While the United States is undeniably home to the largest hiphop culture anywhere in the world, hiphop talent can be found from cultures all around the globe. Continuing our mission of celebrating hiphop and Asia, we’ve put together a list highlighting five of our favorite up-and-coming Asian rappers. We hope that this list introduces you to new artists and can be used as a jumping-off point into the world of Asian hiphop. If you are interested in listening to more music by the 2018 Hiphop x Asia: Artists to Watch, check out our playlist on Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal.
We’e kicking off our list with Vava, the runner-up on the hit Chinese talent show The Rap of China. It’s not hard to see how she’s already built up a sizeable fan base in China, as her music blends samples and instruments from traditional Chinese culture with modern hiphop style. The Sichuan native has also demonstrated a sensitivity regarding her gender and race in the hiphop world, lauding Nicki Minaj for being able to “stand out and be assertive”, and recognizing that Asian rappers must be “mindful of... cultural appropriation”. In this video for her most popular song "我的新衣 My New Swag," her Chinese roots are in full display as she raps about her success.
In “The Higher Brothers and a Successful ‘Journey to the West’”, we briefly discussed Bohan Phoenix as one of the opening acts, noting that his set was the strongest among the openers. However, he is also an talented artist in his own right. Originally born in China, Bohan Phoenix moved to the US at the age of 11. He straddles both cultures in his music, embracing his unique combination of Chinese and New York heritage. Bohan raps in both Chinese and English, and as demonstrated in the “3 Days in Chengdu” music video, isn’t afraid to expose his American friends to Chinese culture. Beyond the three days that Bohan spent in Chengdu that inspired this music video, he plans to move there for six months to a year to reconnect with culture and spend time with family. Look out for new music soon!
Next on the list, Anik Khan was born in Bangladesh and moved to Queens, New York at the age of four years old, seeking political asylum with his family. His experience as an immigrant has heavily influenced his music as he is yet another example of a rapper from Asia embracing the culture of their birth country and the culture that they have come to know in America. Anik Khan is a Queens man through and through, but as he shows in his music video “Habibi” this doesn’t prevent him from also engaging with Bangladeshi culture. The word “Habibi” is used throughout the Arab world as a term of endearment and has been picked up by Muslims of all backgrounds in America. Anik Khan uses the term in a traditional meaning while also incorporating traditional hiphop tropes. We wanted to highlight the generally underrepresented South Asian Islamic culture in hiphop, and Anik Khan promises to be a growing ambassador for this section of hiphop culture.
Next up we have Suboi, a Saigon native and Vietnam’s “Queen of hiphop”. Signed to a record label by age 17, her buzz steadily increased as she released her two studio albums Walk and Run. In 2015, she became the first Vietnamese artist to ever be officially invited to perform at SXSW. As a rapper coming up in a communist country with strict speech and censorship laws, Suboi remains committed to the ethos of hiphop, still rapping about topics ranging from social pressures to illegal substances. In "Đời," Suboi raps about her difficult childhood, touching on themes of love, loss, and family.
Last but certainly not least, we’re featuring the Philadelphia rapper Lushlife. The son of Bengal immigrants, Raj "Lushlife" Haldar cites the “outsiderdom of the minority experience” as the spark that initially attracted him to hiphop. In including Lushlife, we wanted to touch quickly on what it means to be an Asian rapper. Although many Asian artists make frequent references to their ethnicity, Lushlife makes such references only sparingly. Should there be an obligation for Asian rappers to address their culture directly and extensively in their music? Lushlife’s answer, judging from his music, seem to be “no”, but he still makes quality music that speaks to his audience and highlights his creativity as an artist.
Hiphop x Asia: During the month of April, we are investigating the interactions between hiphop and Asian cultures. The 2018 Hiphop x Asia series will highlight artists from Asia, celebrate the intersection of hiphop with Asian culture, and examine how cultures can draw from each other while promoting mutual respect. Learn more HERE.
Jeff Chang is a Senior at Harvard College studying Computer Science and Statistics. His favorite artists are JPEGMAFIA and Kanye West.
Christian Floyd is a Senior at Harvard College studying Sociology and Human Evolutionary Biology. His favorite artist is Childish Gambino.