Hua Li 化力


Imagine a Bosch-esque garden of psychedelic flowers, blooming in a realm of eclectic delights. In the centre of the hyperreal chaos is Hua Li, the only “half-Chinese, half-militant, half-rapper of your heart,” back with her most ambitious and personal record to date, ripe fruit falls but not in your mouth.

If the garden is where we get dirty, tend to what has hurt us, and plant new seeds, ripe fruit isn’t afraid to dig in — to loss, to love’s aftermath, to the friction between the aerated and the carnal. “It’s an honest representation of my emotional state over the past few years,” says the Montreal-based multi-hyphenate. “I was experiencing this dissociation where emotionally things were challenging, but objectively my life was really great. It was like, I’m making money, I’m playing the club, there’s so much to celebrate. So I was processing this grief and these relationships, but doing it over house music” she laughs.

Hua Li’s project has often worked the fruitful tension between opposing forces, whether being mixed-race, bisexual, or overtly political and softly vulnerable. ripe fruit is characteristically libertine, bold and textural, playing between hazy R&B, hip-hop, jazz and electronic. “I wanted to integrate these more danceable signatures into a body of work that was by-and-large composed on the piano,” she says. “I was like, how do I deliver a private confessional on a loud-ass record?”

The answer lay in complex vocal arrangements, lush production by Alex Thibault (aka Gloze), and big, vibrant mixing by TNGHT’s Lunice. While 2019’s Dynasty and 2020’s critically acclaimed Yellow Crane EP were focused on intergenerational trauma, her maternal hometown of Wuhan, China, and the robust history of Asian feminisms, ripe fruit is an intimate record of healing, with Montreal’s nightlife at its heart. “There’s that feeling we all know as city kids, of loving the party and hating the party. It’s definitely my crying at the club record,” she laughs.

“Born In The Shape” is brightly taut, sensual and velvety, lingering in the no-nonsense low range before a climactic harmony that yearns for toxic romance (“what I would have done to see him/chained to me”). “Feed Me Petals” (featuring addictive, hooky vocals from Brooklyn’s Ambrose Getz), startles with lyrical acrobatics, where a call-and-response between two femme voices obscures the directly hetero-romantic narrative.

The rapper is both fierce and frequently funny, erupting from gauzy runs to deliver a quick uppercut, like on “Whiparound” feat. Darkus Millon: (“damn it if my pussy ain’t the glue that had us running toward the altar.”) “Part Time Muses” is an earthy, opalescent diss-track, recounting slept-on pleasures and near misses.

“Sanctions of the Heart” tunes into the ephemeral, like reaching out to touch what’s no longer there, while the drippy silk of “Peonies” slows the whole thing down and reminds us that the rapper is also a songstress whose rich, waveforming tone can hit notes. On “Cherrier,” Hua Li serenades her adopted city of the last fifteen years, transmuting nostalgia into fertile ground.

“[Longtime collaborator] Alex and I both come from this very instrumentalized, technical, improvised jazz world. We listen in a very similar way, but, you know, 90% of the time we’re listening to rap and electronic music.” This honed musicality is fully grown on ripe fruit. Explosive moments break into intimate, downtempo grooves, never satisfied with just one mode. While one might see mayhem in the frenzy of emotional extremes, Hua Li cultivates an astonishing synthesis: “[the tension in the arrangements] act like a metaphor for making yourself busy and avoiding your internal world, then suddenly being in stillness and recovering what it is truly going on inside.”

An artful collaborator and club DJ, Hua Li co-wrote and performed on Gayance’s 2023 Polaris short-listed album, Masquerade, and is the touring DJ for Inuk electro-pop throat singer, Riit. Her charismatic stage show has taken her around the world, including extensive tours with Cadence Weapon and Fat Tony (serving as the former’s touring DJ), to Reykjavik’s Secret Solstice Festival, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, and Pride Toronto. She’s also host of the popular web series, Landr Audio’s Learn Music.

Luminous and compelling, Hua Li shows it takes tenderness to let things ripen, and guts to let things die. In-between is a kind of rapture that begs to be savoured.

*Notes for journalists:
-Hua Li’s pronouns are she/her
-Hua Li is her given name in Chinese. Please do not separate Li from Hua when writing about her.
-Her name is pronounced whoAH-lee




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