88rising represents the future of American pop culture

Examining increasing Eastern influence in entertainment

ae-richchigga-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

Rich Chigga is an 18-year-old Indonesian teenager. And not a “teenager” in the way that tattoo-splattered felons such as Lil Pump and XXXTentacion only nominally fit that description. 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In broad strokes, the music video for “Dat Stick” looks and sounds like many others in the rap and hip hop genres. Bottles of Hennessey are emptied. Handguns are brandished. The surroundings are rife with mansions, expensive cars and other assorted iconography of conspicuous consumption. A brassy-voiced rapper spits rapid-fire bars about drugs, “broads” and, most importantly, “not giving a f—k” as a woozily pulsating beat throbs in the background. All are details which wouldn’t seem out of place in a video for a song done by Travis Scott, Migos, Rick Ross or many other popular MCs. But there are some key differences that distinguish the video for “Dat Stick” from its more conventional compatriots in the rap community.

Most obviously, the rapper in question starring in the video, who goes by the name Rich Chigga, is in fact an 18-year-old Indonesian teenager. And not a “teenager” in the way that tattoo-splattered felons such as Lil Pump and XXXTentacion only nominally fit that description. 

Rich Chigga is a teenager in a much more recognizable sense, with his notably inkless and noodle-armed physique, delightfully sophomoric dance moves as well as a crew of equally youthful and ebullient schoolboy friends who appear in the “Dat Stick” video. Rich Chigga may not look the part of a future pop star, but the 76 million views the “Dat Stick” video has accrued on YouTube up to this point might suggest otherwise. 

Rich Chigga, burgeoning international phenomenon that he is, is just one of the acts signed to the record label-management company-content platform that is 88rising, an organization which has firmly placed itself at the nexus of the rapidly volumizing diffusion of Asian pop culture into American music.

88rising was originally founded in 2015 by Sean Miyashiro, the ex-head of the Vice Media sponsored EDM platform Thump and an Asian-American native of San Francisco. From its inception, 88rising was meant to exist as a means of promotion for exclusively Asian music acts who might not be adequately represented in the American music industry. But this is not say that it is 88risings goal to be kitschy in any way. As Miyashiro said in an interview with Pitchfork: “We never want to be preachy, like ‘Yo, Asian s—t is tight.’”

One of Miyashiro’s first successful signings was a South Korean rapper Keith Ape, known for both his breakout Southern trap-inspired hit “It G Ma” and his exceptionally rowdy shows. A subsequent remix of “It G Ma” featuring A$AP Rocky and Waka Flocka Flame allowed 88rising access to audiences and connections comparable to many other mainstream record labels.

Over the course of the last two years, Miyashiro has managed to assemble a startling collection of young talent spread out over several different genres and languages. Among the most recent generation of signings are yaeji, a nerd-chic DJ specializing in blissed-out EDM tracks with seamlessly blended Korean and English vocals, joji, Harlem Shake progenitor turned underground indie-pop darling, and, of course, the aforementioned viral rap sensation himself, Rich Chigga.

It may be tempting to label the success of 88rising as something of an aberration, given the historical lack of representation of Asians in the entertainment media. However, it is perhaps not so shocking a development when one considers the extent to which Asian consumerism has become a bigger and bigger influence in the global culture economy. 

In 2016, four Chinese models walked in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the first time this number of models of Asian descent had been featured in the event’s history. Professional gaming in South Korea and Japan has become a billion-dollar industry, with viewers the world over tuning in for matches streaming on websites such as Twitch, YouTube and many others. Movie franchises, including “Fast and Furious,” the Marvel superhero films and “Transformers” now gross hundreds of millions of dollars in Asian markets alone, sometimes even making more money overseas than off of American audiences.

In music, “K-Pop” bands from South Korea have dramatically increased in popularity among American audiences, as evidenced by Korean boy band BTS winning the “Top Social Artist” Billboard Award in 2017 over the likes of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes — and netting over 313 million fan votes in the process. Young American rappers such as Denzel Curry, Lil Uzi Vert and Ab-Soul have begun to scatter references to Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and other Asian-produced anime TV shows throughout their songs. In 2012, the hit single “Gangnam Style” by the South Korean popstar Psy became number one on the iTunes sales charts and would eventually go on to become the first YouTube video to receive over one billion views.

Even in the midst of these seismic cultural shifts, what makes 88rising unique is how precisely it exists as a bridge between Western and Eastern values. In many important ways, 88rising is an American company — it is based in Brooklyn, was founded by an American and represents artists who perform specifically American forms of music and who are profitable as a result of appreciation by American fans. 

But 88rising is also very much an Asian organization (Miyashiro: “We’re Asian as f—k”), run exclusively by people of Asian descent who represent exclusively Asian artists, who themselves tour and are marketed extensively in Asian countries. If the economic firepower of China, Japan and South Korea continues to expand at the rate that they have since the 1990s, it seems likely that a cultural middleman in the vein of 88rising would stand to benefit from this development, as the growth in influence of Asian culture occurs in the wake of the economic imperialism propagated by its mother countries.

Regardless of its potential going forward, 88rising at present is still a force to be reckoned with in the music business. With its explosive roster of young talent and potent connections with the American, South Korean and Chinese markets, 88rising is a name to keep in mind when looking towards the future of pop music.

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