Hip-Hop is a global community, and this truth is apparent in the music and life of producer Lao Wai. The producer - whose real name is Adan Kohnhorst - was born in California, raised on classical music in the Netherlands, and currently resides in Shanghai, China where he catalogs and participates in the nation’s nascent hip-hop scene.
Lao Wai is Chinese for “foreigner”, a term of endearment or derision depending on the context. While Adan may have entered Shanghai as a foreigner, he’s since familiarized himself with the city, and the city has become familiar with him. In addition to producing music Adan breakdances, freestyles, practices Kung-Fu and edits a digital magazine that sends raw Chinese stories and culture across the Pacific to the United States.
Having lived in New York City and Texas as well as the far East, Lao Wai’s music is influenced by the locale in which it was created. Let us take his most recent EP Shanghai Electric Moonlight as an example. As Adan tells us:
Shanghai is present in all the music I make. There’s this big, long overpass that goes over the main river, and on the weekends the whole thing lights up neon blue. It’s a weird thing for an overpass, but pretty poetic in its own way. I’ve ridden one million cabs home over the bridge late at night, so that image ended up being tied to this project.
Or for another example, see the tracks “Loisaida” and “Haarlem Summer”, both referencing different neighborhoods in our beloved Big Apple and both put forth with a bit more soul sampling and boom-bap than his Shanghai creations.
The amazing thing about New York is that the whole city kind of runs on hip hop. There’s a hip hop pulse everywhere, in a completely organic way, and that’s because it’s where the music comes from. But when you’re coming off the subway and there’s a crew of poppers [break dancers] putting on a show, or you’re in the park and there’s a cypher happening and people are all jumping in spitting bars, that’s a totally different environment from most of the world.
With earlier beats Adan wanted to prove that he could recreate the golden era hip-hop sound he admired. With his most recent EP he sought to step outside of that framework. This inspired cuts like “25i Space Dream” and “Sunset at Sagami Bay” which are more ethereal, built on trap music percussion, but with a more atmospheric and less aggressive vibe than the word ‘trap’ usually connotes. It’s a sublime sound to daydream to, with traditional lo-fi textures trying the whole project together.
That’s not to say Lao Wai won’t return to his golden-era hip-hop roots in the future. Classic funk and soul samples are foundational within his music, and he just picked up some quintessential beat gear. “I just got my hands on an SP-404SX sampler, and we’re still in the honeymoon phase right now. I love this thing. It’s my first time making music completely without a computer … so pretty soon we’ll be seeing a beat tape or at least some singles entirely done on the device.”
It’s undeniable that location influences one’s creativity, exemplified by the unique lo-fi offering of Lao Wai. "I like making beats because it deals with the pure, aesthetic beauty of instrumentation, and it’s so up for interpretation," Adan says. We could not agree more, and while we revel in his most recent EP and bump his older NYC-bred jams, we’ll stay chooned to interpret his future lo-fi vibes born in Shanghai.
FOLLOW Lao Wai: Soundcloud