When you think of trap, house, hip-hop and R&B music, your first thought might not be Asia. But in the last two years or so, artists such as Rich Brian and Keith Ape took the U.S. by storm with bangers such as “It G Ma,” “Dat $tick,” “Gospel” and more.
Although many of these artists already had buzz before they hit the U.S., the world really got a glimpse of their magnitude after the remix of the Keith Ape hit “It G Ma.” In case you haven’t heard it, “It G Ma” stands out for a few reasons. One, in addition to English, the artists featured (Keith Ape, JayAllDay, Loota, Okasian and Kohh) also rap in Korean and Japanese. The song feels both classically trap, heavily inspired by OG Maco’s U Guessed It, and yet non-gimicky. If you were into the underground scene, you probably heard it at some point. (Currently the music video has 49 million views on YouTube.) The song made way for artists like Joji, Yaeji, and Rina Sawayama.
So what’s behind this new wave? For one thing, changes to the way music travels. Creative management companies like 88rising are capitalizing on the rise in Asian artists by providing exposure outside of traditional record labels. And it’s working — the company’s all stars Keith Ape, Rich Brian, and Joji sold out their first three tour dates this month. With the help of creative management companies, the artist’s need for a record label has almost become obsolete, providing exposure for underground artists from many different backgrounds. And of course, thanks to the internet and spaces like YouTube the movement can be seen on a global scale.
But don’t just take our word for it — here are some hits from three of our favorite artists:
George Miller, also known as Joji, is a Japanese-Australian musician. He first started making hits as Pink Guy on YouTube and even linked up with DJs like Getter and Borgore. Just a few short months after releasing Pink Season, Miller dropped his debut album In Tongues, only this time as Joji.
Kathy Yaeji Lee professionally known as Yaeji, is a Korean-American electronic music artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her use of laid back house and electronic beats create a blissful upbeat sound perfect for getting any party going. Although she has yet to drop an official album, her single “Drink I’m Sippin’ On ” has already racked up almost five million views on YouTube.
Last but not least on our rising list is Japanese singer-songwriter and model Rina Sawayama. Her heavy neo R&B and hip-hop style provides us with a refreshing take on 90s and early-2000s Pop and R&B. In October of last year, Rina released her self-titled “mini album” RINA.
The world of underground hip-hop is constantly growing and always changing. Thanks to the power of the internet, music has the ability to spread like wildfire. As years go by, musicians are becoming more independent and record labels are becoming less relevant. Streaming platforms are changing the music industry in major ways by giving fans direct access to the artists they love for free. Recently, creative management companies have been just as pivotal in the breaking out of an artist as we’ve seen with 88rising. Soon record labels will be fragmented memories of the music industry.
And if that means we get to hear from more diverse artists, that’s OK with us.