The Merge of Hip Hop Era – When East meets West
“It is a very exciting time, it’s the natural progression in the way culture moves, as there’s so much influence from West to East, East to West that there are no borders anymore in expression of creativity” says Sean Miyashiro, the guy behind Asian rap label, collective and management company CXSHXNLY – interview with HighSnobiety.
Al Rocco – Rapper
Al Rocco was born when I moved to Los Angeles in 2010 after being in London for nearly a decade. Compared to the UK, LA had the vibe which I needed to improve myself and my music. While studying a short course in music business and sound engineering, I finally had the necessary tools to start my professional career.
I moved to Shanghai in 2012 and have been here since. For the first 2 years I basically lived in the studio producing over 5 mix-tapes , things really started to pick up when my single “Red Money” released in 2014. I started to perform my own shows and was featured on the news via The New York Times, BBC News, etc.
Once the foundation is concrete, having a good team behind you is crucial for the next level. After signing a management deal with “SHFT” in 2016 and starting my own record label “Red8红八“, the hustle double timed but the growth followed along as well.
By 2017, I was the first male Chinese rapper who performed at SXSW music festival in Texas USA, my first mandarin single “YING” reached 1 million plays in the first 24 hours, I was featured on Beats by Dre’s global campaign “Got No Strings”, opened for various international names such as Keith Ape, OG Macs, OT Genasis, Jurassic 5, NBA star Isaiah Thomas, etc.
As you “move up the ladder” you have to work a lot harder and smarter, and things tend move a lot quicker so treating yourself and your health well is an important priority. For me, I really appreciate finding time for good sleep, and being with family and great friends.
Being a Chinese American rapping in English living in China, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. I have been denied countless times, yet I have won many more. So propel yourself in anything; be different, be bold, be yourself, don’t be scared to fail and just go for it. Every time I get rejected, I tend to push myself even harder. I believe that’s how you truly grow as a person and as an artist by testing your limits.
2. Your biggest inspiration?
3. With the goal of taking China’s Hiphop game on an international level and bridging two cultures together, what are the current opportunities / challenges your facing?
One of the biggest advantages, as well as being my disadvantage, is that I am a Chinese American rapping in English living in China. Some people in China don’t understand what I am saying in my lyrics, but most appreciates the music and that I am representing us, the Chinese culture.
With the number of Chinese English speakers growing everyday, I tend to focus more on those markets, as well as the international scene where the English language is primarily used. The goal is to unite all Chinese people in all Chinatowns to represent our culture together for the world to see that we are much more than just the stereotypes the media presents us.
4. What about your new Album Terracotta
Terracotta is a project I have always wanted to do. Because for me it represents family, unity and a big part of my culture. That’s what my music is about and where my core values were structured.
I teamed up with New York producers; Alexie Gratia and Mides Touch “Synthwerks” on this one. Their music is raw yet new and I feel I needed to bring that side of me back as well.
5. How do you plan on bridging the Chinese and International Audience?
Doing it solely by myself is not the vision. The vision is to encourage current and new Chinese rappers to represent the culture together for the world to appreciate and understand that there is a voice and we need to be heard. I believe everyone who plays their part contributes to the movement, whether if they are aware of it or not. My part is to translate the Chinese culture in a language where the world understands.
6. In 2016, you released your first original mandarin single, why? Can you give us your opinion and if you plan on doing more in the future? Do you need to shift yourself when rapping / expressing yourself in two different languages?
I like to challenge myself and try new ways of making music. With our “Ying” project, it was fun. Working closely with Red 8 head producer Fader One was effortless. Although writing the Chinese lyrics took longer than the usual, I felt that I did my best and I’m very happy with the final result.
Every day, I’m improving my Chinese and we’re already planning to release more Chinese songs in the future. Yet writing and rapping in Chinese is still very new for me, it’s only going to get better. However, I still want to focus on what I do best and work towards a bigger goal other than just myself.
KAKU – DJ
On bass drive, Tokyo born and now Taipei based KAKU delivers electronic numbers across the musical spectrum. Growing up in San Francisco, Jon KAKU subliminally had that internationally equipped Bay Area influence in his genes, where electronic music played an inaugural part in his journey.
1) How did you get started?
I started Djing when I got into college and was playing for frat parties and throwing my own parties. Eventually I moved on to local clubs but after moving to Asia is when I really started to expand my brand which led to performing internationally at major clubs/festivals around the world.
2)Your opinion on the music/DJ industry in China vs the west?
Growing up majority of my life in the US I can tell that there is definitely a difference in the music scene between the two regions. The biggest difference I think is that dance music is still very fresh in China and the west obviously are more developed in terms of understanding the dance music culture. However, China’s music scene is expanding rapidly and it is the new frontier. Some of the most loyal fans I have ever met are from China and I’m excited to see the growth in the years ahead.
3) Tell us more about BSMT
BSMNT is a company that my partner Crystal and I created in Taipei with the intentions on educating the local market with the latest music as well as helping cultivate young talent by guidance and mentorship. We are not a school but rather a collective with a platform to help local artists expand their reach by utilizing our own network and knowledge of the industry. We mainly function as a production studio but also hold events when Dj’s/Producers are traveling in the region by providing them with an event space and live streaming on our social platforms. So far we held some high profile events with TroyBoi, Mercer, 4B, Myrne, and many more planned in the pipeline.
4. Do you intend on being more focused in Asia for the future?
I’ve always been focused on Asia throughout my professional career but my intentions were always to expand beyond that. I feel like the problem we have right now in the current Asian music scene is that most artists are just satisfied performing and being known in their own region. As a musician, the goal should be for the whole world to hear your music. In order for our music community to grow and be respected, we need to gain recognition from the global community not just locally.
5. Does fashion play / influence any role in your music?
Music and fashion are both ways to express who you are as an individual so I think it goes hand in hand. Fashion has always been a passion of mine so it definitely plays a major role in my life and the music that I make. I come from a hip hop background so I’ve always been into streetwear and sneakers. It’s not always the case but I think the way you dress and the music you play definitely has to match I think.
Young Dragon –Rapper
On a more emerging note, rapper Young Dragon , is setting off to becoming future talent in the industry. Still new to the scene, the young rappers advantage of being hybrid, LA based with a strong passion for the music /entertainment business gives him strong potential to propel in the industry.
1. When did you start rapping and what inspires you to do so?
I started rapping a year ago. Before I started rap I was actually learning how to produce hip hop music with my friend Peyote. We founded Peyote Beats together in the end of 2015.
Another job of mine is event planner, I threw over 30 Parties/clubbing events in Hollywood with +1000 capacity, I’ve also worked with a lot famous artists and rappers such like 2chinz, Far East movement, Keith ape, J $tash ,Kohh etc… I became friends with some of them, Peyote and I were also producing music for them under Peyote Beats.
Just being around these musicians, hanging out, going to studio sessions with them, I started to take more liking into rapping, perform more than producing. Before I knew it, I started rap and recording myself, and people like how it sounds. All my friends were really supporting me. From there I started to make my first Mixtape Fresh off the Boat (FOB).
You know, I get inspired based on life in general, everything that I talk about in my lyrics are real life experiences. Or the way I feel about things. Making music is like my way of writing journals.
2. Based in L.A, how does this affect your music and opportunities that you’re having in the entertainment business?
LA is the capital of entertainment business. Music is always the trending topic of the city, especially to the youth. It’s just pushing me to make better music. There are dope artists and producers who are always visiting LA, making it easier to link up with them and work on music.
3. Can you tell us more about your new album FOB?
FOB is not your average Chinese hip hop music. It’s a very different and quality project where the sound, flow and topics I’m rapping about are different compared to other Chinese rappers. I spent nearly 9 months working on the tape and also co-producing every single track on the album.
4. Can you explain your development of style in music?
I’m heavily Inspired by southern style of hip hop music. I want to express a lot of things that people rarely talk about or that are taboo. I feel like nowadays most rappers just talk about the same stuff over and over again.
5. Plans for 2017?
I’m planning to push out a couple of singles and another mixtape that I’m cookin on right now. I am definitely gonna do a China tour the end of this year, maybe 4~5 cities.
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Photos by Yoho magazine– Photographer:Daqiu