Three hours before the start ofthe final show of their first North American tour, the Higher Brothers—a hip-hop group from Chengdu, China—are waiting inside the lobby of the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. Outside, a considerable line has formed, consisting mostly of younger Chinese kids waiting for a chance to shake hands with their idols.
Everyone is here to see MaSiWei, Melo, DZKnow and Psy. P, four rappers who named themselves after the Haier fridge in the apartment they share together back home. As teenagers start to file in one by one to take pictures with them as a part of a VIP meet-and-greet package, all four are relaxed, dancing to their own music and posing for the cameras. Amidst the chaos, as fans try to snap an extra photo or take a video with them for their Instagram story, tour manager Colin Miller is trying to move things along.
But the Higher Brothers are in no rush. They understand the fanbase that they have cultivated, and they’ve traveled across the globe to greet them at each stop of their tour. When one pulls out a t-shirt and a Sharpie for all four of them to sign, the group happily obliges. One by one, they are greeted mostly in Mandarin, many of the fans congratulating the Higher Brothers with the pride that is usually reserved for your closest family members. As the VIP signing comes to a close, one even them drops off a bag full of October’s Very Own apparel that the group gladly accepts.
The Higher Brothers make their way backstage. DZ, the funny one, is rummaging through a pile of snacks, curiously examining a maple syrup cookie before finally taking a bite. Melo, the introspective one, is adjusting his new OVO beanie in a mirror over in the corner of the room. MaSiWei is the ladies man, and he sheepishly smiles as Psy. P, the group’s strong-and-silent type, grabs a Hallmark card that a fan had dropped off moments earlier.
“From the bottom of my heart,” Psy. P begins reading aloud in Mandarin. With each line, the group laughs and teases MaSiWei. They’re in awe when Psy. P reaches the end of the card and they all realize that the fan left her Weibo and WeChat contacts. You know, in case MaSiWei ever wants to connect.
The Higher Brothers are living out the American dream, but like any other foreign act trying to stake their claim to a piece of their own territory in hip-hop, there are barriers to overcome. I mention that some people refer to them as the Chinese Migos. Melo quickly replies, “We hope one day they can be referred to as the American Higher Brothers.”