While 60% of the world’s population lives in Asia, Asian artists’ representation in Western popular music is remarkably scarce. Though examples of Asian artists breaking the Western pop music barrier do exist, such as K-pop artist PSY who was responsible for the 2013 hit “Gangnam Style,” most of these acts have become passing fads or niche artists. Enter 88rising. Founder of the collective, Sean Miyashiro, noticed this alarming underrepresentation and has since championed bridging the gap between Eastern & Western pop cultures through music, specifically hip hop.
88rising began humbly in 2015, after Miyashiro resigned from his position at VICE, started utilizing his car as an office for phone calls, and took up a night job at Dunkin’ Donuts. In a mere three years, Miyashiro steadily built his empire by showcasing Asian artists’ ability to create a tangible and enduring mark on Western music and culture. Miyashiro elaborated on his cause with CNN stating, “We want to push the culture forward. We’re not trying to break stereotypes or change people’s mindsets. We’re showing people what we can do, by doing what we do.” Fast forward to 2018, and Miyashiro has proven to the world that the trajectory is only upwards for 88rising.
88rising has grown exponentially since its modest establishment, becoming a hybrid-multimedia company/record label, a sort of 360-degree management group, a trend reflective of the present industry. Yet, though Miyashiro’s company and impressive roster of individual artists had been making waves in both the Western and Eastern pop music markets for several years now, the collective group had not released a collaborative project, that is until June 7, 2018.
With the release of the mystical summer love anthem “Midsummer Madness,” 88rising mesmerized audiences across the globe, amassing over 16.6 million plays on Spotify and counting. Following the smashing success of “Midsummer Madness” came a slew of other standout singles and their highly anticipated debut collaborative album Head In The Clouds, released July 23. The album as a whole is a blissful testament to summer, hosting a plethora of lighthearted jams and fun, youthful feels. In addition to their first collaborative album, the group announced their first festival also titled Head In The Clouds, a 16-city North American tour featuring the bulk of the collective’s roster.
As fascinating as 88rising’s mission and concept is the unique elements each artist brings to the collective’s synergic sound. From the deep timbre of Rich Brian’s flow to NIKI’s angelic musings, 88rising represents the true beauty of diversity. So, without further ado, in the spirit of paying homage to the artists that make up this inspirational collective, we would like to introduce to you a handful of 88rising’s most promising members.
Indonesian-born rapper, Brian Imanuel’s childhood was spent in Jakartra, helping with the family business while being homeschooled by his parents. At age 10, he began learning English by watching videos on YouTube and simultaneously fell deeply in love with the wonders of the internet. By 15, his fascination with the internet led him to create dark-humored comedy sketches that he would post daily on Vine. It was from this platform that Miyashiro and Imanuel made their initial connection. After watching a collection of his videos Miyashiro offered to pay for Imanuel’s flight to perform in SXSW. Upon receiving his parents’ permission, he made the long journey to Austin, TX, to confront his destiny or at least perform for the first time in the United States. From there things took off quickly, with his comedic hit “Dat $tick” whose visual companion featured Rich Brian (then known as “Rich Chigga”) clad in a pink polo and fanny pack, singing about “pop(in’) shells for a living” and not giving “a fuck about a motherfuckin’ po.” The track and video were as hilarious as they were shocking and borderline offensive. To combat criticism and capitalize off of the world’s obsession with the track, 88rising produced another viral video “Rappers React to Rich Brian” featuring Ghostface Killah, Desiigner, Tory Lanez, 21 Savage, and more, most of whom reacted relatively positively to Rich Brian’s unique sound. Since the “Dat $tick” days, Imanuel changed his official stage name from Rich Chigga to Rich Brain, after publicly recognizing how his former name was highly problematic. Earlier in 2018, he released his debut album Amen and is featured in 5 of the 17 tracks on Head In The Clouds, including popular single “History,” a rare solo track on the album featuring Imanuel’s hypnotically gruff voice.
Chinese rappers MaSiWei, DZ, Psy. P, and Melo make up the eccentric hip hop group Higher Brothers. Hailing from Chengtu, the group is famous for their bold street wear, mixing Mandarin and English lyrics, and their electric approach to what they call “Chinese trap.” Upon reaching an unprecedented level of success internationally, the Chinese hip hop group has continued to break language barriers and preconceived notions of Asian hip hop artists. Since their 2017 break out singles “Made In China” and “WeChat,” the group has blessed the world with three EPs and a debut album titled Black Cab. A standout on the 88rising roster, the group is also featured on 5 of the 17 tracks on Head In The Clouds including the second single on the album, “Let It Go” where they pair with BlocBoy JB to serve up a dance-inducing banger, perfect for any wild summer house party.
Japanese-born entertainer, George Miller first became known for his comedic sketches on YouTube featuring alter egos Filthy Frank and Pink Guy. In 2013, he began a viral sensation through video meme “DO THE HARLEM SHAKE” featuring the Pink Guy and pals performing an array of peculiar dance moves to electronic producer Baauer’s track “Harlem Shake.” Though famous for his off the wall humor, Miller had secretly been experimenting in emotive trip-hop, combining melancholic lyrics with elements of hip hop, R&B, and electronic music. His original encounter with Miyashiro concerned collaborating with 88rising to make viral videos, but when he heard Miller’s beautiful sound, Miyashiro was far more interested in the music. Miller’s gorgeous voice and relaxed style adds an essential element to Head In The Clouds. As the lead on “Midsummer Madness,” Miller’s voice is both tranquil yet enticing and becomes a familiar sound by the conclusive title track, enhancing the overarching enchanting vibes of the album.
Born Nicole Zefanya, NIKI was also raised in Jakarta, Indonesia and knew Imanuel from childhood. Zefanya grew up on sounds of Destiny’s Child and Aaliyah like many of her musically-inclined Indonesian peers. Yet unlike her peers, Zefanya’s soulful crooning was first noticed internationally in her teens through her YouTube covers which garnered her thousands of followers and kick started the young vocalist’s career. Zefanya was the first female to break up the boy’s club that originally made up 88rising, therefore making a substantial contribution to the collective. Though one of the newer artists on the roster, her luscious R&B vocals become a welcomed change of timbre, as they provide a necessary layer of beauty to the often-hip hop-heavy album. Zefanya opens the album with Joji in “La Cienega” with her signature angelic sound as she questions the “glitz and glamour” of Los Angeles. Additionally, her solo track, “Warpaint,” is an anthemic toast to self-empowerment and is steadily becoming a favorite among fans.
Korean-Japanese rapper Lee Donghean, better known as Keith Ape, named himself after his favorite artist Keith Haring and his self-proclaimed spirit animal. Born in Bundang, South Korea, Donghean was a trouble child in school, but found an outlet for his rebellious energy in his hip hop idols, Nas and AZ. After realizing his future did not concern academia, he dropped out of school to pursue music and in 2010 adopted his moniker “Kid Ash.” His raucous, shrill style over trap beats did not hit off until his 2015 with release “It G Ma,” which was followed by a remix featuring A$AP Ferg, Waka Flocka Flame, Father, and Dumbfounded and became a #1 hit. Though he only appears once on Head In The Clouds, his verse on “Japan 88” is a standout due to Donghean’s seamless blend of English and Korean lines, resulting in a mesmerizing cross-cultural flow.
Ray Jacobs is a Los Angeles bred, longtime R&B songwriter, arranger, and producer but relatively new under his moniker AUGUST 08. His stage name was inspired by his tumultuous relationship with his father who was born on August 8; additionally his debut EP titled FATHER focuses on the difficulty of growing apart from one’s family. His highly emotive music covers difficult, heartbreaking topics with grace and relatability. Jacobs’s dazzling voice and songwriting chops caught the attention of the collective, making AUGUST 08 the first non-Asian member of the group, confirming 88rising platform of diversity not exclusivity. His smooth R&B features in “Midsummer Madness,” “Poolside Manor,” “Disrespectin’,” and “I Want In” add additional colors to this group’s sonic palette, contributing greatly this unprecedented masterpiece.
Be sure to listen to the full album below and don’t forget to grab your tickets HERE for the first 88rising festival featuring all the artists mentioned above and many more!