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88rising Tour: Are Asian hip-hop artists perpetuating or subverting stereotypes?

88rising‘s Higher Brothers. Screenshot via YouTube.

American mass media company 88rising kicks off its 88 Degrees & Rising Tour September 22 in Los Angeles. The label’s first-ever group tour across North America will include Rich Brian (formerly Rich Chigga), Joji, Keith Ape, Higher Brothers, KOHH, NIKI, AUGUST 08, and Don Krez.

88rising gained popularity as a platform for Asian artists like Rich Brian, who’s blown up on YouTube over the past couple years. According to a CNN article, the success of Asian rappers like Rich Brian, Joji, and Keith Ape in the U.S. is helping to subvert Asian music stereotypes.

However, an article from The Guardian points out that it may not be that easy. Rap music has long been known to perpetuate stereotypes about Asian people. Wiz Khalifa received backlash earlier this year after dropping his song Hot Now, which had the line “Smoke got my eyes lookin’ Korean.” He refused to apologize and defended himself by saying, “I have Korean friends that are not offended … I love Koreans.”

Asian women have also been particularly fetishized and exoticized in rap, with lines about “yellow b*tches,” Geishas, and “Asian broads” not being too uncommon. Buzzfeed even compiled a list in 2014 of some of these rap lyrics, most of them poking fun at Asians’ eyes, such as, “Still can’t tell the difference, just like Asians with their eyes shut,” from Tyler the Creator’s Burger.

However, some Asian hip-hop artists aren’t shying away from the stereotypes about themselves. Japanese-Australian artist Joji has released tracks titled Rice Balls and Small D*ck under comedy rap alias Pink Guy. Since joining 88rising, his music style has changed, but he still goes by Twitter and Instagram handle @sushitrash.

88rising also heavily sexualized Asian women in Higher Brothers’ Room Service music video, and the label’s recent promotional video for compilation album Head in the Clouds featured dancers donning straw hats in a field and a woman dressed as a schoolgirl at one point and a geisha at another.

“We want to push the culture forward,” 88rising founder Sean Miyashiro told CNN. “We’re not trying to break stereotypes or change people’s mindsets. We’re showing people what we can do, by doing what we do.”

Indonesian rapper Rich Brian’s launch to popularity stems back to a YouTube video of American rappers reacting to his music video for Dat $tick, in which he walked the streets in his “nerdy” fanny pack and polo. The rappers overall gave him very positive reviews.

While 88rising playing on Asian stereotypes can be quite controversial, at the very least the company is providing mass exposure to east Asian rappers. This could pave the way for Asian hip-hop artists to produce more meaningful music instead of self-parodying viral hits. 88rising is already quite popular in Asia, and this new tour will likely lead to greater U.S. exposure.

“Our artists and our brand is the most influential in Asia because we aren’t coming from some manufactured pop machine. We are the tip of the sphere of a new face of music,” said Miyashiro. “The reason for that is we are the first label that actually is making impact in the West and East.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. RE: 88 Rising Tour: Are Asian Hip-Hop Artists Perpetuating or Subverting Stereotypes: Ken Jeong consistently perpetuates asian stereotypes yet this site forever seems to promote his trash. Guy really isn’t funny.

    • RE Joe’s comment on 88 Rising Tour: Are Asian Hip-Hop Artists Perpetuating or Subverting Stereotypes: LOL. We’re promoting Ken Jeong so much that he’s blocked AsAmNews on Twitter. Funny how everyone see’s things differently which goes to show you you can’t satisfy everyone all the time.

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