The breakthrough of Asian and Asian American artists like Rich Brian, Joji, Niki and Higher Brothers into the American media and music industry has paved the way for a celebration of Asian artists and their culture. However, their impact originates in part from the efforts of 88rising, a collective that has helped catapult them and other artists into popular renown.
88rising (stylized as 88↑) is a mass media company that was founded in 2015 by Sean Miyashiro and Jaeson Ma. 88rising first started as a music collective and management company of up-and-coming artists found by Miyashiro or through the internet. Their first artists were Brian Puspos, Dumbfoundead, Josh Pan and Okasian. Their goal at that time, according to founder Miyashiro, was “to become the most wavy, iconic crew” and “to represent for not only Asian immigrants, but for all immigrants.” Now, the company is primarily known as a label for Asian American and Asian artists that release music in the United States, representing artists such as Joji, Keith Ape, Rich Brian and Niki.
The eminence of 88rising can be attributed to their unconventional position in the music industry. 88rising doesn’t limit themselves with a specific label — the content they produce is fluid in a way that resonates efficiently with the unrestrained flow of the internet, whether it be through producing music videos, hosting tours and concerts, or collaborating to make reaction or cooking videos. In an interview with Bloomberg, Miyashiro described 88rising as a “hybrid management, record label, video production, and marketing company.”
Another reason for 88rising’s success as a media platform is their ingenious use of artists that had already built up a following over the internet, and collaborating with established American artists and names to gain a foothold within the Western consciousness. The clearest example of these tactics can be found in the origin stories of Keith Ape and Joji in 88rising.
Keith Ape joined 88rising when Dumbfoundead, one of 88rising’s inaugural artists, showed founder Miyashiro Keith Ape’s single “It G Ma,” a raw rap song with a video featuring entrancingly jagged visuals. His interest piqued, Miyashiro called on his industry contacts and began to work with both Ape and Dumbfoundead to release a remix version that featured A$AP Ferg, Father and Waka Flocka Flame. The music video was premiered by Complex, lending the song an air of Western hip-hop credibility, if the featured artists didn’t already establish that.
Joji, one of 88rising’s most popular artists, originally gained internet fame for his personality as Filthy Frank and later as Pink Guy. He had garnered 6 million subscribers from making comedic and often controversial videos on his YouTube channel, and even released a comedy album titled “Pink Season,” which ranked No. 70 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and reached No. 1 on iTunes in multiple countries, despite not being an official musical artist at the time. The self-produced album featured Joji as Pink Guy rapping about how he lives “in constant fear of misery.” Joji eventually grew tired and disillusioned with his comedy career on the internet, and officially quit in late 2017 to prioritize his career as a musical artist signed by 88rising.
Joji, whose music is mostly lo-fi or minimalistic R&B, was promoted heavily by 88rising, who saw his appeal to American consumers. The release of his debut album, “Ballads 1,” made chart history as the first album by a solo Asian artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts. His song “Slow Dancing in the Dark” was certified platinum, and “Yeah Right” was certified gold.
Evoking Joji’s past internet presence, 88rising also set up Joji with appearances on popular YouTube series such as Genius’ “Verified,” GQ’s “10 Things Joji Can’t Live Without” and First We Feast’s “Hot Ones.” This exposure further acquainted American audiences with Joji and his music and cemented 88rising’s mastery in dominating media waves on a variety of platforms.
It was a recipe for success.
88rising replicated this formula of accumulating viral artists in the case of Rich Brian and his viral hit “Dat $tick.” All 88rising needed to establish Rich Brian’s cred as a hip-hop artist in his own right — rather than relegating him to an internet curio — was one reaction video.
The video — which at this time has over 22 million views, features reactions from Ghostface Killah, Desiigner, Tory Lanez, 21 Savage and many more — officially crowned Rich Brian as “the hardest of all time.” Ghostface Killah affirms Rich Brian’s hip-hop appeal, saying “I like that, that’s dope,” in reference to “Dat $tick.”
The reaction video added to the original hype of the song, accumulating over 175 million views on YouTube and over 150 million streams on Spotify. By getting American rappers themselves interested in the artists, 88rising was able to bring along the subsequent American fans. Later, Rich Brian’s first published songs would be a collaboration with late rapper XXXTENTACION and label mate Keith Ape. Brian later published a remix of “Dat $tick” with Ghostface Killah and Pouya and would collab with Offset from Migos on his song “Attention.” Rich Brian’s debut album, “Amen,” was released to positive reviews and commercial acclaim, ranking No. 18 on the Billboard 200 in its first week and making iTunes history by being the first album released by an Asian artist to top the iTunes Hip-Hop Chart.
Another popular signed artist, Higher Brothers (who are oft-nicknamed the Chinese “Migos”), was signed when 88rising realized that their innovative American Chinese blend of rap culture had the potential to command attention in America. Despite mostly rapping in their native Mandarin and their frequent homages to Chinese culture, their music has definitive notes of mainstream American hip-hop artists such as A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and — as their nickname suggests — Migos. These artists influenced the Higher Brothers’ writing style and helped make Higher Brothers more appealing to American hip-hop fans.
The code was already there. All 88rising needed to get Higher Brothers noticed was one song (featuring Famous Dex), and another reaction video.
This reaction video featured prominent rappers Migos, Lil Yachty, KYLE, Playboi Carti, Smokepurpp and others reacting positively to Higher Brothers’ song “Made in China.” Twelve seconds into the video, before the rap even begins, rapper PNB Rock remarks, “I’m f—ing with it already. ”
“They look so dope,” says Lil Yachty after only hearing the first line.
Migos too, expresses their approval of the song, commenting “Sh-t’s dope” and “When are we going to get our own song [with Higher Brothers]?”
In February 2019, Higher Brothers released “Five Stars,” a follow-up album to their debut album, “Black Cab” (2017). This album featured hip-hop collaborators including Schoolboy Q, Ski Mask the Slump God, Soulja Boy and more. “Five Stars” soon became the top album on Chinese streaming platform NetEase and Higher Brothers were crowned Hip-Hop Artist of the Year.
These collaborations have been a big part of the 88rising formula for their artists’ success and their acclaim as a label in the Western market. Not only was this good for business, but also their street-cred: It lent 88rising, as a predominantly Asian company in hip-hop, an authenticity through grappling with Black culture and Black artists firsthand. 88rising avoided traditional marketing of their artists on talk shows like “Good Morning America,” instead targeting hip-hop media like Complex, Vice and Genius. 88rising also has their artists collaborate frequently on videos and songs, increasing the chance that viewers who get into one artist will come across the others and creating a domino effect of influence that amplifies their own label.
88rising also worked in surprise guest appearances with Western artists such as Charli XCX and Ski Mask the Slump God in their sold-out North American tour. Outside of their core group, the company also collaborated with other popular Asian artists, notably Jackson Wang, Chungha and Kris Wu.
With this innovative amalgam of Asian American music, 88rising is able to plug Asian pop/rap/R&B acts into the American outlet. Miyashiro likens 88rising to the “Disney of Asian hip-hop.” The New Yorker classified 88rising as the “authority in creating pop-culture crossovers.” A Paper Magazine article puts it best: “88rising provides not only the cultural support but also the strategic and technical know-how to help emerging Asian artists cross over in an efficient but meaningful way.”
88rising is a fantastic example of cultural appreciation, not appropriation, and an example of how to be a successful multimedia company. Like a traditional talent management company, 88rising identifies and oversees the careers of its artists. Like a record label, they release and distribute music. Like a YouTube channel, they produce video content that is polished but retains an edgy flair, ranging from viral meme clips to lengthy documentaries to interviews to commercials to music videos to live performances. They understand the benefits of virality and internet presence and use their industry fluidity to push at all corners of music consumption.