Photo Courtesy of 88rising
PARADISE RISING: How 88rising's New Label Is Pushing Filipino Music And Culture To The Forefront
From the start, 88rising was always a passion project, with founder Sean Miyashiro at the forefront of a dream. In 2015, he started the company, which takes its name from the Chinese symbol for "double luck and fortune," hoping to create a label that could represent and showcase the talent of underground Asian artists. Fast-forward five years later, and 88rising has become a global brand, bridging the gap between Eastern and Western pop culture and representing some of the most fervent Asian acts in the music industry. But was it really "double luck" that propelled them to the top?
Regularly collecting millions of views per video on their YouTube channel, 88rising has launched multiple newcomers into superstardom, in turn creating a space for Asian rappers, singers and artists to thrive in music. The company's roster includes Rich Brian, the Indonesian-Chinese rapper/singer behind the 2016 viral song and video "Dat $tick"; Chinese hip-hop quartet Higher Brothers, who have been revered for bypassing several censorship regulations in their homeland with their lyrics; and Indonesian R&B songbird NIKI, who, at 21, has opened for Taylor Swift, Halsey and other major stars on tour.
88rising artists have also secured high-profile collaborations with some of the biggest names from the East and West, including Hong Kong-native rapper and K-pop idol Jackson Wang, Korean rock/pop group DAY6 and former EXO member Kris Wu as well as rap giants likes 21 Savage, Playboi Carti and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah.
Both the artists and the mass media company itself have grown cult-like followings via their groundbreaking music and the globally inclusive multimedia world they've created, which collectively celebrate Asian and Asian-American culture and identity. 88rising's annual Head In The Clouds Festival, dubbed the "Asian Coachella" by Rolling Stone, emphasizes the importance of representation, one of Miyashiro's main goals behind the label. (Head In The Clouds was due to debut in Jakarta, Indonesia, this past March before it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 88rising was scheduled to host its Double Happiness event series at this year's Coachella before the festival was postponed in June.)
"88rising is a culture that people want to get behind," Miyashiro explains to GRAMMY.com via email. "It's the type of movement that makes people wanna get tattoos of the logo on their bodies. That doesn't just happen to any media company or record label. We mean something intangible to people."
Now, the collective is expanding into Southeast Asia with the launch of its new sister label, PARADISE RISING.
In July 2020, 88rising partnered with Globe Telecom, the Philippines' biggest telecommunications company, to create PARADISE RISING, a label focused on highlighting Filipino artists and culture. The imprint's inaugural mixtape, semilucent, released last month (July 31), spotlights the rising artists putting the island country on the music map, including Jason Dhakal, Leila Alcasid, Massiah, Fern., and Kiana V. Collectively, semilucent embodies the individual artists' Filipino heritage and culture.
GRAMMY.com caught up with 88rising founder Sean Miyashiro and Filipino artists Kiana V and Leila Alcasid to talk about how PARADISE RISING is spotlighting the blossoming music scene in the Philippines, the rising influence of Asian artists in R&B and hip-hop, and the ongoing journey toward "true Asian representation in pop culture."
How did 88rising start?
Sean Miyashiro: 88rising started with a small dream in a parking lot in the Bronx. That's what makes it so crazy. We had no idea what we would become. We're still a small team, and it's always been DIY for us. Being small and scrappy has allowed us holistic creative control of our brand, our vision and our future. We put out things into the world that we believe in.
You have a very wide array of artists who are given the freedom to express themselves as they see fit. Has this always been your vision with the label?
Miyashiro: We're all family. We provide our artists the space and creative freedom to do what they want. At the end of the day, what we want is the same: to make dope music while trailblazing the way towards a future with true Asian representation in pop culture.
88rising has collaborated with many artists who are already so successful in the East, including Jackson Wang and Kang Daniel. How do these collaborations come to fruition? Do you think this helps blur the lines that might exist between artists from the West and the East?
Miyashiro: Everything that happens has been serendipitous and natural. We never force anything, but when we see an opportunity, we put our whole hearts behind it. And in the process, if it brings more people together, then we've done our job—and more.
What prompted the creation of PARADISE RISING?
Miyashiro: It really just made sense for us. The synergy with Globe was there. With their local expertise paired with 88rising's global infrastructure, PARADISE RISING brings talented emerging Asian artists to the forefront of global youth culture. We're just continuing to do what we do best.
The label's debut EP, semilucent, highlights the broad diversity of Filipino artists and styles. Is there something about the Philippines, in particular, that led you to explore the artists and music from there?
Miyashiro: The Philippines has such a vibrant music culture, and there are so many young talented artists who are emerging. We want to amplify this on a global scale.
What parts of your Filipino culture and heritage do you bring into your music, lyrics and songwriting?
Kiana V: I'd say being a Filipino, we're very passionate people, and you hear that in our music; [whether it's] songs that are lively, our ballads or in our folk music, the vulnerability stands out. That's something I definitely bring into my music.
Leila Alcasid: I always pay attention to my process; Filipinos always want to give every part of themselves. The way that this translates in music is that we're very vulnerable. If you look at the music that we listen to, it's really all to do with digging deep and having music that relates to the human condition ... I guess I'm trying to be as vulnerable as possible, trying to open myself up.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Kiana V: I was always drawn to Solange. When she was able to break away and do her own thing, I followed her immediately. I'm a huge fan of her storytelling and her way of writing. I grew up listening to a lot of Brandy, JoJo and Aaliyah, too. [Laughs.] Oh my God, I'm such a millennial. A lot of R&B and jazz artists. I'd say those are my main musical influences.
Alcasid: Different aspects of my music are informed by different artists. Norah Jones, a lot of Nelly Furtado, that's an example of who I look to on how to approach my vocals. I'm not a belter, I'm a lot more relaxed when I sing, and I think that was heavily influenced by those artists. From 88rising, I am so inspired by NIKI. I think she is such a talented writer. Her lyrics are so witty, but they're also incredibly poetic; I'm a huge fan.
Between 2017 to now, which is the bulk of when I started learning how to write songs and figuring out what my sound was, I started listening to a lot of Korean music. There was a point when I was obsessed with BTS, and I feel like my love for BTS was a big part of why I attempted to string a narrative through everything in my first EP. A lot of their work is very narrative-heavy, and I was inspired by that. I wanted to do that for my EP, and it kind of even happened and continued in "Clouds," my song on semilucent.
The sounds on semilucent are mainly R&B and hip-hop. Can you speak a bit on the rising influence of Asian artists in this space?
Kiana V: R&B and hip-hop has been a growing sound in the Asian community. I believe it's always been there. With technology and social media, people have been given a space to grow their own platforms, and these talented artists are finally being able to shine in their own space. As far as evolution is concerned, I think there's just room for so much growth and a burst of more and more artists.
Alcasid: There's such a huge collective of people here [in the Philippines] that focus on those sounds. I wasn't very aware of the hip-hop scene here, but as I've been here longer, I'm noticing that the one thing they're really informed by is politics. I feel like on one end, it can be a bit risky. But on the other, it's a way to express yourself in a way that's very honest and runs historical.
I learned a lot about how Filipinos are approaching hip-hop through my boyfriend, who's a rapper here. It's been interesting to see what inspires hip-hop and how they're influenced by the West. They're tying in the sounds of the West, but it's still authentically them as possible ... In all different parts of Asia, we're influenced by the West and what's already been done, but you can identify the styles and the way in which they're transformed to become inherently Asian.
What does the future look like for 88rising and PARADISE RISING?
Miyashiro: We have a few super-exciting [artist] signings on the way and more mixtape drops incoming.