Founded in 2015 by Sean Miyashiro, the idea behind forming the US-based collective 88rising was to bring Eastern artists to prominence in the West.
As Miyashiro told Crack Magazine as part of our Rich Brian cover story, he’d noticed people around him “creating in different fields, from music to directing to graphic design, and they all happened to be Asian as well. But there was no real home where they could be celebrated and more people could understand what they’re doing.”
Miyashiro, who is also Rich Brian’s manager, has, in a short period of time, created a successful multi-discipline powerhouse, which operates as a label for talent from across Asia’s many countries, a management company, an events organiser, and a content creator. But 88rising’s artists aren’t merely releasing great tracks, they’re rightly gaining attention for it in the notoriously ruthless US market, and beyond. We take a closer look at the main players in this expanding creative family and their enviable, growing body of work.
JOJIJapanese-Australian singer and producer
The permanently disheveled Joji (aka George Miller, aka the Pink Guy, who created the Harlem Shake meme) had already begun making music as Joji (the hypnotic rain on me was a clear indicator of his new focus) before finally abandoning his YouTube comedy personas for good in late 2017. The sparse piano, minimal drum machine beats, and melancholic outlook of Joji’s debut LP, In Tongues, is a beautiful, intimate affair that’s best experience in solitude.
Nineteen year old Niki grew up devouring 90s R&B and has since become a rising star of the genre. Her debut album, Zephyr, is laden with slick production, from the bright brassiness of Newsflash! and its coruscating zingers – “There’s no lower I’d ever stoop to/ Newsflash! I can do better than you” – to the sensual, broken confessions on Spell and Pools. She’s neither a belter nor a whisperer, but shifts her voice from tremulous to husky, and dark to light, in subtle ways that paints a far more complex picture.
AUGUST 08Los Angeles singer/songwriter
88rising’s first non-Asian signee, AUGUST 08, likes to throw curveballs on his debut EP, FATHER. He tackles the emotional fallout of his father leaving when he was child throughout, yet on its most blatantly titled track (Father Issues), he keeps the heartache minimal, placing it against murky electronica and house beats. Elsewhere he is frank and musically curious (pushing from alt R&B to emotive electric guitars and piano), making him a fascinating and diverse talent.
HIGHER BROTHERSChinese rap crew
Straight outta Chengdu, Psy. P, Masiwei, DZ Know and Melo are leading the Chinese rap scene, which, until recently, had been non-existent on a mainstream scale. 88rising put them on the US map by uploading the gloomy trap and Sichuan dialect of Black Cab on their YouTube and making a reaction video where Migos and Lil Yachty waxed lyrical over the sarky, self-aware Made In China. Deft rappers and writers, Higher Brothers put humour into Room Service and essayed hard truth and ambition on Why Not, and although you may need lyric translations, their flow and beats alone are captivating.
RINA SAWAYAMAJapanese-British singer/songwriter
Fashion darling and creator of intelligent 80s, 90s and 00’s-inspired pop, Rina Sawayama has been on a journey; songs, such as Tunnel Vision and Cyber Stockholm Syndrome, explore the digital universe we build ourselves, while she takes it into the real world on her latest, and first with 88rising, Valentine (What’s It Gonna Be). She’s as kitschy as she is progressive – for every musical nod to the past is an understanding and expression of her vision as an artist, a young woman, and person of two cultures – making Rina one of the UK’s brightest pop hopes.
KEITH APEKorean rapper
Back in early 2015, Keith Ape became a viral god with It G Ma, and moved to LA to further his career. While he hasn’t repeated the dizzying numbers of his break out hit, he’s firmly established himself as a successful trap artist (rapping predominantly in Korean) and released a steady flow of singles – the blistering Psycho is a must-listen – and features, including several bangers with Florida’s Ski Mask The Slump God, such as Going Down Underwater and Achoo!.
New to 88rising, Lexie Liu will be familiar to fans of South Korean pop as she appeared on the talent show, K-Pop Star in 2015 (coming fourth), only to turn down a deal with YG Entertainment, one of the most powerful labels in the country, and return to China. Performing in both English and Mandarin, her latest single, Like A Mercedes, is a ghostly, sultry slice of R&B, and while she’s been called the ‘Chinese Rihanna’, Lexie looks set to carve her own unique path.