opinon: raven’s asian-american alt picks

Written by Raven Yamamoto

There’s always been a special place in my heart for Asian American artists in the entertainment industry. Many of these artists are often overlooked, despite their extraordinary talent. In light of this, I figured I’d share a few Asian American artists that have been in my ear lately. The way these artists unashamedly marry their cultural influences and their music speaks volumes and I find it discouraging that so many people don’t know their names. Whether you can relate to these artists or not, their stories and truths deserve to be heard precisely because there are those who cannot relate. Hopefully this article inspires you to give them a listen, and consider what you might be missing in the greater sphere of the Asian American musical talent.  

First up, we have two queer female artists: Japanese Breakfast and Mitski. Japanese Breakfast is the alias of Korean-American musician Michelle Zauner, and Mitski is simply short for Japanese-American Mitski Miyawaki’s full name. The two solo acts are unique in their own respects, but I group them together because they both fall under the umbrella of indie experimental artists that use a wide range of orchestral instruments.

Both artists are also influenced by similar themes of belonging in relation to how their cultural identities have affected them growing up in their lyrics and visuals. For example, Japanese Breakast’s most popular song “Boyish” reflects on Zauner’s bisexual identity, which is implied by the music video’s colored lighting. It also expresses feeling ugly compared to others, and the alienation that comes with such a self-comparison. It’s about the feeling of longing for someone to love you so you aren’t so alone. Mitski sings about a similar longing on her track “Nobody” from her most recent album Be the Cowboy. Mitski explained in a Genius interview that the song is about her loneliness when she came back to America alone after being with friends and family in Malaysia. This is reflected in her music video, where she’s desperately searching for people to be around, paralleling to when she only had herself in a country where she, an immigrant, knew no one.

Next, we have Joji, a.k.a. George Miller. While the Japanese born-and-raised artist isn’t exactly unknown, a lot of his solo music is certainly out of the mainstream, and he’s better known for his features on other artist’s songs. If Joji’s voice sounds a little familiar, you might know him from his work with 88rising, the Asian-oriented record label that other Asian American artists such as Rich Brian (aka Rich Chigga), the Higher Brothers, and Niki are part of. Joji is featured along with his fellow 88rising artists on the label’s album Head In The Clouds. his most notable contribution being his verse on the hit song Midsummer Madness.

If Joji looks a little familiar, you probably know him from his retired viral YouTube persona Filthy Frank. Funnily enough, George Miller has actually released a comedic rap album titled Pink Season as his Filthy Frank persona, Pink Guy. Pink Seasons has amassed millions of streams on it from his original fanbase.  However, since officially announcing his lack of interest in continuing Filthy Frank last year, Miller now only produces music under his Joji alias. Making use of slower beats and brooding lyrics, Miller’s work as Joji is an entirely different genre from Filthy Frank and often described as surreal R&B. I’d also recommend taking a look at some of his accompanying visuals as well here.

Last but certainly not least, we have Los Angeles-based rapper, Dumbfoundead. A previous member of 88rising, the Korean American rapper was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina before immigrating to the United States and settling in Koreatown. He got his start as a battle rapper, spitting his talent at the mics of nearly every rap battle event in Los Angeles. He began his rise to fame when clips of him on YouTube started going viral. Since his debut album DFD in 2011, he’s grown a niche fanbase of predominantly Asian followers that feel seen or heard by his lyrics about the Asian American experience. In 2016, he released a music video to accompany his song “Safe, a song about the lack of Asian representation in American media. In the video, Dumbfoundead replaces iconic white male leads of Hollywood like Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, and Harrison Ford with himself to further get his message about racism in Hollywood across. Overall, his adamancy for representing his heritage through his music makes him a personal favorite of mine.

Take a listen below, you won’t regret it:

Featured: Japanese Breakfast | Photo via Songwhip.com

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