Ah, it’s that time of the year again. 2016 has been a pretty eventful year in the case of pop star deaths (R.I.P. George Michael, Prince, David Bowie), & even more so in the world of hip-hop. This year alone, 2016 has gifted us with the release of Chance The Rapper’s beautiful gospel opus Colouring Book, Kanye West’s swashbuckling bravado with The Life Of Pablo, and Drake’s melancholic offering Views.
But since we’re a website geared towards sweet Asian music discoveries, what about Asia, you might ask? Glad we’ve come to that! Ever heard of Sichuan-based lotharios Higher Brothers, Japanese trap renegade Kohh, or even young Indonesian rap prodigy Rich Chigga?
Check out our list of our favourite Asian hip-hop tracks below.
10. Bohan Phoenix “Motivasian”
Born in Yi Chang, China, bonafide rapper and hip-hop artist Bohan Phoenix is a regular collaborator with Chinese producer Howie Lee. Bohan meshes musical elements from both the East & the West, resulting in a distinct sound that is truly the best of both worlds. “Motivasian” takes Bohan on a journey from Brooklyn to Beijing where he attempts to rescue his friend Chewy. Bohan definitely serves as a motivation for Asian artists trying to break into the Western scene.
9. Vinida “Dirty Mind”
When rapper-singer Vinida appeared in the popular Chinese reality singing competition Sing! China, the 22-year-old Fuzhou native was a complete breath of fresh air. Standing out from the crowd of balladeering singers, she blew the competition out of the water with her rap prowess. Her first single, “Dirty Mind”, was released in December 2016. Watch out for her debut album, scheduled for release early next year.
8. Keith Ape x Bryan Cha$e – Let Us Prey
Best known for his breakout hit 잊지마 (“It G Ma”), South Korean rapper Keith Ape returns to the scene with “Let Us Prey”, which features fellow Cohort member Bryan Cha$e. Taking a stand against marine life theme park SeaWorld, this track shows Keith & Co. exploring an underwater multi-ecosystem in their Orca-inspired BMW i8.
7. Kohh ft. Dutch Montana, SALU – If I die tonight
Kohh was one of two Japanese rappers featured on Korean rapper Keith Ape’s breakout viral hit, 잊지마 “(It G Ma”). Kohh’s video for “If I Die Tonight” is distinctively morbid, filled with grey skies, guns & murder. It also serves a reminder for us to live life to the fullest. Who knows, if our time might be up tonight?
6. ZiggaRice “Pussi”
Hailing from Bangkok, Thailand, ZiggaRice uncannily sounds like Section.80 era Kendrick Lamar. ZiggaRice’s flow is smooth & laid back, melding in beautifully with the atmospheric, soulful, & downtempo production. Filmed primarily in an abandoned warehouse, watch the duo bring their hypebeast aesthetics to the music video for lead single “Pussi”.
5. Suboi – Đời
Vietnamese rapper Suboi started out in a nu-metal band performing Linkin Park covers in her teens. Not after long, she began moving into rap after being influenced by acts such as Eminem and Mos Def. Her stage name, Suboi, translates to “Su”, her given nickname, & the word “boy”. Her single Đời regales the story of the her father’s struggles in keeping their family home. Earlier this year, the 26-year-old dropped a blazing freestyle for President Obama on his trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
4. Rich Chigga – Dat $tick
Born & bred in Jakarta, Indonesia the 17-year-old home-schooled Brian Imanuel first ventured into the public sphere by creating comedic Vines. Shortly after, he shot to fame under his moniker “Rich Chigga” after his breakout track “Dat $tick” received over 31 million views. The viral video, which was directed & filmed by the man himself on the streets of Jakarta, garnered reaction videos from contemporary rappers such as Desiigner and Ghostface Killa. We’re eager to see what this witty rap prodigy has up his sleeves next.
3. Eung Freestyle – LIVE, SIK-K, PUNCHNELLO, OWEN OVADOZ, FLOWSIK
If South Korea’s best & most promising rappers decided to come together to produce one of the most lit tracks of 2016, we reckon this is it. Weaving the sounds of traditional Korean musical instruments into a sick, sick, beat & filming the video in a hanok (read: traditional Korean house), this track is the perfect track to announce to the world that the K-hip hop scene is one to keep an eye on.
2. Higher Brothers x J.Mag – Yahh
After releasing rap bangers such as “Black Cab”, “7-11” and “Bitch Don’t KIll My Dab”, the Sichuan-based rappers recently dropped a christmas surprise with “YAHH!”. Featuring virtual unknown J. Mag (he might be American, we think), Higher Brother’s latest single charters into dirty South Atlanta hip-hop trap territory. There seems to be a brilliant wordplay between the two factions; J. Mag raps primarily in English, while the Brothers drop fire flows in Mandarin. We’re eagerly anticipating the release of their Black Cab EP early next year.
1. Dumbfoundead “Safe”
Los Angeles-based rapper Dumbfoundead (AKA Jonathan Park) has had a busy year. Aside from being part of a documentary on Asian-American rappers Bad Rap, he also released single “Safe” from his fourth album, We Might Die. The lyrics portray his frustrations at whitewashing, & the treatment of Asian Americans in American popular media. The tongue-in-cheek video, while hilarious, further highlights the absence of Asians and other people of colour in the media. Ultimately, the track takes issue with the way Asian Americans are seen as “safe” to push around & throw under the bus. This list, thankfully, has proven that Asians are anything but “safe”.
Cheers, & have a good 2017!
Additional contribution by Evan Woon, Christiana Koh & Amiril Muhaimin.