As an Asian American, specifically a Chinese American born and raised in NYC, I grew up listening to MC Jin destroy other rappers on 106 & Park’s Freestyle Fridays. To me, it was just dope to see someone who looked like me, thought like me, and rhymed way better than I could in my wildest dreams, leaving a trail of bodies shook and coming out on top undefeated.
In the years since then, I’ve realized that there’s been a vacuum in that space – a lack of heavy-hitting Asian representatives in the hip-hop sphere who command that sort of respect. Part of it is that freestyling and battle rapping isn’t covered as much anymore with platforms like SoundCloud, YouTube and Instagram giving birth to new artists constantly, part of it is mainstream media doesn’t cover us (Asians), and part of it is Jin set the bar so high that no one comes close.
Don’t get it twisted, I still respect classic Chinese pop artists like Jay Chou and I’m all for the attention that K-pop artists like Blackpink have brought to the global stage and Billboard charts, but when we’re talking Asian hip-hop artists. Some of these names may be new to you, and some you might’ve heard of, but don’t be surprised if they’re all bumped in barbershops at some point in the near future. I think they’ve all been doing a great job raising the bar for Asian hip-hop artists since Jin’s departure from Ruff Ryders. Without further ado, here’s 8 hot Asian hip-hop artists to bump to this year, because eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture (symbolizing wealth) and because I miss Mamba.
Happy Lunar New Year to all my Asian brothers and sisters and I hope everyone enjoys the music that these talented individuals have put out there.
Reppin’: Brooklyn, NY
I have to start off with someone who had beef with MC Jin but recently has been there for the Chinatown community and Asian community as a whole during all the hate crimes we’ve encountered over the last year, beforehand, and still do – China Mac. Brooklyn’s very own was in the streets leading protests when an elderly Asian woman was set on fire last year and even helped raise funds for her – which she later thanked him for but turned down. This sort of activism is nowadays being brought to light by the entire music community and I’m all for it. “They Can’t Burn Us All” was written in response and talks about the Asian American struggle dealing with racism and more, I highly recommend the listen. He’s worked with some local NY artists like Jadakiss, Dave East and Young M.A. on tracks too.
Rich Brian – formerly Rich Chigga
Reppin’: Jakarta, Indonesia
Some of you may know Rich Brian‘s story – he grew up watching YouTube in Jakarta, Indonesia, and learned English and internet culture through hip-hop videos and social media platforms before becoming a viral sensation himself on Vine and Twitter. Now he’s the lead name on the 88rising music label and media company. I personally love the humor and fun he brings with his lyrics and have followed him since his viral hit single “Dat $tick” before his glow up with the 88rising crew. I think his unique way of storytelling actually relates to a lot of the feelings immigrant Asians who’ve dabbled in hip-hop have felt both abroad and here in the states, especially on the track “Yellow” off his The Sailor album.
Reppin’: Los Angeles, CA
Dumbfoundead has been in the game a long time, a former battle rapper just like Jin, he’s still dropping dope singles. While he’s joined the 88rising team on their radio side, I love that he’s also doing his own podcasts talking about real everyday Asian issues. He’s constantly a proactive member of the Korean community on the West Coast, especially LA’s K-Town scene and brings his heritage into his music whenever possible too. I really enjoy his transition into more mellow and laid back vibes in recent years on joints “All Alone,” Inside,” and “Outside,” without losing his nice flow and cadence but old joints like “Night Riders,” “K-Town Story” and “Hollyhoodrats” still get their plays too.
Reppin’: Vancouver, Canada/Phillipines
The Filipino Canadian duo MANILA GREY, made up of childhood friends Soliven and Neeko, have a perfect sound that comes from knowing one another for a long time – as well as having a trusted and exclusive producer in azel north. Their latest single “Shibuya,” reminds me of my own time in the Tokyo ward back in 2019. They have a super chill sound that doesn’t force hard bass hits which lets you ride the song on repeat forever. Out of this entire list, they’re probably the ones I personally bump the most because they straddle the line between hip-hop and R&B, which is the perfect vibe zone for me. 2017’s album No Saints Under Palm Shade remains on the top played Spotify lists with each passing year.
Reppin’: Seattle, WA
Jay quite possibly could be the most notable member of this list because he signed a partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation back in 2017. His entire career has oozed the culture as he’s done everything from bboying (Art of Movement/AOM crew) to founding his own labels (AOMG and H1ghr Music), and from leading a South Korean boy band (2PM) to covering music on YouTube. He’s been in this game for over a decade and he credits his influences to a lot of big names that we’ve grown up listening to like Jay-Z obviously, but also guys like Dr. Dre, Eminem, Usher, Ne-Yo and Chris Brown. His latest EP, Everybody Sucks, dropped last year but his 2018 album Ask About Me is still my favorite – I bump the track “SOJU” all day which features 2 Chainz.
Reppin’: Chengdu, China
Four is an extremely bad number in Chinese culture because its pronunciation is almost identical to the word for “death.” However, in the case of Higher Brothers, it has brought good luck to all its members. Under the 88rising label like some of their teammates above, MaSiWei, DZknow, Psy.P and Melo actually started out as part of a larger rap collective, Chengdu Rap House aka CDC. They came together after mixtapes helped them garner attention in the early 2010’s – thank God for mixtapes, I hope they never die off. I love the fact that their music celebrates Chinese culture, especially since they incorporate Mandarin and Sichuanese into the words. WeChat is basically used for everything in China and they dropped that single alongside Keith Ape back in 2017. “Empire” is the latest single from the group.
Reppin’ Hubei, China/New York, NY
Chengdu is like the rap/hip-hop mecca of China and although he was born there, Bohan Phoenix moved to Massachusetts at a young age before attending NYU. That kind of cultural upbringing is something a lot of Asian Americans can relate to – missing home while trying to assimilate but never forgetting where and who you are. When he connected with Higher Brothers for “NO HOOK” back in 2017 on his JALA album, I had bumped it for a few months straight. That entire album really spoke to me because it not only referenced the spicy Sichuan cuisine that Chengdu is known for but also added flair into the hip-hop industry – Jala literally translated means “to add spice.” He has found a perfect balance between East and West and his recent joint “Mazda Music” with JIMMY and Shawtywithdaaux is a little more laid back, just the type of tune to bump while riding. He also recently had a collaboration with Vans.
Reppin’: Los Angeles, CA
Korean American rapper Junoflo used to photograph hip-hop concerts in San Diego before he started lacing fire tracks. He cites influences like Eminem and 50 Cent for his music and you can definitely hear that in his cadence and flow. His most recent single released less than a week ago and is titled “No Parachute.” I personally really vibe with his 2020 single “Fugazi” featuring G Yamazawa because 2020 was the year of weeding out fake people from life. I think his 2020 album 222:AM gives a great blueprint of the various thoughts and experiences that goes through the head of an Asian American male – “Hoop Dreamz” was my ish for a minute haha.
Also I left G-Dragon off because he hasn’t come out with an album in a minute but trust, I’m waiting for that comeback joint just like the rest of you.