What is 88rising and What Are They Doing?

88rising is a multimedia company that is built around the celebration of Asian artists and their culture. The company has artists ranging from Indonesia, China, Japan, and South Korea, with multiple artists being popular in their native countries as well as others. 88rising uses its media and signed artists to connect Asian cultures in an interesting way with otherwise uninterested fans.

One of the labels most popular artists is Joji (aka George Miller aka Filthy Frank aka Pink Guy), who makes mostly R&B music featuring lofi or minimalistic production. He originally gained popularity for creating the comedic internet character Filthy Frank. He managed to get six million subscribers on his YouTube channel and release a comedy album called Pink Season under the name of popular channel character, Pink Guy. This album performed so well that it ranked seventy on the U.S. Billboards 200, which is amazing for a comedy album and especially one from a YouTuber. It was also number one on iTunes for a time in multiple countries. The album itself is mostly joke tracks such as the track “Dog Festival Directions”[1] which details instructions, including hotel prices, how to get to an actual dog eating festival in China, but also had some really interesting songs with unique production and instrumentation such as “Fried Noodles”, which features Pink Guy rapping over a grimy, self-produced beat and an angelic chorus where he sings about how he is “liv[ing] in constant fear of misery”. Joji, however, decided that the comedy career was not for him and YouTube was starting to demonetize all of his videos due to their un-pc and oftentimes disturbing nature (see “Hair Cake”), and so, after a long decline in his activity on the channel, officially quit in late 2017 to start his music career with his new record label.

88rising realized Joji’s talent for production, his unique singing style, and his established American appeal so they promoted him heavily. All of this combined into one and made Joji the first Asian artist to have a #1 R&B album in the United States meaning they were successful in introducing an Asian artist into the American mainstream. Joji grew up in Japan, so he is very engrossed in the culture of the country, and as a result, 88rising makes sure he is in videos that allow him to talk about it, whether it be a video of him trying and comparing Asian food or interviewing an American rapper like Lil Yachty. 88rising also take into consideration the fact that Joji is really entertaining and so there are many videos of him on various popular YouTube series—that 88rising undoubtedly set him up with—such as Genius’s “Verified”, GQ’s “10 Things _ Can’t Live Without”, and First We Feast’s “Hot Ones”. These videos serve multiple purposes, including to: expose American audiences to Joji and his music, further connect Joji’s fans to him, and allow him to spread his culture with non-Asian audiences. 88rising clearly knows the benefits of the internet and just how far a funny video can go with the right people.

However, music is not the only way 88rising connects Asian culture with other regions. The company’s YouTube channel has many series where they explore Asian cuisine with cooking challenges, food reviews, or just two artists chatting over food. They often collaborate with popular American food-based YouTube channel “First We Feast” (best known for their interview series “Hot Ones”) to make some of these videos possible, and to have a wider reach to non-Asian audiences. Their decisions to let other channels host their content shows that they care more about spreading the culture than the success of the company. Take for instance the “Feast Mansion” series which is hosted on the First We Feast Youtube channel. In the series Joji and Rich Brian cook a variety of foods for each other with a couple recipes being from their respective cultures. 88rising realizes its signed artists have a large American audience and so they take this opportunity to let these artists make funny videos, all while sharing and spreading their cultures.   

Another popular signed artist is, the Higher Brothers (nicknamed Chinese Migos), who were signed in 2016. Despite mostly rapping in their native language of Mandarin, their music draws lots of inspiration from mainstream American hip-hop artists such as A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and, as their nickname suggests, Migos. These artists influence the Higher Brothers’ writing style, and in a Vice documentary, one of the members by the name of MaSiWei, explained that he used to read American rap songs translated to Mandarin so that he could see how popular rappers write. These influences help to make the Higher Brothers more appealing to American hip-hop fans who may be put off because of the language barrier. Additionally, to help combat the language barrier, the group often has English in their songs, specifically the choruses to make them easier to sing along to. 88rising picked up on this American-Chinese culture blend the Brothers had and realized their potential to be popular in America—their lyric videos often have English subtitles as well. Thanks to 88rising, the Brothers have been able to collaborate with many popular American artists such as Famous Dex, Ski Mask the Slump God, and rising Atlanta rapper JID. Their music videos also have lots of Chinese elements whether it be lighting, symbols, the location/country, etc; By making their sound more appealing to American hip-hop fans, while still remaining engrossed in the Chinese culture, the Higher Brothers and 88rising are helping connect the Chinese arts with fans all across the world. The CEO, Sean, describes the company in a Vice documentary, explaining that,“[We do] whatever we feel should be celebrated or given a platform. I’d say we’re like an Asian youth company that celebrates Asian culture, east and west”.

Music collaborations have been a big part of the 88rising success and a major part of their attempts to appeal to American audiences. The company is constantly bringing in rappers from the West to participate on songs, remixes, or even production. The Higher Brothers recently dropped an album featuring artists such as JID, Denzel Curry, Schoolboy Q, and even the infamous Soulja Boy. One of Rich Brian’s first published songs was a collaboration with late rapper XXXTENTACION and label mate Keith Ape. Brian even managed to get a song with 21 Savage; Joji, a song with Trippie Redd; August 08, a song with Smino. Not only that but they often collaborate with popular DJs and producers such as Clams Casino, Getter, Ronny J, and according to some lyrics off “Flight” by Rich Brian, the legendary Pharrell Williams.

Their collaborations with popular non-Asian musicians also include videos where they react to 88rising’s signed artist’s music videos. One reaction video, to Rich Brian’s viral hit “Dat $tick”, currently has 18 million views. The song itself was already going viral and the video continued adding to the hype of the song, and as a result, “Dat $tick” currently has over 125 million views on YouTube and 100 million streams on Spotify. By getting popular American rappers themselves interested in the artists, they brought along some of the subsequent American fans. One more genius thing that 88rising does is keeping their amount of signed artists small and having them collaborate frequently. This means that if a viewer gets into one of the artists, they are likely to come across the others while listening to them, and it kind of has the domino effect from there. I got into Rich Brian through a Joji feature, and Niki through a Rich Brian song, so their tactics are somewhat effective.

88rising is a fantastic example of cultural appreciation and how to be a successful multi-media company. There are many other interesting things this company does to connect cultures that I was not able to fully mention. One example is the 88rising’s Head in the Clouds festival that took place in the U.S. and featured only Asian artists. They are expanding their reach daily and currently have offices in New York, Shanghai, and L.A., as well as millions of followers across social media platforms. They understand the benefits of virality and internet presence, and they use it to promote cultures into parts of the world that otherwise do not really have much of it.

 

 


[1] This song has actually been taken off most streaming services, possibly because Joji is looking to leave his past behind in search for a mainstream music career, or because the directions have since expired since it was written three years ago.

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