In 2017, 88rising emerged as a company to watch, even it’s not easy to sum up exactly what 88rising does. But that’s kind of the point.
88rising is best known as a music label with an international roster that includes Indonesia-based teenager Rich Chigga, South Korean MC Keith Ape, Chinese rap group the Higher Brothers, and the Australian-Japanese singer Joji—a former YouTube celebrity who lives in New York and famously started the viral Harlem Shake video craze. While some of these acts have helped prove to Western audiences that music made in Asia can go be beyond slickly produced spectacles like the K-pop industry, 88rising helps manage the flow the other way as well. They filmed performances of up-and-coming U.S. acts from this year’s Rolling Loud Festival in Florida and hosted them on their YouTube channel, which boasts more the 1.25 million subscribers, and routinely connects American MCs with Asia-based talent.
Sean Miyashiro, a Bay Area native, only founded 88rising in 2016, but it’s already became an essential gateway to learn about all kinds of new culture. We spoke to him from the company’s New York office about the foundations 88rising was able to establish this year and what the possibilities are for 2018.
Since 88rising is involved in so many different types of projects, how do you describe what the company does to a person who you’re trying to do business with?
It kind of depends on who we’re talking to., but overall we represent a new hybrid entertainment company. Some media companies just do media and they do it well, some companies just do premium content, some companies just do talent management, some people just do music. We like to basically be really good at those things and intersect them so they’re not acting on their own. It’s kind of a seamless interplay between all of them.
We have this new entertainment company where anything that we create can live in a lot of different mediums. We aspire to do anything, no ceilings. If we wanted to do a film or we wanted to create a music festival, that all kind of ladders up to what we stand for. These are all things that we aspire to do and I think will do.
How would you describe what 88rising does to your aunt or some other family member?
I would say we’re an imagination factory. We just like to create wild shit. Any idea that is basic, we don’t like. Anything we do that is more surprising or left field or off kilter, the more excited we get.
I draw a lot of inspiration from Walt Disney in terms of the way that his mind worked. It’s kind of cliché, but if you really believe that you can pull something off, you probably can. We’ve done some really lofty shit where the idea seemed kind of intangible but somehow we’ve been able to do a lot of these different things. And we’re making a lot of stuff right now, so 2018 is going to a really strong year from an innovation standpoint and also from a cultural one. We’re bringing some new fresh things, especially when it comes to East meets West and that whole bridge that we’re trying to figure out for young people.
In terms of that idea of East meets West, was that the seed of what you wanted 88rising to be when you started the company?
Yeah. There was no home that celebrates Asian culture in general, and then more specifically Asian young people doing ill shit. That’s across all different mediums—fashion, art, music, whatever. Our goal in the beginning was creating a place where all people can come and appreciate a lot of these creators. It’s also serving as a bridge between Western and Eastern young people, showcasing artists that we like to an Asian audience as we grow that audience. People off the top can be like, “Yo, this is probably pretty good, cuz 88rising fucked with this.”
Do you want this showcase of young Asian culture to always be the base of 88rising where everything else grows from that?
We’re gonna work with people. We’re gonna create things with people that we appreciate, it doesn’t matter where you’re from and who it’s for because we have a massive US audience that’s growing really quickly. And people are coming to us not necessarily to consume Asian-related content by any means.
How are you discovering new music or just any new culture now?
Joji and Brian [aka Rich Chigga], they are so up on the fucking internet it is insane. They are like masters of the net. They’re from the future and that’s probably a huge reason for them being able to galvanize the internet. From a music perspective, somehow these guys fucking know everything, like the most obscure shit, and I’m like, “What is this?” This guy has 2,000 SoundCloud followers, but then two months later it’s like the biggest shit ever.
It just all comes from within an immediate circle of artists and then their peripherals. I like to think that I’m up on everything, but it’s just a collective effort really.
There are these artists who 88rising works who obviously have amassed incredible fanbases in terms of numbers and dedication, but it’s not clear to a lot of people in the established music industry how big these people are. Maybe that’s for the best in some ways because the artists can still have close relationships with fans, they can be still financially successful, and they can make the art they want to make, but inevitably the larger industry is going to notice what’s going on. What do think that inevitable attention is going to mean for these artists and this community?
Obviously because of the internet these artists are able to grow their virality much quicker, but being able to blow up on your own allows people to think strategically as well. A lot of these artists are geniuses with their brand. They’re tremendously consistent. Each of them invoke a different feeling, and I think that this thought is fundamental to our success too. We came into this from a completely creative stand point first.
The major labels are just trying to catch up. And that’s not to say that working with major labels or anything is bad by any means. It’s a case by case scenario. But now more than ever I think that if you and a friend have a vision to start a small record company putting out music that you’re passionate about, there’s never been a better time to do it than now. The more open it is, the more bright people are going to take a stab at it, globally. The more people that do it, the more cultural heroes will be made out of that.
Just from where we sit more specifically, we have gained a lot of popularity in Asia and people look up to our brand. We’re the first collective that has artists that have gained traction in the United States without being back by completely manufactured shit. Like this is on some cool cultural shit. We are covered in every single outlet. It’s the first time [Asian people] seen people who look like them being able to do it and what that really means.
In hip hop and in music, for Asian people it’s always been a gimmick. It’s always this guy fucking popping off on some stupid shit. That’s not the type of music I listen to and that’s not the type of music millions of young people in Asia listen to. We are making music that they love and that we are actually being accepted. That is really encouraging to all of them. It’s like we’re really creating an imaginary bridge between East and West where somebody in China could be like, “Dude I love hip hop and I can make hip hop and it can potentially work outside of just my country.”