Going Against the Grind: The Story of 88rising

By: Avi Lekowsky  |  August 27, 2019

By Avi Lekowsky, Contributing Writer

It takes a lot to follow a dream. It takes even more to create something no one else is doing. This is the story of 88rising.

Sean Miyashiro wasn’t doing too poorly. He had just finished assisting with the launch of Vice’s electronic music channel, Thump, but he soon found himself growing out of the genre. “I knew I had the ability and know-how to do it again, but for like ‘what’ was the question,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg (abridged). Started out of Miyashiro’s car in 2015, 88rising is best described by Miyashiro himself — “a hybrid management, record label, video production, and marketing company.” Something that makes them stand out in the crowded field of music is that most of their clientele is Asian. That’s on purpose. This helps promote Asian representation in music, which was lacking beforehand, through providing a new look at the world of hip-hop. 

88rising helps give inspiration to a new wave of kids coming from more diverse homes than ever. Two of these artists in particular, however, have helped break the mold and proved what this creative collective is capable of.

Brian Imanuel, known by his stage name, Rich Brain, is a 19-year-old rapper from Jakarta, Indonesia. He first learned English by watching Rubik’s Cube tutorials and hip-hop music videos on YouTube. He started gaining popularity by posting comedic videos on Twitter and Vine, which introduced him to Sean. Releasing the song “Dat $tick” was what helped his career (and subsequently, 88rising) take off. Currently with over 126,000,000 views, this song featured Brain in a pink polo, khaki shorts and a fanny pack dancing around with his friends. It was the perfect combination of weird, funny, and catchy that helped this song get certified gold by the RIAA. He carried this hype into his first album — Amen. It peaked at 18 on the Billboard charts and was generally well-received by critics. His recently released second album, The Sailor, features a more progressed, orchestral at times, sound that has us excited for his next attempt. 

Joji, also known as George Miller, is a 26-year-old artist from Osaka, Japan. Like Brain, he also rose to fame through virality, however Joji’s fame may be more recognizable. Remember the Harlem Shake? Yeah, that was him. George’s, (also known by his YouTube persona, Pink Guy) brand of weird and shocking humor helped him gain a unique following and spans over a billion views on his combined YouTube channels. He’ll always be known as the man that spawned many memes over his career, but he’s closed that chapter and moved on. Now, while at first puzzling his old fans, he makes more lo-fi, R&B, trip-hop music that has been doing pretty well. His first EP, In Tongues, hit 58 on the Billboard 200 chart, and his latest album, Ballads 1, jumped to #3 on the charts, and eventually making him the first Asian artist to have an album reach #1 on the R&B/Hip-hop charts.

In just a few short years, 88rising has exploded onto the scene and created viral success stories that have young kids looking up to a new era of role models. With artists like these and Higher Brothers, Keith Ape, and NIKI, this label will be a very interesting one to follow through the years. We haven’t even touched on other projects they’ve done or are working on, such as the collaborative album, Head in the Clouds, featuring all the artists together, along with other artists from the industry. A follow-up has been announced and is currently being developed. The 88 Degrees and Rising Tour featured artists from the label and other Asian musicians performing in a music-festival-esque atmosphere. 88rising’s Head in the Clouds music festival is happening very soon and will feature an expanded lineup of artists.

No one really knows where 88rising will zag where others zig next, but if we know one thing, Sean is ready to take it on in his own way.

Photo: Flickr