88rising: a media brand that hybridizes Asian and American cultures

In this era of rapid technological advances, the internet has facilitated easy global sharing of media. 88rising is a media brand that’s a product of this globalization. Founded by artist Sean Miyashiro, it brings Asian/American and American artists together in entertainment productions published on YouTube mainly centered around music with relation to Asian/Americans or Asian culture. 88rising creates a radical hybrid of cultures by merging East and West entertainment, but remains trapped by hegemonic influences on gender and sexuality.

88rising has produced videos that surpassed 8 million views, such as “Dat $tick Remix” by Rich Chigga, Ghostface Killah, and Pouya. Brian Immanuel, aka Rich Chigga, is a perfect example of what 88rising stands for. He’s a 17-year-old Indonesian rapper who learned English on his own in his early teens using American rap, then went viral with his video, “Dat $tick”. CXSHXNLY, a music collective run by Miyashiro and Jonathan Park (a.k.a. DumbFounDead), signed him soon after and connected him with one of the biggest rappers in the hiphop scene, Ghostface Killah. Though they never met in person, 88rising provided the space to collaborate and release “Dat $tick Remix”. A similar situation happened with Keith Ape, a Korean rapper who went viral for “It G Ma”. Again, Miyashiro reached out, signed Keith Ape to CXSHXNLY, and created a “It G Ma Remix” with American rappers: A$AP Ferg, Father, Waka Flocka Flame, and DumbFounDead. Miyashiro describes 88rising in an interview as an “inherently cool” media brand merging the “East and West… really incorporating and integrating Western artists… to collaborate or experience Asian things, and vice-versa”. Demonstrated by Rich Chigga and Keith Ape, 88rising facilitates a marriage between Asian and American culture by remixing original music by Asian artists with influences of American rappers. This hybridity creates a new cultural genre and is the core of 88rising.

The 88rising brand has created a new genre of Asian/American entertainment that rebels against the hegemonic term, “Asian American,” as Asian culture is not polarized against American culture – both cultures blend harmoniously. It also doesn’t fit existing stereotypes of Asian/Americans and media. 88rising created a new trend of steady collaboration between Asian/American and American artists whereas, previously, individual Asian/American artists created hybridity by producing music in both the East and West (such as Dean, Jay Park, and Eric Nam). Particularly, 88rising breaks Asian media stereotypes of being manufactured and feminine. In an interview, Miyashiro and DumbFounDead explain CXSHXNLY goals that resonate strongly in 88rising. Miyashiro says they’re breaking from Asian, specifically Korean, culture where music is manufactured and “backed by a billion dollar publicly traded company.” K-pop “idol” production has resulted in over-sexualized female and feminized male singers that don’t create their own music. Male singers retain some masculinity in clothing and dance, but are often criticized as being feminine due to makeup and facial features. Comparatively, CXSHXNLY and 88rising produce organically as Asian/American artists create popular music with their own talent, demonstrated by the collaboration requests from American and Asian artists. Establishing 88rising as one of the only media outlets that features ongoing collaboration of Asian/American artists with American artists has been a well-received radical move. Like A Grain of Sand, this pan-ethnic approach (although in this case cultural, not political) helps connect people of all backgrounds through entertainment. 88rising emphasizes the creativity, originality, and culture of individual artists, producing a range of videos embodying this hybrid Asian/American entertainment.

Despite the radical push for the “East meets West” platform, there remain hegemonic influences that should not be overlooked. Although 88rising has promoted Asian women in the hiphop scene (CL, Christina PaikSuboi), representation of female artists compared to male artists is greatly unbalanced. In addition, there is stark objectification of women. In all live artist performance videos, women sit in the background like trophies. Lilymaymac is also featured in visual music videos for other artists merely as eye candy. She perfectly fits the archetype of the confident, hyper-sexualized Asian woman as she suggestively plays with a popsicle and is not given a storyline that could give her character. Both facts that there are not many female artists featured and that women are objectified are likely a reflection of the global hiphop scene. However, 88rising could exercise its agency against hegemonic gender roles to represent women as subjects, not objects, even if they can’t find more female artists. In addition, this plays into the heteronormativity and lack of LGBTQ+ representation in 88rising videos. Although there are several videos of Frank Yang, a bodybuilder who crosses all boundaries of sexuality, and a video on Alexander Wang, there are no other videos that feature openly LGBTQ+ Asian/American artists. Again, this may be the reality of hiphop and popular culture today, particularly for Asian artists that brought up with culturally heteronormative beliefs. However, 88rising does have the liberty to expand beyond what is seen as hegemonic norms and comfort zones, as they have with cultural boundaries.

Ultimately, it’s important to recognize 88rising’s strengths and weaknesses to know that radical moves in one sense does not mean it will be radical in all aspects. 88rising’s mission is focused on cultural aspects of entertainment and media, and has had success. However, there are still hegemonic forces that seem to pull back on how 88rising pushes past boundaries. Recognition is the first step, and then one can hope that 88rising will make strides in resisting hegemonic forces, particularly regarding gender and sexuality.

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