88Rising is an Asian-American mass media company based out of New York that focuses on spreading Asian hip-hop in both the United States as well as East Asia. The collective has amassed a large following online, with some of their videos garnering over 20 million views on YouTube. However, the way that they have accrued this following has been considered problematic by many as the brand markets their race extensively in order to sell their content.
But is the music actually any good? The short answer is no.
Rich Brian, the lead rapper on the label, is mediocre at best. His album, “Amen”, has lyrics that are simplistic, and the timing in his flow seems to be a little bit off, all the time. Lo-fi singer-songwriter Joji, has tracks that all seem too boring, gray and under-produced. His songs are comparable to the music on the lo-fi study streams that are on YouTube.
So, how has 88Rising been able to be so successful when some of their biggest artists make unexceptional music? By continually trumpeting their Asian-ness to promote their music, it almost feels as if they use their race to make sales. In fact, Sean Miyashiro, the founder of the company, actually pitched the idea of 88Rising to investors as “VICE for Asian culture.” This is just one example of many of how the collective purposely places race on the frontlines, instead of art. Rather than letting the work stand for itself, the collective always appeals to the racial element of the music in order for it to be successful.
88Rising has always seen themselves as the groundbreakers for the modern Asian music scene in the West. Examples of this are shown in their collaborations with prominent Eastern and Western artists, such as Kris Wu, Ski Mask the Slump God, XXXTentacion and more. By working with these artists, the group seeks to redefine Asian artists so that they can become popular in Western culture.
Though 88rising has given Asian artists a platform to go directly into the mainstream, the way that they provide this platform is a major issue. Race is marketed instead of music, the art is mediocre and the good music that they do put out is pushed out of the spotlight by the constant discussion of how their Asian-ness plays into what they create.
To clarify, Asians stepping into the hip-hop sphere is not a bad thing. The way 88Rising is spreading hip-hop culture to the East, and making Asian music part of the mainstream is terrific. However, the collective has missed the point. For 88Rising to truly be successful, the music itself has to be good. Oftentimes, the quality of the music released by 88Rising is lacking, but the mediocrity is glossed over in celebration of the supposed diversity.
Before trying to dominate the mainstream with Asian hip-hop, 88Rising needs to learn how to make music that isn’t tasteless, boring and sloppy. Only by putting music first and foremost over anything else will they be able to achieve their mission of spreading hip-hop and showing that Asians deserve equal representation in entertainment and hip-hop.
Email Jun Sung at [email protected].