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88rising, A Media Company Focused On Asian Artists


Sean Miyashiro has loved hip-hop music since he was a kid in the 1990s.

SEAN MIYASHIRO: It was probably, like, really early, like, second grade, elementary school. I remember, you know, trying to learn the Roger Rabbit. It was a certain...

CHANG: (Laughter).

MIYASHIRO: ...Dance move to Bell Biv DeVoe.

CHANG: Miyashiro is Asian American. And as he got older, he kept waiting for artists who looked like him to break into the genre until, finally, he decided to do something about it himself.

MIYASHIRO: My thought was, if I just attempted to create this home - that it would be infinitely better than whatever existed because, frankly, nothing existed.

CHANG: He founded something called 88rising. It's a record label and a management company and a marketing firm and a video production house, all focused on Asian artists, like the Higher Brothers.


HIGHER BROTHERS: (Rapping in foreign language).

CHANG: 88rising is a space for Asian hip-hop artists. But Sean Miyashiro told me that it's important to remember where hip-hop came from.

MIYASHIRO: I think that the problem arises when you have artists that don't - have never been to America, even. When you start kind of - it's obvious that you really - you have no idea where the culture stems from. You're blatantly appropriating, from the way that you act, the subject matter that you speak about, which you might not have any experience in doing. It's cringy, and that's the stuff that, like, takes us back a notch. But as much as, like, there's a lot of artists that won't do it properly, there will be the artists that rise to the top and become examples of what a hip-hop artist from Asia could be.

CHANG: Yeah. I want to touch on what you just said. Like, there's cultural appropriation issues. There's also the issues of how you look. I want to talk about one artist that you've been working with, Rich Brian. His breakout hit was "Dat $tick."


RICH BRIAN: (Rapping) 12 in the morning, pop shells for a living. And berry going to smell blood trail every minute.

CHANG: And for people who have never seen the video, Rich Brian is, like, this skinny, nerdy Asian guy who wears a fanny pack in the video. He has this pink collared T-shirt on. He's not exactly the first guy you would picture in your head if you're picturing rapper.


CHANG: But in a way, that was the point. Can you describe what made Rich Brian so fascinating to you when you first discovered him?

MIYASHIRO: It's literally what you just said, which is, you know, it's a kid in a pink polo and khaki shorts. He had the deepest voice you can ever imagine.


RICH BRIAN: (Rapping) People be starving, and people be killing for food with that crack and that spoon.

MIYASHIRO: It was just so many things to make this crazy creation. And you know, he quickly learned that, hey, there was a - there's a lot of problems with that as well.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, I want to talk about the problems because if you look at the lyrics to "Dat $tick," like, Rich Brian drops the N-word. He talks about gang life. He refers to the police as pigs. And I mean, people have been criticized for being Asian hip-hop artists who are trying to act black.


CHANG: They're trying to rap about experiences that they don't have, that don't belong to him. Rich Brian's a guy from Indonesia. So, like, how did Rich Brian address the lyrics in "Dat $tick"? - 'cause it does seem like he's trying to sound black.

MIYASHIRO: Right, especially after he moved here 'cause, you know, he's consuming hip-hop music and American culture on Twitter. Once he comes here, he understands, like, exactly, like, what the meaning and the hurt behind that word is. He's completely apologized, but, like, beyond just being apologetic, he has internalized exactly what not to do and what he wants to kind of represent in his music now.

CHANG: It seems like Asian America is having a moment now. Like, there's "Crazy Rich Asians," Ali Wong, rom-coms on Netflix with Asian American leads, right? Like, do you think the success you're seeing with 88rising is tied into the timing of all this other stuff that's happening right now - that people are just more ready now for Asian entertainers?

MIYASHIRO: I think it's about time for Asian creatives to start, you know, getting the platforms and things being made around their ideas, especially in film and Hollywood. It's totally happening, and it's a really exciting thing because, you know, as much as the rom-coms happen and the "Crazy Rich Asian" sequels happen, what's now the opportunity is things like, you know, "The Farewell" and...

CHANG: With Awkwafina.

MIYASHIRO: With Awkwafina - and you know, a lot of real stories that have a lot of different things to kind of teach people and make people feel. And at the end of the day, the more things that are made, the cream rises to the top. That's what we always say, like, in 88rising. It's like, look; we cannot control, you know, pop culture or things that move outside of us. But what we can control is the quality and the creativity that we put out into the world.

CHANG: Sean Miyashiro is the founder and CEO of the media company 88rising. Thank you so much for joining us today.

MIYASHIRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.