Long before Crazy Rich Asians grossed over $174 million with Hollywood's first-all Asian cast in 25 years, before Korean boy band BTS presented at the Grammys, Sean Miyashiro believed America and the world would soon be falling in love with Asian culture and stories.
While Americans have been enjoying aspects of Asian culture for a while, few expected it to be so complementary to hip-hop.
But Sean Miyashiro did, and so he decided to go all in, leaving Vice's THUMP team to start 88rising in 2015.
88rising is the blend of an Asian-focused record label and a savvy creative agency, with an emphasis in video production and digital media. Miyashiro's goal is ultimately to build a new type of media company: imagine Disney infused with Vice for Asians, immigrants, and other globally-minded individuals.
Under Miyashiro's visionary leadership as CEO, 88rising has helped a multitude of Asian hip-hop artists break into the United States market, including Higher Brothers, Keith Ape, Kris Wu, and Rich Brian (formerly known as "Rich Chigga"). In addition to having tens and even hundreds of millions of views on their respective music videos, 88rising artists have collaborated with American hip-hop icons like Travis Scott, A$ap Ferg, Waka Flocka Flame, Trippie Redd, Flo Rida, and many more.
I recently spoke with Miyashiro, who shared his thoughts on entrepreneurship, the music industry, and growing opportunities within both Asian markets and the Asian diaspora:
1. Brand collaborations have to be win-win.
Like the savviest business development professionals, Miyashiro realizes the importance of making sure there's strong alignment before pursuing any partnership with a brand. Just as he is selective about signing artists, Miyashiro is even more careful with brand collaborations. Miyashiro says they must "be a brand we respect... innovative and like-minded, and most importantly, see our brand in the right way," explains Miyashiro.
88rising has already had fruitful collaborations with Sprite, Air Asia, and RED, to name a few.
Last year the company's collaboration with Guess sold out online in just 20 minutes. An hour before I spoke to Miyashiro, the company dropped another Guess collaboration, this one rolling out to all Urban Outfitters stores in America. Aside from Urban Outfitters being one of Miyashiro's favorite stores from his youth, he was excited to have an audience who might also share 88rising's enthusiasm for getting more Asians represented in American pop culture and art.
2. No egos; just a group of talented characters with a shared mission.
I asked Miyashiro about what kinds of artists he will and won't work with, and he said that the one key is that the artist almost has a "third-eye vision" that matches 88rising. In other words, they need to have the same shared goals and a sense of camaraderie, since there's a lot of collaboration, as well as energy and support from the 88rising team. "No big egos or someone not willing to work or listen; we don't have time for any of that. All our artists right now are super talented, but all are incredible people with good hearts," said Miyashiro.
Indonesian singer-songwriter and record producer Niki had this to say:
"What's cool about 88 is that we're a group of like-minded people, cognizant of the fact that there are still gaps between minorities and mainstream media, and so we seek to help bridge them. We're not just trying to make music just to do it, there's an added social component to it as well in that we want to represent Asians and make an important mark in pop culture."
If you watch any of the 88rising artists' music videos or attend a concert, it's clear that each artist has their own distinct character and personality. Attend a live show, and you might see Japanese-born internet personality and comedian Joji juggling amidst his songs. But my personal favorite is the swagger of Indonesian artist Rich Brian, who can be seen wearing pink-collared shirts, pastel-colored faux fur jackets, and a stylish fanny pack.
Miyashiro divulged that the artists have been working together on their first group project, which is set to come out in October 2019.
3. American hip-hop artists are excited about Asian collaboration.
It's clear that Miyashiro wants 88rising to be as inclusive as possible, and that he himself appreciates cultures from around the world. And like many smart entrepreneurs and startup founders, he also recognizes that "the world, just like music, is only getting more connected."
I'm a former economist and Asia expat myself, so I was excited to talk to Miyashiro about the size of the Asian market and how digitally connected its consumers are. China alone has more smartphones than the United States, Brazil, and the United Kingdom combined, and its users are extremely active on social-media platforms and eager to consume content that speaks to them.
I was curious about how American hip-hop artists reacted to his early collaboration requests, before 88rising had developed a reputation for helping artists go viral. Miyashiro said, "It was really easy to get Waka Flocka, Famous Dex, and Travis Scott. Some other collabs required a bit more legwork, but the sentiment was overwhelmingly positive."
There's no question that China and the broader Asian market are huge for any industry. As Crazy Rich Asians proved, the desire to hear more Asian stories in the U.S. is only growing. Recently, 88rising had over 25,000 people attend its "Head in the Clouds" music festival in Los Angeles, and fans and performers alike report that the energy and excitement at the venue was incredible.
Even if Miyashiro isn't personally a fan of romantic comedies, he appreciates how Crazy Rich Asians' success is continuing to pave new opportunities for Asian artists in film and music.