A remarkable summer-fuelled pan-Asian compilation...
88rising - Head In The Clouds

I’ve never understood the hatred towards the contemporary. Old heads can be so blind to the new. An artist can’t possibly be labelled as ‘bad’ just because he, or she, doesn’t have fancy wordplay, can they? Isn’t this whole music thing subjective anyway? Most contemporary music relies on a moment, a melody, a vibe. That is exactly what ‘Head in the Clouds’, the most recent various artist release from pan-Asian collective 88rising, does.

The importance of 88rising in terms of American to Asian pop culture crossovers shouldn’t be underestimated. Previous flirtations with Asian artists have acted as nothing but a novelty (think Psy’s ‘Gangham Style’). In just two years, 88rising have blossomed into not only a label, but a platform for Asian artists to develop into major stars.

What started as seemingly a joke has quickly come of age. Rich Brian (fka Rich Chigga), is the perfect example of this. Aside from the name change, which in itself is a reflection of maturity, his work has taken on a more genuine edge since the viral hit ‘Dat $tick’. It’s still playful, yes, but you can tell that his work is being taken much more seriously.

88rising now represents five different countries throughout Asia, and one artist from LA, through pioneering artists Rich Brian, Joji, Higher Brothers, NIKI, August 08 and Keith Ape. ‘Head in the Clouds’ itself resembles an Eastern/Western crossover, with artists such as Playboi Carti, 03 Greedo, Yung Bans, Blocboy JB and Famous Dex all featuring amongst others.

The record’s first highlight comes from Rich Brian, Yung Bans, Higher Brothers and Yung Pinch on ‘Red Rubies’. It adopts the lean-laced trap stylings that have seen the likes of Migos and Travis Scott being catapulted into stardom; a style that receives a lot of criticism, but the vibe it encapsulates cannot be denied.

Rich Brian showcases his ear for a killer hook, while Higher Brothers illustrate just why they’re one of Asia’s most exciting exports in recent years. The trap scene can become repetitive and samesy, yet Higher Brothers have found a distinct voice amongst the overpopulated bandwagon, and they display this even further on the 03 Greedo-featuring ‘Swimming Pool’, the compilation’s second standout track. Peach Jam (Joji, BlocBoy JB), Midsummer Madness (Rich Brian, Higher Brothers, August 08) and Plans (NIKI, Vory) all maintain a poolside, summertime energy, although these tracks can verge on the forgettable as a result.

Rich Brian returns in fine solo form on ‘History’ and reinforces his knack for hook and melody - it’s this talent that has resulted in him becoming the guilty pleasure of even the most stubborn purist. Wavey flute synths float in a warm summer breeze as the Jarkarta artist’s low voice looks back on a previous romance.

Throughout the record it becomes evident that 88rising are at their best when they adopt the trap aesthetic. Playboi Carti continues his remarkable form on ‘BEAM’, featuring Rich Brian. Psy B of Higher Brothers snaps in both Mandarin and English on the high energy Blocboy JB-featuring ‘Let It Go’, while August 08’s finest feature comes on the woozy ‘Disrespectin’, showing once again that the collective works better when they abandon their poolside feel.

The compilation is a summer concept, and though there are many tracks that fit that mould perfectly, they are the ones that are the most forgettable. 88rising was originally built to be the 'Disney for Asian culture’, according to its founder Sean Miyashiro, so even the summer jams serve their purpose in reaching out to a younger audience.

7/10

Words: Andrew Moore

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