Just a few years ago, Asian culture was almost nonexistent in American mainstream media. Media representation of Asian culture depended heavily on only a few key individuals, namely figures like Sandra Oh, Ken Jeong and Psy. Don’t get me wrong, these people were prominent figures in mainstreaming Asian American culture and are still relevant to this day. Yet, with only a few people to look up to for creative inspiration, the up-and-coming Gen Z Asian Americans lacked shape and consistency in their cultural identity in Western popular culture.
To fill this absence, Sean Miyashiro launched a music label, 88rising, originally called CXSHXNLY when it began in 2015. The New York-based mass media company has since become the main producer of exclusively Asian and Asian American music and creative content. When young people were “made to feel that Asian culture wasn’t cool,” Miyashiro’s unique label became a source of cultural inspiration for young Asian-Americans seeking a fresh reset from their Millennial predecessors, as Miyashiro’s assistant Cynthia Guo explained. Home to artists like Joji, Rich Brian and NIKI, 88rising has gained a worldwide reputation as the symbol of Gen Z Asian American lifestyle and music and offered even more Asian-American representation in almost every facet of mainstream media.
Gen Z’s engagement in cultural conversation on identity politics helped fuel the growth of 88rising. In the late 2010s, Gen Z was coming of age and just beginning to dismantle the previous generation’s de facto racist past and practices, and as a result, young Asian Americans began recognizing the value of their cultural identity and traditions. Our generation stopped accepting racism as a fact of life. People started consuming more Asian content to celebrate their newfound acceptance of personal identities and demanding more of it.
The result? All-Asian-cast movies, TV shows about Asian families, KPop in convenience stores — the list goes on. At a time when people were craving more and more Asian media representation, the 88’s push for Asian inclusion in hip hop filled a vacuum in the music industry, meeting Gen Z’s push to shape the generation’s cultural landscape.
The rising popularity of Asian culture is evident even in the past six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. From TikTok to Avatar the Last Airbender, the underlying quirks of Asian culture have risen to the surface as people are seeking out new forms of entertainment to explore during their pandemic hiatus. Whether Miyashiro predicted these recent trends or not, 88rising is exactly in line with newfound Western interests in Asian culture, which have significantly contributed to its immense success and popularity as a record label in the American market. As the first and only platform to curate exclusively Asian artists, 88rising has also proved to the world that Asian creatives and artists are on par with mainstream American artists.
With the label’s now-worldwide popularity, the iconic 88 cloud has since become a clapback against anyone that claimed Asian culture was just STEM, small eyes and smelly foods; we are also explosive music festivals, #1 on iTunes hip hop charts and preserving, not hiding, our cultural heritage.
With 88rising dominating the Asian American Gen Z audience, the next big question for American mainstream artists is where do we draw the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation? If non-Asian artists want to capture the attention of this unique market, they must find a way to respect and celebrate Asian culture, while making up for its racist past.