased status on the global stage and the volatile nature of US-China relations––especially when it comes to North Korea––the China-centric song parodies featured on The Redprint have the potential to provide Americans with context for what the hell is going on in China and why we should care. It’s Schoolhouse Rock for adults, and if you sit down with The Redprint and let Dougherty kick some knowledge into your ear, you just might learn a thing or two.
Future Days is a weekly column by Drew Millard. If you agree or disagree with what he writes, feel free to text him at 828-675-8574.
Drew Millard used to work at Noisey, but now he doesn’t, so now he has this column. He lives in North Carolina with his dog. Follow him on Twitter.