Editors' Notes “All of my songs are complete mash-ups,” LAY tells Apple Music of his mix of hip-hop, electronic and R&B. Since his ascension to fame with K-pop superstars EXO, LAY (Zhang Yixing) has been vocal about his mission to take “mix-Mandarin-pop”, or M-pop, global. On his fourth solo release, he plays with code-switching lyrics, East-meets-West instrumentation and traditional Chinese aesthetics wrapped in an ambitious concept. LIT imagines LAY as the reincarnation of Xiang Yu, the celebrated warlord who, in the third century BC, successfully rebelled against the mighty Qin dynasty but ultimately failed in his conquest of China. “Xiang Yu was without a doubt a king with the 'strength to move mountains and spirit to take on the world’, but despite all of his martial talents he was left frustrated,” LAY says, quoting “Song of Gaixia”, a poem allegedly written by Xiang in his dramatic final hours. “If I really were Xiang Yu in my past life, then I have to work in this life to change my fate.” To this, LAY summons his ancient alter ego in facing battles of self-doubt, family love and dreams shackled by reality. With help from rapper and fellow Changsha native Kungfu-Pen, Chengdu artist PISSY, Grammy-winning producer Scott Storch (Dr. Dre, The Roots) and trap stylist Murda Beatz (Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, Drake), LAY is poised to take M-pop to the masses.

Lit
“‘Lit’ talks about how, in Chinese culture, people like to tear down anyone with their own aspirations, dreams and ambitions. This is a song I wrote to myself and anyone else who has been made fun of or looked down on for their dreams. I think everyone has a guardian spirit. In [the music video for] this song, the dragon represents my aspirations and wishes. So I say, as long as you have something you want to do, you can definitely do it. Even if you ultimately don’t really turn into a dragon, at least you’ll know what it takes to be one.”

Jade
“When Murda Beatz first made the beat, I said, ‘Hey, I brought a hulusi [gourd flute] with me, why don’t I improvise a bit?’ He was like, ‘That’s the vibe,’ and put it on the track. Three writers including me worked on the melody and lyrics, and after lots of revisions, we decided to make the song about a woman. So I thought, why not call it ‘Jade’? Other countries have diamonds, but in Chinese culture, jade is the one thing that more or less has that same status. Then, as I was expanding on the idea, I thought of the story of Xiang Yu and his love, Concubine Yu, so then I added in select passages from the Peking opera Farewell My Concubine, which tells their tragic story.”

Eagle
“In China we believe that in addition to the sun, eagles are the rulers of the sky. [When I sing] ‘When it’s just me and the sun up in the sky, there’s nowhere for those sly hares to hide,’ I’m talking about Xiang Yu and that feeling of just dominating, like when he was at his peak and still undefeated, that kind of ambition and boldness of warlords vying for power.”

H2O
“‘H2O’ has three different Chinese instruments: traditional percussion, hulusi and guzheng [Chinese zither]. We received this song in 2015 and never had the chance to release it. But then this year, I suddenly thought that if I mixed in some Chinese instruments that it would really, really be something different. So I added a few and then swapped out the drum track from 2015 for one from 2020.”

Fly
“We sampled Chinese percussion sounds into a keyboard, then added a bunch of reverb and some effects on top for a whole different feel. It’s not a real instrument—it’s mostly Chinese percussion loaded into a keyboard. But when you do that, it creates a whole different percussive sound. From the start, ‘Fly’ was about letting go and being in a free state. There are a lot of things that can’t be said; all I can do is fly.”

Soul
“This song marks the last song of the first half of the album. ‘Soul’ represents a reincarnation that leads into the next song, ‘Changsha’. After reincarnating, you come back as a child to the city of Changsha, where you meet your mother and are born again. The song is also quite different. Quite spiritual. When I first heard the beat, I liked it a lot, even without a topline over it.”

Changsha
“This is the lead single of the second part of the album. I had the honour of working with Grammy-winning producer Scott Storch on composing and arranging this track. I was really happy during the process. He’s the main producer, and most of my input is on the topline. I wrote the lyrics with my friends Kungfu-Pen from my hometown Changsha and PISSY from Chengdu. We wrote in Mandarin and Changsha dialect, because this is about my hometown, plus some English. Then there’s a really light melody in the Chinese flute that opens up the whole composition. ‘Changsha’ is probably the most driving song on the album, and was a real motivator for me. Because it’s about Changsha, you know I’ve got to use some Changsha dialect, most importantly because it’s so unique, very special.”

Mama
“I’d define it as M-pop. It employs a lot of traditional instruments, including flutes that have a very Chinese, pan-Asian feel. To me, flutes represent flowing water. My mother is from Changsha, so of course I bring up the Xiang River. Back to the idea of M-pop, you can’t simply describe the song as purely R&B or hip-hop. Thematically, this song describes how in Chinese families they’ll say, ‘I have faith in you. I believe you can,’ but inside they really don’t trust you can do everything. Their reality is ‘I think you should stay in your comfort zone. Don’t try to win a Grammy. That’s not you. What do you want to be that big for?’ But didn’t you say you had faith in me? For me it’s music’s top honour, and I want to hit that world and perform on the Grammy stage. At the end, I sing [in English], ‘Let me fly, fly away.’ This is about how Chinese parents have a desire to protect their kids, but how that desire to a certain degree becomes the shackles that imprison them. But I don’t think mama will be too unhappy when this song comes out.”

Boom
“This has a very Latin vibe. I don’t know any Latin Americans, so I wasn’t able to add some Spanish to it, which is kind of a shame. When I have the chance, I’d like to learn Spanish and make M-pop a bit more linguistically diverse and bring us all closer together.”

Call My Name
“This song is really interesting. It’s a call to the love you want, a hope to be the hero to the one you love. Let’s say you like this person. You want to be their hero. But for some reason, you can’t be together. It’s kind of like an R&B song in this way. It also has a lot of hip-hop in it and mixes both Chinese and English lyrics.”

Late Night
“It’s about my bouts with self-doubt and expressing those complicated feelings when I don’t know whether I’m on the right path. I’ve got goals, dreams, ideals; in the process of achieving them I feel like I’m losing my way. If you want to define it stylistically, I’d still say it’s M-pop. This M-pop gets a lot of different elements blended together. It’s not just purely EDM, R&B or hip-hop. It’s about all elements being integrated. It’s the kind of thing that will keep maturing in my music.”

Wish
“What is it a wish for? That none of this ever happened, that you never told that person ‘I like you’. It’s about unspoken love, but it’s also about a really sad story. Even though you never actually sent her that text that you edited over and over, you know what’s going to happen anyway, so just accept it.”

SONG
Lit
1
3:01
 
Jade
2
3:19
 
Eagle
3
2:30
 
H2O
4
4:03
 
Fly
5
2:09
 
Soul
6
2:58
 
Changsha
7
3:03
 
Mama
8
2:24
 
Boom
9
2:30
 
Call My Name
10
3:24
 
Late Night
11
3:13
 
Wish
12
2:42
 

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