Artists from mass media company 88rising performed at Aragon Ballroom on Oct. 14 for the Chicago stop of their tour 88 Degrees and Rising. Founded by Japanese and Korean American Sean Miyashiro, 88rising is home to August 08, Higher Brothers, Joji, Keith Ape, Lexie Liu, Niki and Rich Brian, all of whom except Lexie Liu and Keith Ape performed at the show. Besides August 08, who is Black, all of 88rising’s artists are of Asian descent. This was the first time 88rising brought the majority of its artists on tour outside of Asia.
SESP first-year Lauren Lee said she was “proud to see an entire group of Asians headlining a tour” in America because the audience was extremely diverse — not just Asian-American.
One of the most exciting parts of the concert was when Higher Brothers performed their set. The quartet is from Chengdu, China, and raps in Mandarin Chinese as well as Sichuanese, a dialect of Mandarin. While there were some people in the crowd shouting every lyric, the majority of audience members could not understand or speak Mandarin, yet still cheered loudly for the group and pushed forward to get closer to the stage. Higher Brothers’ stage presence, catchy backtracks and impressive flow hyped up the crowd and overcame the language barrier between themselves and the audience.
“I felt some sort of pride when Higher Brothers were singing in Chinese,” Lee, who is Korean-American, said.
Personally, as a Chinese American, seeing Higher Brothers on stage and rapping in their native language that has traditionally been mocked by American culture was gratifying. It was cathartic when I could scream along to lyrics in Mandarin, and join the audience in yelling the intro to one of Higher Brothers’ most iconic songs called “Made in China.” It begins with a recording of a stereotypical white woman’s voice asking, “Rap music? China? What are they even saying? Is this Chinese rap music? Sounds like they're just saying 'ching chang chong.’”
The rest of the song consists of Higher Brothers subverting racist generalizations about China and Chinese people. They rap about China’s rich history. They boast about China’s success in swimming and diving at the Summer Olympics, connecting that to their own grind and success in a musical genre that traditionally ignores Asian artists. They repeat the phrase “made in China,” as if saying, “yes, almost everything we own is made in China, including the designer brands that white Americans purchase, so why mock Chinese culture when it is producing your most prized possessions?”
Each Asian artist that performed electrified the crowd. Each was a reminder that being Asian is nothing to be ashamed of. Each resisted stereotypes reducing them to a one-dimensional being that is supposed to be awkward, submissive and uncreative.
88rising’s successful 88 Degrees and Rising tour is a testament to how far the label and its artists have come since the beginning, when they only performed in Asia or only brought their most popular artists — Higher Brothers, Rich Brian and Keith Ape — abroad. As 88rising’s popularity continues to grow, talents from Asian backgrounds can continue to bring in fans of different ethnicities and enrich the music industry with their work. These artists serve as role models for young adults within Asian diasporic communities not only by producing fun music to listen to, but also by inspiring them to pursue their passions and break down stereotypes that simplify the Asian experience to one narrative.