The year is 2016: Crazy Rich Asians is set for production by Warner Bros. The sitcom Fresh Off the Boat begins its second season on ABC, renewed after a successful debut. Ali Wong’s comedy special Baby Cobra receives stellar reviews following its release on Netflix. Master of None earns critical acclaim and takes home an Emmy. The movement for Asian representation in Hollywood has reached new heights, and mainstream media is eagerly riding its wave.
Off the big screen, the movement makes its way to music. Amid the crowd emerges 88rising, a media company and record label aiming to create a platform for Asian talents.
88rising has achieved international success within the past few years, selling out music festivals with over 20,000 attendees and pulling in billions in music streams and YouTube views. This year, the company landed its own stage at Coachella, prepared a festival in Indonesia (both have been postponed due to the pandemic) and is set to launch a channel on Sirius XM, the first major Asian-focused radio channel to exist in North America.
Fast forward to today: The Black Lives Matter movement has ignited protest, advocacy and a widespread urge for public figures, influencers and companies to take accountability for their past transgressions and lack of action to raise Black voices. Activists and artists in the music industry urge major record labels and streaming services to support the movement earnestly, stating that these industries have greatly profited off Black artists.
88rising is no exception — in truth, the company’s path to success has been undeniably intertwined with Black culture and music. Hip-hop and R&B influences are deeply rooted in the music of the label’s most commercially successful artists, many of whom received recognition and increased popularity through collaborations with prominent Black artists in the hip-hop scene. 88rising’s most popular videos at the start of its inception featured Black artists reacting to the label’s Asian artists. The Black artists featured include Lil Yachty, Migos and Ghostface Killah, shown praising the label’s artists and the cultural diversity they bring to the genre. The virality and success of these videos and collaborations brought much needed attention to the label at its launch and gave legitimacy to its artists, while providing a positive perspective to concerns of cultural appropriation.
In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, 88rising released a statement pledging initiatives to further promote Black talent through their platform and they announced their donations to Black organizations and funds. Although many of 88rising’s artists have been outspoken and utilized their platforms to support the movement, some, including Chinese hip-hop group Higher Brothers, merely posted the infamous black square or a screenshot of the label’s statement on their personal and group Instagram accounts. This was met with backlash from fans, demanding that the group offer greater effort to support the people that allowed their music and artistry to reach such success.
The relationship between Asian Americans and Black Americans is complicated, with anti-Blackness and a lack of support for Black movements historically existing within the Asian American community. Although the Higher Brothers are not Asian American (the group is from Chengdu, China), 88rising has expressed that their mission is to bridge the East and West and create space for Asian voices in Western culture. If that is the case, it is imperative that their artists, Asian or Asian American, are educated and supportive of Black Americans if they themselves expect support in the West.
As a follower of the label since its start, I believe its mission is meaningful and impactful for Asians and Asian Americans, allowing for Asian talents to achieve recognition in a culture that previously refused to include them. At the same time, the company should use its platform to do more in supporting Black movements that are so deeply tied to its content, artists and overall success. With the support from other minorities demanding inclusion within entertainment, 88rising was able to cater to the increased demand for Asian representation, strengthening its ability to thrive and rise to success.
With its mostly millennial and Gen-Z audience, 88rising should do more with its platform to contribute towards solidarity for Asian and Black youth. Until then, the gap between the East and West will continue to exist — and Asian artists will struggle to be supported unless first supporting other minorities.